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Port Operative Profile


This Section of the site details information that you might find useful if you are looking to secure employment or require further details regarding working as a Port Operative. This page details the following Information:-

  • Finding Suitable Work as a Port Operative
  • Working Duties Expected
  • Hours and Environment
  • Working Skills Required
  • Training Requirements
  • Salary Expectations
  • Trade Information
  • Other useful Port Operative Work Information

Finding Suitable Work

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Working Duties Expected

Port operatives are employed by port authorities or private cargo-handling companies, and work in three main areas: stevedoring, passenger operations and marine operations.

Stevedoring involves loading and unloading cargo and transporting it within the port. Specific tasks vary according to the type of vessel the stevedore is working on. On roll on/roll off ferries they drive vehicles that carry cargo or tow trailers on and off the ship, and use lorries and trailers to move goods to storage areas. If vehicles are being transported, they may also drive these on and off the ships.

On lift-on/lift-off container ships, stevedores load and unload containers using dockside cranes or the ships'' lifting gear. They also secure containers on the ship.

Other types of vessel carry dry bulk cargoes such as wheat or coal, which are usually loaded by elevator, and liquids such as oil, which are loaded by pipeline.

Stevedores may also have other duties such as basic maintenance of the lifting gear.

Passenger operatives normally work in ports that have ferry services or a cruise terminal. The type of work and working conditions can vary and is dependant upon the type of passenger service the port is offering. Passenger ferries can be used for short river crossings or longer sailings to France, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain and Ireland, whilst cruise ships sail all over the world.

Facilities at the large ferry and cruise terminals are very similar to those found in airports, offering a high level of customer facilities and service to passengers travelling on foot or by car.

If working within a passenger terminal, operatives may provide travel information, check documentation, answer individual enquiries and ensure passengers travel through the terminal safely and efficiently.

When dealing with passengers travelling in their vehicles, the operative will normally be situated out of doors, working in vehicle holding areas or by the ships loading ramps. They may be required to check travel documentation, answer general queries and also direct traffic to and from the vessel ensuring they follow designated routes and do not stray into restricted areas.

At many UK ports passenger operatives may be required to maintain security in their area and may also be required to liaise closely with statutory bodies such as Immigration, Customs & Excise and the police.

Marine operatives deal with what is known as the ''wet side'' of port work, which in most ports will mean working from, or crewing, small harbour craft. The use of these will depend on the types of traffic the port handles.

Small harbour craft can be used to transport people including passengers and crew to ships moored off shore and ships pilots to vessels entering port. They can also be used for operational tasks such as tying up larger vessels, cleaning up after a pollution incident, the placing and maintenance of marker buoys in the harbour entrance and sometimes in rescuing people from the water. The size and speed of these craft can vary greatly, from small unpowered rowing boats to fast, well equipped pilot launches.

Working under supervision, a marine operative may be required to navigate the craft, ensure it is kept clean and well maintained and operate VHF radio and radar equipment.

Hours and Environment:

Port operatives normally work an average 40-hour week. Because ports are open 24 hours, they usually work shifts of eight hours, covering a seven day period. Overtime is common.

The work is outside in all weathers, but stevedoring also includes work in ships'' holds and cargo storage areas, which may be hot and cramped. This type of work can be strenuous with a lot of lifting, bending and sometimes working at heights.

Some cargoes may be dirty smelly or dusty.

Skills and Interests:

To be a port operative you should:

  • be physically fit
  • to be safety conscious
  • be good at following instructions and explaining them to others
  • have normal colour vision, as some cargoes are colour-coded
  • be able to work as part of a team.
  • Passenger operatives will need to enjoy working with people and, depending on the ferry routes, preferably speak a relevant second language.
  • For those wishing to be marine operatives, any hobbies involving the handling of small craft such as sailing dinghies or canoes would be useful.


There are no formal entry requirements, but applicants will need to pass a medical examination.

The minimum age for entry is usually 21, although some ports may recruit passenger operatives from age 17.

Employers will usually require applicants to have a driving licence. For stevedoring work experience of driving cranes, fork lift trucks or lorries can be an advantage, and engineering skills may also be useful for carrying out basic maintenance.

Marine operatives would normally be required to achieve a sea survival, fire fighting and boat handling certificates.


Cargo handling training varies depending on the employer, but there will normally be an introductory course lasting about two weeks covering all aspects of cargo handling. This initial training will include:

  • how to move equipment
  • understanding signalling instructions
  • operating fork lift trucks
  • health and safety training, including the operation of equipment, safe loading and unloading, and correct lifting techniques.

Any further training will be delivered on the job under the supervision of experienced operatives. You will start with simple tasks before progressing to more skilled work such as supervising the loading and unloading of cargo.
Similar programmes would exist for marine and passenger operatives.

NVQs/SVQs Level 2 in Stevedoring, Marine Operations (Ports) and Port Passenger Operations are available, awarded by Edexcel.

Foundation and Advanced Modern Apprenticeships (MAPPs) may be available for people aged 16-24.
For details see: MAPPs (England); Skillseekers MAPPs (Scotland); National Traineeships MAPPs (Wales); and MAPPs (Northern Ireland).


Port operatives are employed by port authorities or private cargo handling companies. As ports have become more mechanised and containerised, with companies loading cargo into containers at their own premises, there is more demand for crane operators and fork-lift truck drivers than for manual operatives.

Promotion is likely to be to foreman or woman, then supervisor, superintendent, operations manager and general manager.

You should contact a port authority, cargo handling company or stevedoring company for information about vacancies. You will find details of these in the telephone directory. There are also lists of major port employers on the websites of the British Ports Association and Associated British Ports. Vacancies tend to be advertised in port towns and cities.

Annual Income:

This is intended as a guideline only. Actual rates of pay may vary.

A new entrant is likely to earn up to £10,000 a year. An experienced and qualified port operative will earn £12,500 to £20,000.
When skills allowances, shift and overtime payments are taken into account an experienced operative could earn around £25,000 or more a year.

Further information:

Port Skills And Safety Ltd
Africa House
64-78 Kingsway
Tel: 020 7242 3538

British Ports Association

Associated British Ports

Other Useful Port Operative Work Information

We have a section available at this site on Port Operative job interview tips that you may find of interest should you wish to brush up your skills in this area and we also have number of career articles that may also be of use to you from within our guides and documents section.

Locations where we feature Jobs include:-
Aberdeen, Berkshire, Aberdeen, Bath, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Central London, Cheltenham, Cornwall, Coventry, Derby, Devon, Docklands, Dorset, Dundee, Durham, East Midlands, East Sussex, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Gloucester, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leeds, Leicester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Midlands and in various parts of the West Midlands

Details of other Port Operative Jobs can also be found in other UK wide areas including:-
Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Norfolk, North London, North Midlands, Northampton, Northamptonshire, Northern Ireland, Northumberland, Norwich, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Plymouth, Salisbury, Scotland, Sheffield, Shropshire, Somerset, South East, South London, South Midlands, Southampton, Staffordshire Surrey, Swansea, Swindon, Telford, Wales, Warwickshire, West End, West London, West Midlands, Worcestershire, York and throughout Yorkshire.

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