Loss of night watchmen in a harbour

Loss of night watchmen in a harbour



A report of a Port Authority’s commercial decision which failed to address safety concerns.


What the Reporter told us:

I am contacting you over our Port Authority’s decision to stop the night watchman service for our port. The Authority decided it needed to save money in the harbour budget so it decided to discontinue the harbour night watchmen service, thus leaving the commercial harbour with no VHF coverage from the hours of 1700 hours to 0800 hours the following morning. This is a very important service, as it is a difficult harbour to enter with a long narrow channel then a ninety degree turn to port to gain entry Рonly one boat can enter the harbour at a time. One of the roles of the watchman is to catch a rope at the end of the harbour channel and place it upon a bollard to enable a vessel to effectively manoeuvre around the ninety-degree bend in the channel and into the harbour. Without this service, we fishermen feel it is too dangerous to jump from a moving boat onto a pier to put a rope onto a bollard. It is felt that jumping from a moving boat onto a pier risks serious injury or death if the person misjudges the jump or falls into the water.

I have met with the Authority and challenged this decision, but they feel jumping from a moving boat onto a pier does not involve a high risk.

Although they have signed up to the government‚Äôs Code for Port Management, they have not done any risk assessments relating to removing the harbour night watchmen. They have not revised their practices in respect of what I and many feel is a “change in harbour operations”.

I have asked the Authority why they have not revised their own port safety management code and their reply was they feel that not having night watchmen to operate the VHF and take our ropes does not constitute a change in harbour operations. The Authority does not have any mariners in the management team, yet they are risking mariners lives.

This is an accident waiting to happen, and it is sheer cost cutting which will put harbour users lives at risk. The Authority will be meeting on the 1st June 2017 to give their final decision.


Further dialogue:

The following is a précis of many exchanges between the Reporter, CHIRP, and other parties;


  • It was agreed that CHIRP contact the Port Authority with advice relating to the dangers of a leap ashore, proper risk assessment, and responsibilities for incidents.
  • The reporter had written to local government officials who had responded by supporting him. A petition had attracted over 1000 signatures. These points would be addressed by CHIRP when writing to the Authority
  • Local and national fishery organisations were also involved with letters to the Authority.
  • CHIRP wrote to the Authority who responded just prior to the meeting and stated that cover would be maintained with watchmen available around the clock. The reporter was advised of this and informed CHIRP that the cover would actually be one watchman for three ports – a fact that had not been properly addressed in the risk assessment.
  • The reporter managed to speak at the Authority meeting, and the first decision taken was to dismiss the risk assessment (which was correct ‚Äď it was poor as there were no proper mitigation measures put in place).


On the 08th June 2017, the Authority issued a press release stating that the decision to axe night watchmen had been cancelled. In addition, they undertook to look at port health and safety in conjunction with local users in future.


CHIRP Comment

The Maritime Advisory Board commented that the report is a fine example of CHIRP working with other bodies to raise awareness of the inappropriate use of risk assessments and the need for maritime professional input.


Report Ends