Port Operative

Job Description:

Port operatives work with cargo, passengers and marine craft in ports and harbours.

Job Category:
Transport & Logistics

What you will do:

As a stevedore, your duties could include:

  • loading and unloading cargo or containers, using ship or dockside cranes
  • transferring cargoes to storage areas with trailer wagons or forklift trucks
  • operating conveyor equipment and suction pumps for bulk cargoes like grain, coal and oil
  • maintaining lifting equipment and machinery

As a passenger operative, your duties could include:

  • helping passengers to get on and off the ship
  • loading and unloading luggage
  • giving out travel information, such as sailing times or weather conditions
  • checking travel documents
  • directing vehicles to and from their parking bays aboard the vessel.

In marine operations, your duties could include:

  • transferring passengers and crew to ships moored offshore
  • refuelling vessels
  • placing marker buoys in the harbour
  • cleaning up after pollution incidents
  • navigating the craft and operating VHF radio and radar equipment (usually under supervision)

In smaller ports or leisure marinas, you may have more than one of these roles.


You’ll need:

  • the ability to use, repair and maintain machines and tools
  • the ability to operate and control equipment
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device

As well as:

  • the ability to work well with others (teamwork)
  • physical skills like lifting, bending and carrying
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • observation, recording and organisational skills
  • the ability to work well with your hands
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a port operative, there are no specific subjects that are typically required. However, having a basic education and certain skills can be beneficial for pursuing a career in this field. Here are some subjects and skills that can be useful:

  1. Mathematics: Basic math skills are essential for tasks related to cargo handling, inventory management, and record-keeping at ports.
  2. English: Good communication skills, both written and verbal, are valuable in this profession, as port operatives may need to report issues, maintain records, and communicate with colleagues and superiors.
  3. Physical Education (PE): Physical fitness is important for many tasks in this field, such as lifting and moving heavy cargo, securing containers, and working in various weather conditions.
  4. Engineering and Mechanics: Subjects related to engineering and mechanics can provide a basic understanding of equipment and machinery used at ports.
  5. Geography: Some knowledge of geography can be useful for understanding the layout and logistics of port operations.
  6. Environmental Science: Ports often have environmental regulations and sustainability initiatives, so understanding the basics of environmental science can be advantageous.

Post School

There are no set requirements, but you’ll have to pass a medical exam. You may need a driving licence, and colour-normal vision is essential.

To work as a stevedore, loading and unloading ships, previous experience of operating cranes, forklift trucks or driving goods lorries will be helpful.

To be a marine operative, you may need sea survival, firefighting and boat handling certificates. Some basic experience with small marine craft and radio communications would be useful. You could contact local marinas about courses, or find training providers with Yachting Associations.

For passenger operations, you’ll need good customer service skills and to enjoy working with people. Foreign language skills may also be useful.

You could get into this job through an apprenticeship.

Working Hours and Environment:

Your average working week would be about 40 hours on a shift system, covering 7 days a week. Overtime may be available.

The work can be physically tough, with a lot of lifting, and you may have to work at height.

Career Path & Progression:

With experience, you could be promoted to foreperson or supervisor, and then work your way up to superintendent or operations manager.