Port operative

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

Average annual salary (starting - experienced): £15,000 - £25,000

Typical hours (a week): 43 - 45

How to become a port operative

You can get into this job through:

  • an apprenticeship
  • applying directly


You could start by doing a port operative intermediate apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship (Entry requirements)

You'll usually need:

  • some GCSEs, usually including English and maths, or equivalent, for an intermediate apprenticeship

Direct application

You could apply directly for cargo jobs if you've got experience in warehouse work, operating mobile cranes or using forklift trucks. You could also work in passenger operations if you have experience in customer service or travel.

More info

Further information You can find out more about working in ports and harbours from Port Skills and Safety.

What it takes

Skills & Knowledge

You'll need:

  • the ability to operate and control equipment
  • the ability to work well with others
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • observation and recording skills
  • the ability to work well with your hands
  • the ability to use, repair and maintain machines and tools
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device

Restriction & Requirements

You'll need to:

  • pass a medical check
  • have forklift truck driver training for some jobs

Your employer will put you through port safety training.

What you'll do

Day to day

As a port operative or stevedore, your day-to-day duties may include:

  • loading and unloading cargo containers, using ship or dockside cranes
  • transferring cargoes to storage areas with trailers or forklift trucks
  • operating conveyors and pumps for bulk cargoes like grain, coal and oil

As a passenger worker, you could be:

  • helping passengers to get on and off boats and ferries
  • giving out travel information, like sailing times or weather conditions
  • checking travel documents
  • directing vehicles to and from parking bays aboard vessels

In marine operations, you would be:

  • refuelling vessels
  • placing marker buoys in the harbour
  • navigating craft and operating VHF radio and radar equipment

Working environment

You could work at a port or at a marina. Your working environment may be physically demanding.

Career path and progression

Career path & progression

You could be promoted to foreperson or supervisor, and then move on to become a superintendent or operations manager. You might also train to specialise in engineering to maintain the heavy machinery used in ports.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
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