A Sideways Look at Port Surveys

Surveying in a busy port or harbour is always a challenge, but one of our recent surveys was demanding in more ways than normal.

The remit was to support dredging operations, making sure the berths and fairways remain deep enough to ‘Keep Britain Trading’ – to quote one port authority’s slogan.

On first exiting from our marina into the busy world of the port area, the radio burst into life and did not stop squawking instructions and warnings throughout the whole two-week project, apart from one brief pause for KC III to receive his new hat. A pause which was punctuated by every vessel in the area, British and foreign alike, from ULCSs (ultra large container ships) to yachties, blowing their horns in tribute. This was a heart-warming moment whether royalist or not, as seafarers have always been a traditional and patriotic bunch wherever their home ports are.

The survey itself was a constant game of hide and seek from tugs, pilot boats, dredgers, ferries, ULCSs and leisure boats, taking every opportunity of an empty berth to persuade the VTS (traffic control for the port) that we really could nip in, survey, and get out before the next vessel came in and squashed us. To be fair, the VTS operators were a great help and very accommodating, and it was reassuring to know that they were doing their best to track our movements and keep us aware of vessel movements of risk to us. I can only think that to them we were equivalent to a tiny mosquito constantly annoying them, unable to swat away.

One challenge for us was the interference caused by surveying under huge cranes and ship’s hulls. The workload was more than quadrupled in these conditions due to the need to constantly re-run survey lines when signal interference took the quality of data collected below our high standards. All made more stressful by strict time windows before the arrival of the next ship.

The most interesting part of the survey from my point of view was being so close to the large vessels and quay walls, surveying sideways to try and ‘see’ under the vessel hulls, and hoping that the pilots and captains did not decide to test their engines or anchors whilst we were buzzing around. I remained in good contact with the pilots on board and I believe they appreciated the work we were doing.

I was extremely pleased to see for the first time in my career a female pilot manoeuvring and berthing these huge vessels. I have always been concerned by the imbalance of male/female crew ratios and it is nice to see that this difference may be changing as working conditions improve for women in the industry. It was also nice to know that the infamous Ever Given (pic below) was in safe hands this time and did not end-up berthed sideways as she did in the Suez Canal.

The weather remained favourable most of the time and the survey and dredging operations were completed successfully and on-time, and after a brief break for de-mobbing the boat, we set off to the next project for the nuclear energy industry, where we hope to gain further glowing reports.

Dan Jarvis
Skipper of survey boat Taran.


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