Port People- David McKeown

Port People: a look at the wide variety of careers available at Belfast Harbour. This month we speak to Pilot Boat Coxswain David McKeown.

Name: David McKeown
Position: Pilot Boat Coxswain
1. What does your average working day entail?

Our working day starts with a detailed check on the pilot boats to ensure that they are in all respects ready for sea. We would then check with the Vessel Traffic Service department to get an overview of pilotage jobs for that day- the work load varies according to shipping. In between pilot jobs we have to fit in refuelling, ship housekeeping, shore accommodation cleaning and equipment checks. The shift log must also be completed at the start and end of each shift.

2. What qualifications are required for your job?
To be a pilot boat coxswain you usually require a Maritime & Coastguard Agency boat masters licence with fast craft endorsement, a marine V.H.F. radio operator’s licence, a certificate in firefighting and sea survival and a seafarer medical certificate.

3. What other skills do you need in your role?

A cool head is essential especially when out in rough sea at night and good organisational skills are necessary to make sure the boat is in the required place at the required time. Good communication is also essential, as you will be communicating with ships from all over the world via V.H.F. radio. The ability to get along with people is vital, we work with the same person on a one to one basis on 12 hour shifts, both day and night. But unlike many jobs, especially in rough weather, you depend on each other totally for our and our passenger’s safety. It’s also necessary to be flexible as we may be asked to perform many tasks outside our core duties, but this is what makes our job really interesting.

4. What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about our job is without a doubt driving the boats, if you didn’t enjoy that aspect this is not the job for you. It’s amazing how quickly dark windy nights and freezing mornings are forgotten once spring and summer comes along.

5. What’s the most common question people ask when they find out what you do?

The most common question I get asked is “Do you drive the big ships into the harbour?” when I get asked about my job.

6. What advice would you give to those considering a career in your profession?

My advice if one would want to be a coxswain as a career is to get the relevant qualifications- a good start would be the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) who offer powerboat courses from beginner to advanced, there are many courses held locally.