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Lawmakers propose mandatory certification for harbormasters

Lawmakers propose mandatory certification for harbormasters

By Claude R. Marx
Staff Writer

 

Lawmakers are sailing into uncharted waters with a proposed set of standards to certify harbormasters — who say it’s about time.

A legislative committee yesterday created a commission to devise educational requirements for those in charge of patrolling harbors in the Bay State.

While most cities and towns require their own training, some harbormasters say the current system does not provide adequate or standardized training.

"Training is often done on a catch-it-if-you-can basis, there is not enough of a uniform system," said Manchester Harbormaster Ronald Ramos, who is also the town’s police chief.

Ramos, who is not a certified harbormaster, said all five of his assistant harbormasters come from the Manchester Police Department. While they have general law-enforcement training, not enough training is available on maritime rules.

Salem’s acting harbormaster, Peter Gifford, agreed. A Salem police sergeant and a noncertified harbormaster, he said since most harbormasters do the job part time, it is hard to train them in a timely manner.

"They all have other jobs, so it’s hard to take them away from those and give them intensive training," he said. "Generally, those on my (harbormaster) staff are people with some law enforcement training who have a boat."

The state’s three associations of harbormasters administer programs for people on the North Shore, South Shore and on Cape Cod, but cities and towns are not required to send their harbormasters to certification classes.

But Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, wants to change that. Under the bill he is sponsoring, any new harbormasters and assistant harbormasters would have to be certified or be taking courses for certification. The state would make money available to local governments or organizations to help pay for the training. Existing harbormasters and assistant harbormasters who are not certified would be allowed to remain on the job.

The certification requirements would be written by a commission of police and representatives of the state’s three harbormaster associations. It will use the existing training programs as a foundation and build upon them, Tarr said.

Making training mandatory will make the state’s waters safer, Tarr predicted.

"Harbormasters are often by themselves, and it shouldn’t be left to chance the skill level that they have or the training that they may have received," he said.

The idea is being embraced by certified and noncertified harbormasters alike.

Today, harbormaster certification consists of 351 credit hours of classroom and water training over five years, as well as two exams and periodic quizzes. Harbormaster trainees take classes in subjects such as navigation, water-traffic rules and water patrol techniques.

Rockport co-harbormasters Rosemary Lesch and Scott Story run the training program for the North Shore Harbormasters Association.

"It has been proven to work, and by mandating that everyone undergoes the training, it will see to it that more people are exposed to it," said Lesch, who was in the first class of trainees when the certification program began in 2001.

Gloucester Harbormaster James Caulkett, who has had the job for seven years and served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 28 years, said the measure will remove some of disparities in the current training.

While Caulkett is not certified, he has taken courses in law enforcement to supplement his expertise on maritime issues.

Posted on August 3rd, 2005 by dan in North Shore