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A Day in the Life of Julian Bird from the Harbour Patrol Launch (HPL)

To mark Maritime Safety Week, Julian took the communications team out on a sea trial aboard the pilot vessel Dovorian, to see first-hand the types of incidents that the team deal with to protect the safety of the Port 24/7.

Julian Bird, Hydrography and Small Craft Senior Coxwain is part of our small but experienced team of seafarers known as the Harbour Patrol Launch, who operate three vessels that patrol the harbour and respond to any emergency situation 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

The Port is situated at the narrowest point of the English Channel and is one of the busiest international seaways in the world, used by over 400 commercial vessels daily, so this is no mean feat.

Firstly, he checks over the boat and prepares it for its circuit around the harbour.

Julian explains: “The Straits of Dover are known to be a very demanding stretch of water with a fast tidal rate and sea conditions that can change extremely rapidly. Therefore, when operating several miles from shore, a well-equipped vessel with an experienced crew is a vital asset to have.”

Julian joined the Port as an experienced Royal Yachting Association sailing instructor after learning to sail whilst serving in the Royal Air Force. The career background of this team includes working for some of the world’s biggest maritime security organisations including the RNLI, Royal Navy and Merchant Navy.

Julian explains the diverse range of operations that he and the team may deal with on a day to day basis:

“We could be responding to an emergency situation like an oil spillage or engineering failure, liaising with Port Control to help guide and moor large and small vessels, or acting as additional crewmen for tug vessels in extreme weather.

Just as importantly, we conduct environmental management operations such as water quality monitoring and sea bed and sea life studies. Every day is different and there’s definitely never a dull moment!”

Just as Julian says that, we get a call from Port Control to chaperone a yacht into the marina as the captain informed them of his arrival late, and there are two ferries waiting to exit the Eastern entrance at the same time.

“Another example is last week, we had the arrival of Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, and our team were out at sea working with Port Control to ensure the ship and 25 boat flotilla were guided through the Port safely”, he adds.

“Coordinating shipping movements for ferries, cargo, cruise, marina traffic and the Port’s own vessels is an all year round operation with marine safety being paramount.”

The Harbour Patrol Launch or HPL is an integral part of the Port’s operations department consisting of 10 Coxswains who are employed 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

The role of the crew requires an extensive knowledge of the sea, maritime experience and a cool head.