Meet the Queen’s Harbour Master: Carl Necker

Mar 12, 2021 | Latest News

In our latest blog, we caught up with Carl Necker, from the Queen’s Harbour Master to ‘Meet the Harbour Master’. We sat down with him to find out more about his role, the function of the QHM and the work he’s doing to tackle waterway issues. Read on to ‘Meet the Harbour Master’ and learn more about the work the QHM do!

Meet the Harbour Master

What does your role involve?

The Queen’s Harbour Master is responsible for the Protection of the Port, which means the preservation of life, protection of the environment, protection of property and the continuity of the business within the port whilst overseeing MoD primacy within the port.

QHM acts as the Statutory Harbour, Pilotage and Lighthouse Authority for the Dockyard Port of Plymouth, with local legislative powers provided by public statute. QHM is responsible for the navigational safety and traffic regulation of all vessels bound to and from the Port of Plymouth (Cattewater), Millbay and Sutton Harbour.

What does the Queen’s Harbour Master do?

QHM’s duties include:

  • The monitoring, regulation and enforcement of all matters relating to the safety of navigation within the Dockyard Port.
  • The continual development of the Port to ensure it operates in a safe, efficient and effective manner.
  • Manage, maintain and direct a high-quality Vessel Traffic Service (VTS).
  • Manage and maintain the conservancy, including environmental issues, of the Dockyard Port of Plymouth.
  • Coordinate and control all salvage and marine incidents within the Dockyard Port of Plymouth liaising as required.
  • Liaise with appropriate MOD and civilian authorities to promote the safe operation of marine matters in the Dockyard Port of Plymouth which include the Cattewater and Sutton Harbour.
  • Liaise with appropriate MOD and civilian authorities to ensure that all navigational incidents and accidents are properly investigated.
  • To be the Naval Base Commander’s representative on appropriate local marine forums, including chairing the Harbour Authorities Liaison Committee (HALC), the Port of Plymouth Marine Liaison Committee (PPMLC), and the Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum (TECF).
Meet the Queen's Harbour Master: Aerial photograph of Plymouth Dockyard.

Copyright: ©UK MOD CROWN COPYRIGHT, 2015

How long have you been in your role?

Ten years. I took on the role in 2011 while serving as an officer and navigation specialist within the Royal Navy. When the position was civilianised in 2015, I retired from the Navy and became a civil servant so that I could continue in the role.

What does a typical day at QHM look like?

Although lots of people in many jobs often say that no two days are the same, that really is the case in such a large, navigationally complex, busy and diverse port such as the Dockyard Port of Plymouth. The operational tempo of the Royal Navy means that the focus on any given day may vary; this includes nuclear submarines, large amphibious units with their associated landing craft, complex warfighting training of frigates and destroyers, survey vessels and the support ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. This happens concurrently with the oversight and direction of all other water users including commercial vessels, tankers, ferries, cruise liners, fishing vessels, education and research vessels and the widest possible gambit of leisure activities.

To make matters even more challenging, all these operations have to be conducted while protecting, maintaining and, where possible, improving the environmental integrity of the port. This is especially important, as Plymouth is one of the most environmentally sensitive ports in the whole of Europe and sees numerous protected features including Avocet, Little Egret, Smelt, Sea Grass and intertidal mudflats.

In short, life in Plymouth is never dull, requires considerable oversight and intervention, and is always rewarding!

Meet the Queen's Harbour Master: Photograph of Naval police in a dinghy on the Plymouth Sound.

Copyright: ©UK MOD CROWN COPYRIGHT, 2013

What inspired the work you’re doing in addressing waterway issues alongside the MOD, Devon & Cornwall Police, Cattewater Harbour Commissioners and Plymouth City Council’s Safer Communities team?

Although there is yet to be a major incident involving recreational motorboats or PWCs in the Port of Plymouth, there have been many near misses, which had to potential to result in serious injury or worse, reported in recent years. Often these incidents involve excessive speed and/or complete ignorance of the regulations which govern the Port. QHM is keen to work closely with all authorities to best address these issues.

What’s the core aim of this initiative?

From Queen’s Harbour Master’s point of view, this initiative is but one element of the continuation of work to inform and educate all water users. The overall aim is to ensure (in so far as is practicably possible) the safety of all water users within the Port.

How do you anticipate this will impact on the waterways and the behaviour of waterway users?

It is hoped that the combination of public information/education and robust enforcement of regulations will have a positive effect in reducing the occurrence of poor behaviours RYA approved PWC trainers and PWC organisations. We hope together the positive work will continue, and in turn, the perception can be improved going forward.

Meet the Queen's Harbour Master: Photograph of Plymouth Sound.


PWC users have been viewed rather negatively in recent years, do you think the work you’re doing will help to change this perception?

The negative view of PWC users by the public is the result of the irresponsible and anti-social behaviour of a minority of users. If this poor behaviour is reduced as a result of education and enforcement, then this negative view should reduce accordingly.

What advice would you provide to jet ski users in Plymouth?

  • Get properly trained.
  • Check the weather forecast and tides before you set out.
  • Be properly equipped and ensure you wear an appropriate life jacket. You can find further advice about this over on the RNLI Respect the Water website.
  • Ensure you leave details of where you intend to go and an expected time to be off the water.
  • Carry a marine band VHF radio or mobile phone in a waterproof pouch so you can call for help if you need it
  • Find out the speed limits throughout the port – be aware of the locations of the hi-speed areas.
  • Be aware of the key regulations as they affect PWC users – the TECF Small Craft Users Guide is helpful here.

What does the future of Plymouth’s waterways look like?

Expected to continue as a busy naval, commercial, fishing port working closely and collaboratively with the local waterborne communities, businesses and local authorities to maximise the benefits from the excellent resource which is Plymouth Sound and the Tamar Estuaries, while affording primacy to the Ministry Of Defence.

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