Within large ports/harbours such as the Port of London, which consists of all the tidal portion of the River Thames from Margate on the south coast, and Clacton-on-Sea on the north, through to Teddington, a total of around 95 miles (150 km), plus the enclosed dock systems that may be reached directly from it, the Port of London Authority's responsibilities were, up to the 1980s when the upper four dock systems were essentially closed, five large enclosed dock systems with literally miles of quayside, that were isolated from the tides by locks. These dock systems were London and St Catherine's Docks, Surrey Commercial Docks, India and Millwall Docks, Royal Docks, and Tilbury Docks. Shipping movements in each of these five dock complexes, and within a short distance of the outer lock gates (i.e. in the tidal river) were under the jurisdiction of a Dockmaster and his staff. Each Dockmaster, his Deputy Dockmaster, and his Assistant Dockmasters were fully qualified and experienced Master Mariners (Foreign Going). Each Assistant Dockmaster had a marine staff for his watch of about 70 men, so in all, each dock complex employed about 360 marine staff.

Except within a short distance of the outer lock gates of the dock complexes, the tidal port came under the jurisdiction of the Harbourmaster, who had two Deputy Harbourmasters, and several Assistant Harbourmasters, and other officers, such as Hydrographic, Salvage, and Port Radio. All of these officers too had to be fully qualified and experienced Master Mariners (Foreign Going).

Eventually Tilbury Docks were privatised and became The Port of Tilbury, with their Dockmaster now being titled Harbourmaster.

So, nowadays for example, the former post of Harbourmaster of the Port of London Authority, and indeed many other large ports, is Chief Harbourmaster, and recognises that other units on the Thames, such as the Port of Tilbury, now have their own Harbourmasters. The former Deputy Harbourmasters are now known as Harbourmasters.

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