Monday, August 19, 2013

Selling Weymouth harbour until the boats come in

Every year, thousands of people pause to enjoy the maritime ambience of Weymouth’s often busy but always good looking harbour.

Very few, if any, of both visitors and locals, realise that the harbour is a small business, operating under similar pressures to the local restaurants, fishing boats and tourist attractions that line the quaysides.

The head of this £2m a year operation is Harbour Master Keith Howorth, who recently took over following a long career in the Royal Navy. Keith, and his team of up to 15 people, ensure that both the inner and outer harbour remain fit for purpose and generate the revenue needed to cover the substantial running costs.

Keith and his team work for Weymouth & Portland Borough Council.

In the business of berthing

Just a few years ago, the marina business, a primary source of revenue for the harbour, was booming nationally. But the recent recession, combined with rising fuel prices, have driven boat owners out of the water. Along the entire south coast, one out of every five berths now stands empty.

Weymouth has three marinas - two operated by the Harbour Master and one in private ownership. These two marinas have capacity for 450 boats. The harbour can also provide temporary berths for 200 visiting craft, along with housing Weymouth’s 80 commercial vessels.

Filling these berths, and managing the administration of collecting payments and offering advice, is a 7 day a week job for the Harbour Master’s team. They are also responsible for the operation of the town’s lifting bridge.

Attracting income to pay for infrastructure

The recent reconstruction of the quayside for Condor Ferries has highlighted the Harbour Master’s biggest headache - maintenance of the port’s infrastructure. New walls, pontoons and walkways don’t come cheap, but they’re vital to the successful and safe operation of the business.

This hardware is also essential for drawing in more boats, short and long-term. This in turn attracts visitors, both from the water and the quayside tourists, who admire the nautical scene while perhaps aspiring to a boat of their own one day.

It’s with this in mind that Keith, the Harbour Master, is considering how to improve the marketing of the business he operates on behalf of the town. By selling the attractions of Weymouth  harbour to south coast sailors, he’s also raising the profile of Weymouth itself, which should in turn benefit local businesses who depend on a steady stream of visitors with money to spend.

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