Exploring this Job

To find out more about stevedoring occupations, contact the offices of the longshore workers' union in local areas. Union representatives can provide information about the likely conditions and prospects for local jobs, as well as answer questions and provide an insider's view of the field. Students in coastal areas have an advantage over others because they can visit ports and ask questions about what is involved in being a dockworker.

The Job

Stevedores perform tasks involved in transferring cargo to and from the holds of ships and around the dock area. They may operate power winches or cranes to move items such as automobiles, crates, scrap metal, and steel beams, using hooks, magnets, or slings. They may operate grain trimmers (equipment that moves bulk grain through a spout and into the hatch of receiving containers). Stevedores may drive trucks along the dock or aboard ships to transfer items such as lumber and crates to within reach of winches. They may drive tractors to move loaded trailers from storage areas to dockside. They may load and unload liquid cargoes, such as vegetable oils, molasses, or chemicals, by fastening hose lines to cargo tanks. Stevedores also do other manual tasks such as lashing cargo in place aboard ships, attaching lifting devices to winches, and signaling to other workers to raise or lower cargo. They may direct other dockworkers in moving cargo by hand or with hand trucks or in securing cargo inside the holds of ships.

Some stevedoring workers perform just one category of specialized tasks. For example, boat loaders may load liquid chemical and fuel cargoes such as petroleum, gasoline, heating oil, and sulfuric acid by connecting and disconnecting hose couplings. At each stage in the process, they make sure various conditions are safe. Other boat loaders tend winches and loading chutes to load iron ore onto boats and barges. Winch drivers operate steam or electric winches to move various kinds of cargo in and out of a ship's hold. They may alternate jobs with hatch tenders, who signal to winch drivers when the cargo is secured and ready for transfer. Gear repairers fix gear that is used in lifting cargo and install appropriate equipment depending on the current cargo-handling needs on a particular vessel. Among the many other workers in the dock area are drivers, who drive rolling stock (including forklifts, trucks, and mobile cranes), and carpenters, who repair pallets and construct braces and other structures to protect cargo in holds or on deck.

Headers or gang bosses supervise stevedores. They assign specific duties and explain how the cargo should be handled and secured and how the hoisting equipment should be set up. They may estimate the amount of extra materials that will be needed to brace and protect the cargo, such as paper or lumber.

Stevedoring superintendents coordinate and direct the loading and unloading of cargo. Before loading begins, they study the layout of the ship and the bill of lading to determine where to stow cargo and in what order. Freight that must come out first is usually the last to be loaded. Stevedoring superintendents estimate the time and number of workers they need for the job and give orders for hiring. They make sure that the available equipment is appropriate for the cargo load, and they may direct workers who are handling special materials, such as explosives. Stevedoring superintendents prepare reports on their operations and may create bills, all while keeping in touch with the company representatives from whom they get their directions.

Pier superintendents manage business operations at freight terminals. They determine what cargo various vessels will be carrying and notify stevedoring superintendents to plan to have workers and dock space available for loading and unloading activities. They compute costs; oversee purchasing of cargo handling equipment and hiring of trucks, tractors, and railroad cars; and make sure that the terminal facilities and the company's equipment are properly maintained.

Shipping operations require individuals who have good record-keeping and accounting skills as well. Workers who do these tasks include shipping clerks, who maintain information on all incoming and outgoing cargo, such as its quantity and condition, identification marks, and container size. Location workers keep track of where cargo is located on piers. Delivery clerks and receiving clerks keep records on the loading and discharging of vessels and on transferring cargo to and from truckers. Timekeepers record the work time of all workers on the pier for billing and payroll purposes.