The Connecticut Harbormaster

The Connecticut Harbormaster

In ports and harbors along the Connecticut coast, and especially in the towns where the mix of water uses is most diverse, State Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters have a distinct and essential role for ensuring public safety and managing our waterways in the public interest. Theirs is the job of maintaining an orderly haven where all vessels, including commercial fishing boats, tugs and barges, recreational sail and power boats, ferries and excursion vessels, ocean-going ships, and even small, nonmotorized craft such as canoes and kayaks, may coexist in safety and harmony.

State of Connecticut Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are appointed by the Governor in accordance with Sec. 15-1 of the Connecticut General Statutes. This section provides for three-year terms of appointment that may be extended until a successor is appointed. Sec. 15-1 also specifies that Harbormasters are responsible for the general care and supervision of the harbors and navigable waterways over which they have jurisdiction; that they are subject to the direction and control of the Commissioner of Transportation; and that they are responsible to the Commissioner for the safe and efficient operation of such harbors and waterways in accordance with other provisions of the Connecticut General Statutes.

In 2002, there are 39 appointed Harbormasters serving 39 municipalities along the Connecticut shoreline on Long Island Sound and the major rivers that flow into the Sound; 16 of those towns are also served by a Deputy Harbormaster. Included are such diverse areas as the ports of Bridgeport, New Haven, and New London, small recreational harbors such as Southport, Branford, and Chester, and urban riverfronts at Middletown, Hartford, and Norwich. Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters work closely with a number of Federal, State, and local agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), U.S. Coast Guard, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), harbor management commissions (in those towns where a commission has been established), and local police and fire departments. The State agency with administrative authority over the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters is the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT).

The powers and duties of the Harbor Masters and Deputy Harbormasters are established in the Connecticut General Statutes, including Sections 15-1 through 15-9 and other sections. One important responsibility is keeping navigation channels and established fairways clear of obstructions. Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are also empowered to enforce the provisions of the Connecticut General Statutes concerning removal of abandoned and derelict vessels, including Sec. 15-11a and 15-140c.

In many towns, the assignment of boat mooring locations and administration of mooring permits is a primary function of the Harbormaster's office. It may also be one of the most difficult, since the demand for mooring locations in State waters has grown over the years while the number of vessels most harbors can accommodate is fairly well fixed. Experience shows it is important to establish that, unlike anchoring, mooring a vessel in State waters is a privilege, not a right.

The Corps is the primary agency for granting Federal approval of mooring locations and has delegated to the Harbormaster approval authority for the installation of individual, noncommercial moorings. Section 15-8 of the Connecticut General Statutes gives the Harbormaster authority to assign mooring locations and require all mooring users to apply for mooring permits.

The tidal waters, navigable waterways, submerged lands, and intertidal areas adjacent to Connecticut's shores are held in trust for the general public by the State of Connecticut. The Harbormaster's local knowledge is a valuable resource for assisting the various State and Federal regulatory agencies, including the Corps and DEP, in ensuring that these Public Trust waters are managed for the benefit of the general public. In this regard, Harbormasters are sent copies of notices of applications for State- and Federally regulated activities within their jurisdictional waters, including applications for docks, piers, dredging, and other work affecting navigable waters and applications for mooring fields (areas intended for multiple mooring locations). Harbormasters are asked by the regulatory agencies to evaluate what effect the proposed activity may have on navigation and to provide a written recommendation for approval, disapproval, or modification of the application.

Throughout much of the history of Connecticut, the Harbormaster has had a vital role in managing the State's waterways. Today, that role continues to evolve as new and greater responsibilities are being placed on the Harbormaster in response to increased and often competing demands for commercial and recreational use of Connecticut harbors and the advent of municipal harbor management plans. Harbormasters are now focal points of local harbor management programs and must work closely with the local harbor management commission if one has been established. In 1984 the Connecticut Legislature passed the Connecticut Harbor Management Act in response to increased pressures and competing demands for harbor use and development. The Act authorizes towns with navigable waters to establish harbor management commissions and prepare and enforce local harbor management plans. Today, there are 16 towns with State approved and locally adopted plans and all of these towns are served by a Connecticut Harbormaster; at least six others are now preparing plans. An important purpose of each plan is to increase local government authority and control over matters pertaining to each municipality's harbor.

Among the typical components of harbor management plans are provisions for the orderly allocation of moorings and anchorage space. In fact, Section 22a-113r of the Connecticut General Statutes states that upon adoption of a harbor management plan, no mooring may be placed in the harbor without a permit from the Harbormaster. The Harbormaster therefore retains sole authority for the placement of mooring tackle after the adoption of a plan, with the additional requirement that all mooring tackle must be placed in a manner consistent with the policies and provisions of the approved plan. In addition, the Harbormaster is charged by Section 22a-113s C.G.S. with collecting any fee established by the municipality (up to $200) for an annual mooring permit. That fee must be deposited into a special municipal fund that may only be used for maintenance and improvement of the harbor for the public and for personnel and equipment directly related to the function of the harbor management commission and the Harbormaster or Deputy Harbormaster.

Section 15-1 of the Connecticut General Statutes requires the Harbormaster to exercise his or her duties in a manner consistent with any approved and adopted harbor management plan for the harbor over which he or she has jurisdiction. Also, Sec. 22a-113k C.G.S. specifies that the Harbormaster or Deputy Harbormaster for any municipality with a duly established harbor management commission shall be a nonvoting, ex-officio member of that commission. Further, for any town with an approved and adopted plan, under Sec. 15-1 C.G.S. the Governor must appoint the Harbormaster and Deputy Harbormaster from a list of not less than three nominees provided by that town's harbor management commission.

In accordance with Sec. 15-154 of the Connecticut General Statutes, Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are empowered to enforce State boating laws within their jurisdictions. No police training is provided to Connecticut harbormasters, however, and the DOT has advised Harbormasters who have not been certified as law enforcement officers to report violations of law to the local police department or other law enforcement authorities rather than become directly involved with arrests of violators. Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters work in coordination with local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies to ensure proper enforcement of the State's boating laws and regulations, and for communication of those statutes and regulations, as necessary, to the public.

Other duties or activities of the Harbormaster and Deputy Harbormaster include promptly reporting oil or chemical discharges or spills to the Coast Guard and the DEP's Oil and Chemical Spill Response Division. In addition, comments or recommendations from Harbormasters to the Coast Guard and the Corps' Navigation Branch may lead to improved buoy positioning and/or hydrographic surveys to determine the need for channel maintenance dredging.

Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are State officers and employees as defined under Section 4-141 of the Connecticut General Statutes and, as a consequence, are generally protected from liability and entitled to indemnification and representation for acts performed in the discharge of their duties, provided those acts are not wanton, reckless, or malicious.

In summary, Connecticut's Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are dedicated officials who strive to perform their statutory duties for the care and supervision of the State's diverse harbors and waterways in the public interest and with the highest level of professionalism. The DOT's Bureau of Aviation and Ports provides information and other assistance to the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters and describes some of the basic attributes required for these important positions: a Harbormaster should be familiar with the local area, its people, and its waters; be skilled in the arts of boat and mooring seamanship; and be a person who can be relied on to uphold regulations in a fair, even-handed manner with an appreciation of the public trust. As noted by more than one person familiar with Connecticut's ports and harbors, ``Harbormasters must, of course, know boats; they must also know how to deal with people.''