In this month’s Member Profile, Chris King, Founder and Managing Director of King Marine, talks to us about the workboat training landscape, opportunities and challenges in the sector, and his longterm involvement with the NWA.
Could you give us an overview of King Marine and your background as a business?
Following some time working as a sole trader, I set up King Marine Ltd in 1989 to offer a variety of marine services, including management of Sea Defence projects, providing Skippers for vessels including Multi-Cats and Tugs, and consulting on projects such as pipeline replacements and trawl surveys.
However, our size and focus has changed a lot over the years. During the early 90s, when we were covering a lot of Sea Defence work, we employed a reasonable number of people – we needed crews for offloading the barges and so on.
Now we’ve scaled down a bit and our focus has changed – our main offering is basic Tug crew training, these days.
We have been chartering RIBs for a while – and we still do – but it’s not the main focus of the business anymore.
When I retire, I’m hoping to hand on the business, maybe to a family member – some of my family are in other areas of marine work – but we’ll see.
How did your career in the maritime industry develop and what does your current role at King Marine encompass?
I have pretty much lived on the water all my life – from the outset, every family holiday was on a boat. I left school at 17 and found work on the inshore fishing boats. Then became involved with teaching dinghy sailing, canoeing, skiing, etc. at Calshot Activity Centre in Hampshire and Drakes Island Adventure Centre in Plymouth Sound for three summers and returned to inshore fishing over the winters.
At this point, I was approached by my friends Mike Stansfeld and his brother Roddy of Coastal Launch Services, I joined as a Junior Partner and we built up the business. We increased the towage side and at one stage had five tugs in operation. We also started a section for the dredging of marinas.
When I left Coastal Launch Services, my wife Annie and I spent five years in Cornwall setting up and running the ‘Cornwall Adventure’, which offered courses to school parties, young offenders and other groups, before moving back to the New Forest, where I formed and built King Marine.
Our early work took us to countries including Mozambique and the Sudan – one project we worked on in the Sudan was overseeing the construction of a triple Screw Vehicle Carrying Ferry / Bunker Barge, on the River Nile. We completed the project using local labour – and then trained local boatmen to operate and maintain it.
We also spent two years developing a project for towing giant water bladders of up to 38,000 tonne capacity, delivering drinking water from Turkey to Cyprus. My brief was to create a workable method and to train the Turkish crew to handle the tug, workboats and water balloon and then hand over the operation for them to run.
You mentioned that King Marine focuses primarily on training, these days. Can you tell us a bit about how that started?
Yes – well, I’m an NWA Assessor for Towing Endorsements, and at one point, a number of Port Authorities started asking what to do about training deck crew. I couldn’t find anyone offering the relevant training at the time, so I put together a course, and the NWA endorsed it.
One of the main courses we offer is the 2-day Basic Tug Deckhand Course, held in Southampton in conjunction with Williams Shipping – we use their workboats and barges, and combine morning classroom teaching with practical experience in the afternoons.
And how is the workboat training landscape looking, nowadays?
Training is in demand at the moment because smaller boats are now more user-friendly and often operate with only two crewmembers onboard. The crew therefore, need to be trained to a higher standard – for example, Skippers spend more time assisting on deck giving more opportunity to fall overboard themselves, with which, the crew would then be expected to manoeuvre the vessels in order to recover their Skipper safely.
We’re also seeing interest from people already working in other maritime sectors. Quite a number have been working either on superyachts or in the merchant navy – and they’re coming back to the UK and want to get involved with the workboat and towage industry.
Are you seeing any challenges in the wider workboat sector?
There are definitely problems with getting people involved in the workboat sector – people are less inclined to work away from home. But there are huge benefits to doing so – you work for a few weeks then get a few weeks off, which is time you can really enjoy.
It’s possible that people are put off because the sea is seen as a dangerous environment. But it would be a shame to turn away from an exciting career at sea because it’s too risky, only to get knocked down by a bus or some similar scenario.
Hopefully the personnel challenge will swing round again in time – it’s a wonderful industry and there are wonderful characters within it. The marine sector is so diverse, with opportunities in construction, shipping, dredging etc. – there are so many areas and you can move about between them – I certainly have done. There’s no chance of ever getting bored.
More widely, in which sectors are you seeing the most change at the moment?
Dredging is continuing to evolve with new technology – dredging vessels are all self-propelled these days, which means they are less reliant on support from the towage sector.
Renewables has a huge way to go yet. Offshore wind farms have developed faster and been more efficient than I had thought – but people still need to recognise the benefits of tidal energy as well as offshore wind.
While wind energy can be an unreliable source of power, it’s guaranteed the tide will be going in and out forever. There are headlands all around the UK and in other parts of the world – and where there is a headland, with uneven surfaces beneath the seabed, ‘overfalls’ caused by the tide push waves up, so you’ve always got continual wave action.
What do you value most about your membership of the NWA?
The NWA has brought together many like minded individuals that run wonderful marine companies and given us a common standard of excellence. The infectious enthusiasm of everyone involved to continue to develop and improve efficiency and safety is truly special. Almost everyone will go out of their way to help and encourage newcomers to develop their companies and are remarkably happy to offer genuinely helpful free advice.
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