What does a Dock Worker do?

Cassie L. Damewood

A dock worker, also known as a longshoreman, loads and unloads cargo from ships onto trucks or railroad cars and verifies its contents. He may use specialized heavy equipment to move the materials or do it by hand with the assistance of other dock workers. He may work as an independent contractor or be employed by a stevedoring, which unloads ships, or a shipping company.

Dock workers may be tasked with using cranes to move intermodal containers.
Dock workers may be tasked with using cranes to move intermodal containers.

As the shipments arrive in port, a dock worker is normally required to inspect the cargo and containers before he unloads them. He generally has a packing list for each shipment on which he notes opened containers, damaged goods or other discrepancies. A significant number of dock workers carry computerized handheld devices into which they enter this information. Knowledge of local and regional transportation rules is often required to properly complete the shipping and receiving paperwork.

Dock workers may help to maintain equipment at an intermodal terminal, which is a location where cargo from container ships is offloaded.
Dock workers may help to maintain equipment at an intermodal terminal, which is a location where cargo from container ships is offloaded.

If the person is loading a shipment for transport, he is normally required to be knowledgeable of packing procedures. These methods generally include properly stacking goods to prevent shifting during transport. He may also be required to sort the merchandise per the shippers’ instructions. Cables and ropes are normally used to secure the packages and containers.

Graving, or dry dock, workers may be tasked with ships with hulls that have been damaged below the waterline.
Graving, or dry dock, workers may be tasked with ships with hulls that have been damaged below the waterline.

To safely and efficiently transfer the containers between the ship and the transporting vessel, a dock worker commonly uses a winch. This equipment utilizes large pincers to securely grasp the containers and move them with ease and speed. Larger containers sometimes require slings to be placed around them for stability, a task normally performed by other dock workers. Smaller containers are generally moved using dollies, handcarts and pallet jacks.

Dock workers ensure that vessels are loaded and unloaded of cargo.
Dock workers ensure that vessels are loaded and unloaded of cargo.

Once the shipment has been loaded onto a truck or rail car, the dock worker ordinarily has the trucker or rail operator sign off on the shipment as being received and complete. This document normally releases the worker from any liability from that point forward. The trucker or operator then has sole responsibility to deliver the goods to the required destination.

Longshoremen need logistical knowledge.
Longshoremen need logistical knowledge.

Success in this position generally requires good physical health, stamina and strength. Attention to detail is typically required to authenticate shipments and their condition. Teamwork is frequently involved in this job. Math skills are often needed as well, to calculate container capacities and convert specifications to the local method of calculating weights and measures.

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to qualify for this position. Prior experience in cargo handling or warehouse operations is strongly preferred. Some areas may require dock workers to be certified to operate some heavy equipment.

Dock workers are responsible for reporting damaged goods.
Dock workers are responsible for reporting damaged goods.

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Discussion Comments

jmiller2

Being able to obtain security clearance may also be necessary to become a dock worker. I know some dock workers who drove military tanks and Humvees onto a roll on roll off ship. Now that would be a sweet job.

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