Longshore Workers and Material Handlers and Related Occupations - What They Do

Longshore workers transfer cargo throughout dock area and onto and from ships and other vessels. They are employed by marine cargo handling companies, shipping agencies and shipping lines.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Operate industrial trucks, tractors and other mobile equipment to transfer cargo, such as containers, crated items, automobiles and pallet-mounted machinery, around dock to within range of cranes and hoists
  • Operate winches or other hoisting devices to load and unload cargo onto and from ships and other vessels
  • Operate mechanical towers to load vessels with materials such as coal and ore
  • Operate equipment to transfer bulk materials, such as grain, to hold of vessels
  • Connect hoses and operate equipment to transfer liquid materials into storage tanks on vessels
  • Perform other activities such as lashing and shoring cargo aboard ships, opening and closing hatches, cleaning holds of ships and rigging cargo.

Job titles

  • stevedore
  • ship loader operator
  • tanker loader
  • longshore worker
  • longshoreman/woman
  • dockworker
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Some secondary school education may be required.
  • On-the-job training is provided.

Essential Skills


  • May read a few sentences at the beginning of a shift to receive work instructions, such as starting times and chute assignments. (1)
  • Read site regulations for each terminal to which they are dispatched to obtain information on operating procedures, such as stowage patterns for different types of materials. (2)
  • Skim memos of a page or less in length to stay abreast of company policies or union business. (2)
  • Scan company newsletters to identify and read articles of interest. (2)
  • Refer to manuals to learn how to operate equipment, such as conventional cranes on ships, or to find information such as rigging configurations. (3)

Document use

  • Read lists of names on union dispatch boards to locate their name and indicate their availability for work. (1)
  • Read signage posted at terminals, wharfs and piers for directions and safety information. (1)
  • Read weight data written or stamped on the side of cargo to determine how to lift it safely. (1)
  • Read labels on equipment and supplies, such as forklifts and wire, to identify safe working loads. (1)
  • Read flags flying on ships from around the world to identify each ship's country of origin. (2)
  • Read tables to obtain information such as ferry schedules, stowage patterns or rigging configurations. (2)
  • Interpret pictures to learn about hand signals or operating procedures, such as how to handle lumber. (2)
  • Read delivery slips and invoices to verify that goods, such as lumber, were delivered in the amounts specified in the paperwork. (2)
  • Interpret scale drawings of ships to locate cargo to be unloaded or interpret scale drawings of terminals to locate berths, warehouses and roads. (3)


  • May write a note as a reminder of supplies needed on the location of a cargo hold. (1)
  • May complete a tally sheet to record the number of packs delivered, such as 100 packs from Tokyo. (1)
  • May complete accident report forms to record the details of an accident. (2)


Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure the dimensions of a ship's hold to determine what goods will fit in this space. (1)
  • May calculate the weight of a load, considering the weight and quantity of the different materials, to safely hoist it by crane. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • May compare the weight of items to be lifted, such as a pack of lumber, to the weight rating of a sling to determine if the sling will safely lift the load. (1)

Numerical Estimation

  • May estimate the weight and dimensions of a vehicle to determine how best to securely lash it to a ship. (2)
  • May estimate if the cargo being hoisted by the crane will fit in a specific spot in the hatch, considering factors such as the angle of entry and the size of the cargo. (3)

Oral communication

  • Listen to and follow simple radio instructions from the gantry operator. (1)
  • Communicate with co-workers performing such tasks as tending hatch or operating cranes or small equipment, to safely and efficiently co-ordinate the movement of goods. (2)
  • Speak with crews of ships to locate cargo and co-ordinate work. (2)
  • Interact with forepersons to receive work instructions, to report safety concerns and to troubleshoot problems. (2)
  • Converse with co-workers and forepersons during safety meetings. (2)
  • Interact with checkers, who monitor and record the transfer of cargo, and the RCMP, who manage security, to provide information. (2)


Problem Solving

  • May find that other workers are putting products at risk. For instance, careless use of water hoses in the warehouse may mean that rolls of paper products are in danger of being soaked. They advise the person using the hose that this is jeopardizing the product and, if necessary, move products to another location. (1)
  • May break a pack of lumber while moving a load. They follow the standard procedure of calling in a swamper to restack the broken bundle and, in the interim, figure out how to work around the temporary obstruction to maintain productivity. (1)
  • May observe that a load is off balance and tipping forward. They assess whether time should be taken to adjust the load immediately, considering safety risks and how long it will take to get the load to its destination. (2)

Decision Making

  • Decide which piece of available equipment is most suited to the job that must be done. (1)
  • Decide how many bundles of logs may be safely lifted by crane. (2)
  • Decide what constitutes safe work practices to maintain their personal safety and that of others. (2)
  • Decide the sequence of loading goods into containers, considering the weight distribution. (3)
  • Decide if it is necessary to suspend work when there is a serious safety hazard, such as fume emissions, or if cargo is being improperly stowed, pending review by the walking boss. (3)

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking information was not collected for this profile.

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Longshore workers perform repetitive tasks; however, they may bid on various types of work requiring different skills and this lends a measure of variety. Their work priorities are established by forepersons who provide ongoing direction to crews during the day. Within this context, longshore workers follow established operating procedures and have some scope to sequence their tasks for efficiency. Co-ordinating work with others in the crew is essential to working safely and maintaining productivity. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember the layout of different ships to locate and unload cargo.
  • Remember the operating procedures of each terminal to perform work in conformance with them.

Finding Information

  • May call the dispatcher to find missing information on an invoice, such as the name of the ship to be loaded. (1)
  • Consult with the foreperson by radio or in person to clarify procedures. (1)
  • Speak with experienced co-workers to solve problems. (2)
  • May read health and safety regulations to find information on safety. (2)
  • Use reference books, manuals and documents available at union halls and companies to find technical information, such as rigging techniques. They extract and interpret the information and apply it to the workplace. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Longshore workers work in teams, commonly referred to as crews, under the direction of a foreperson. Within this context, they may work independently, as when they are operating a shunt truck, or with a partner, as when they are signalling for a co-worker operating a crane. Working with others is critical to the job as it impacts on safety and efficiency.

Continuous Learning

There is a need for ongoing learning to acquire and maintain competencies in a cross-section of the industry's many skills areas, such as high-climb lashing, gantry crane operating and hatch tending (conventional or container), as this impacts on their employability. The industry uses the hiring hall system in which workers bid on work for which they are qualified and are then dispatched to different employers. There is a strong tradition of on-the-job training and some workers also have the opportunity to participate in formal training activities. Safety training, such as Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) courses, is emphasized as the working environment is hazardous.