From the January issue of Pacific Ports Magazine

Captain Yoss Leclerc, MBA, B.SC., President, IHMA

Captain Yoss Leclerc, recently elected President of the International Harbour Masters Association (IHMA), succinctly summarizes the duties and tasks of a harbour master. “Harbour masters are there to ensure safety, security, and environmental protection of all activities under his jurisdiction,” he said during an interview with APP’s Jane McIvor. “It is a huge responsibility, encompassing all aspects of a port’s operations, including people, infrastructure, movement and berthing of vessels, transportation systems, and cargo.” While the overall role of harbour masters may be similar around the world, it is the uniqueness of their port that determines the true scope of their work. Regardless of their duties, harbour masters can look to the IHMA for guidance on best practices, and representation within the maritime industry as a whole to ensure their voice is heard.


While formally established in 1996, the roots of the IHMA can be traced back much further. Various regional and national associations, some formal organizations while others simply informal gatherings to share information, date back to the 1950s through to the 1980s. One of the strongest associations, the European Harbour Masters Association, with members from 14 European countries, recognized the importance of taking a more uniform approach to port operations and standards, particularly with regard to administration and navigational services, safety, and security. It was out of this organization that the IHMA grew.

Although it is accepted that ports vary greatly in geography, size and environment and operate with different commercial and financial constraints, the IHMA was able to recognize and build on the strong common purpose each harbour master shared — to manage safely the movement of shipping within his or her area of jurisdiction. This includes the management of:

  • People, including vessel traffic services operators, port operators and associated staff
  • Safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally sound port operations
  • Finances and marine assets
  • The provision of pilotage
  • The leisure use of the harbour

Today, with over 250 members and 23 sponsors, the IHMA represents the common interests of those charged with overseeing port operations, regardless of their title. They have Consultative Status at the International Maritime Organization as well as the International Hydrographic Organization that ensures the world’s seas, oceans and navigable waters are properly surveyed and charted. Their input and participation on these, as well as other, like-minded organizations, such as the International Standards Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping, and the International Marine Pilots Association to name just a few, have resulted in the successful collaboration on several initiatives and projects, such as the development of:

  • Guidelines and best practices for terminal design and operations
  • Standards for exchange data information (S211)
  • Technical guidelines for mooring equipment and systems
  • Guidelines regarding the handling of large vessels

The IHMA is also part of Navigating a Changing Climate (NaCC), a multi-stakeholder coalition of nine associations committed to working together to support the inland and maritime navigation infrastructure sector as they respond to climate change; and the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), an initiative working towards the vision of a maritime industry free of corruption.

Leclrec, who took over the leadership role at the IHMA in October 2020, is well-suited to the position. His maritime career spans over 30 years and includes senior harbour master and operations roles within the Montreal Port Authority, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and, currently, the Port of Quebec. He is also the President and principal consultant with Logistro Consulting International Inc. (LCI), a Canadian-based international firm offering consulting services in marine, transportation, and supply chain management worldwide. LCI is involved from the concept stage to delivery of all projects including strategic development together with project management and implementation.

Today’s harbour master

When asked how the role of the harbour master has changed over the years, Leclrec was quick to point out that increasing operational and social complexity has definitely affected the skills required for this critical position. “Indeed, nowadays, the harbour master is not only the port operations expert (regulatory, intermodal supply chain, performance, infrastructure projects, etc.), but must also be proficient in management skills and with a deep knowledge of technological advances (especially in operational systems and new greener/more efficient innovations),” he said. “The harbour master must also be strong in communications (with stakeholders, officials, communities, etc.) and be savvy in negotiations.”

To address the requirements of this ever-changing skill set, the IHMA has partnered with Lloyds Maritime Academy to offer members the opportunity to apply for a contributory bursary towards the Harbour Master’s Diploma program. This is in addition to IHMA’s HM Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program, launched in 2018. “The objective of this initiative is to provide members with a method for tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge and experience gained both formally and informally beyond any initial training,” Leclerc said. “It includes a self-assessment measurement tool and the functionality to record CPD activity against occupational standards recognized by the IHMA.”

Leclerc also described how the IHMA implemented a mentoring program where senior harbour masters from around the world provide coaching and mentoring to junior individuals. “In some instances, we have even enabled internship opportunities to allow junior individuals to join other ports around the world for a period of time to get theoretical and practical experience,” he added.

Today’s harbour

Most definitely, the skills required for today’s harbour master demonstrate the growth and diversity of port activities. “Today, harbour masters are involved in supply chain efficiency that can sometimes extend well beyond a port’s jurisdiction,” said Leclerc. “They must also address operations sustainability and social licence as well as climate change adaptation.”

Other factors that have impacted port operations and, hence, the harbour master’s responsibilities, include the increased size of vessels and the adaptations required by a port to accommodate them — both in terms of the physical logistics (capacity, depth, channel design, turning basin, bollard strength, energy supply, etc.) and operations (intermodal supply chain, railway, roads, etc.). Directly related to operations and the supply chain is digitalization, amplified by COVID-19. “There is electronic data exchange in every aspect of port operations (for example, e-commerce, electronic navigation, vessels information exchange, cargo, regulatory data information exchange, blockchain, intermodal performance),” Leclerc said. “This trend has caused some disturbance in the way ports were accustomed to operating and the transition has been very resource intensive, hence, very challenging for smaller ports.”

The environment is another top priority for all ports. Ports not only need to address and implement complex international and national regulatory performance requirements but also enforce them, which involves important resources and necessitates acute internal expertise. Along with the environment, climate change is also of great concern for ports. “Across the planet, we are experiencing the effects of climate change — oceans rising, the frequency of hurricanes and the increased intensity of winds, waves, and extreme temperatures,” he said. “Ports must make significant investments in the resiliency of their operations and infrastructures to keep up. Moreover, the world is transitioning from a carbon economy, pushing ports, along with the rest of the marine industry, to develop, test and implement new technologies, energies, regulations, processes, and protocols to address greenhouse gases and smart supply chains.

Yet another trend that has changed today’s harbour dramatically is the increased urbanization of coastal zones, usually in close proximity to port operations, requiring greater inclusion of the public to gain social licence.

“This non-exhaustive list of challenges proves that ports are amongst the most resilient organizations. They have been able to adapt to these huge disruptive natural and human trends while ensuring a safe, secure, and efficient maritime gateway to facilitate world trade.”

Beyond tomorrow

New initiatives are always in the works with the IHMA. One that is at the forefront of priorities for port management is “just-in-time arrival” systems. “IHMA is currently involved in an IALA (International Association of Lighthouse Authorities)-led project regarding standardization of port call messages. As we know, land-shore communications as well as exchanges amongst supply chain actors are the cornerstone of the supply chain performance, and they happen at all levels of the logistic and transportation system. In order to support the system’s enhancement, these communications need to be standardized and formalized,” said Leclerc, adding that the initiative is one of many being developed. “Port collaborative systems, the emerging time stamp standard, route exchange formats, Electronic Product Code Information Services empowered by Global Standards One, National Single Windows are projects that all have the goal of improving efficiency of the supply chain.”

Additional work ahead for Leclerc and the IHMA team includes establishing a branch of the Association in Africa to focus on regional maritime issues common to the continent and to also look at whether there would be interest from harbour masters in North America to do the same.

In the long term, Leclerc said that the IHMA is looking to develop port operational standards and provide auditing services to ports around the world that wish to enhance their operations. “We would also like to strengthen our regulatory and technology watch to be able to inform members of emerging issues and provide guidance on the best path forward for these,” he said, using the example of Canada’s Single Window initiative which, although viable, could be improved by expanding and enabling broader integration of supply chain stakeholders, including the ports.”

For those wanting to learn more about the IHMA, please visit

About Captain Yoss Leclerc

Captain Yoss Leclerc has over 30 years of experience in the maritime, logistics, transport and port industries. During his career at sea, he specialized in gas carriers (LNG, LPG), chemicals and oil tankers. Ashore, he has had the opportunity to work and collaborate in the strategic development of several major Canadian ports, such as the port of Metro Vancouver and the Port of Montreal.
During his many years in the maritime sector, he used his experience to develop durable solutions in response to a multitude of complex and diverse problems related to safety, security, emergency preparedness, Environmental protection and project management. His role as President of the International Harbour Masters Association enables him to work on various international maritime issues with international organizations such as IMO, ILO, IPA and PAINC.
Yoss holds a master’s certificate (FG), a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master’s degree in Business Administration with specialization in logistics and transportation from the University of Montréal. Yoss also sits on the board of Directors of the International Sailor Society of Canada.