The Hull Harbormaster Department oversees 27 miles of coastline, 13,300 acres of water, two harbor islands, two shipping channels, and Straits Pond.
Looking toward the upcoming boating season, there’s nothing more important than keeping boaters, swimmers, and other users of Hull waterways safe, as Harbormaster Kurt Bornheim, who has been on the job for 23 years, explained his department’s role to the Select Board in a recent presentation.
“We direct, coordinate, and are responsible for all navigation on Hull’s waterways and other areas, when necessary,” he said. “We ensure that all the waterways and town-owned waterfront facilities are used in a safe, environmentally-friendly, and lawful manner and provide navigational assistance to those using Hull waterways and harbors through applicable authority and public education.”
While boating was especially popular during the height of the pandemic, Bornheim predicts that although there’s currently a mooring and parking shortage and Hull’s boating clubs are full, there will be a lessening of interest in the future.
“Boating is an expensive hobby, and we’re starting to see people selling their boats and getting out of boating,” he said.
Current boaters, 65% of whom are non-residents and 35% live in town, are served by 570 moorings and 300 slips. The town also features seven designated mooring fields and two private marinas.
Besides Bornheim, who also serves as the town’s shellfish constable, the department consists of part-time Assistant Harbormaster Paul Cummings, seasonal Assistant Harbormaster William Aucoin, and assistant harbormasters who work six months during the busiest season, from May through October, for up to 18 hours per week.
In 2021, the department responded to 127 calls for assistance related to sunken vessels, a couple of disturbances at town piers, illegal clam digging, a seal on the beach, tanker escorts, kayaks in distress, one stolen boat, two missing swimmers and three in distress, two missing children on the front beach, two people stranded on the harbor islands, and two vessel collisions, among other calls for service.
Other duties include coordinating commercial shellfish activities, establishing boater education outreach programs, issuing mooring permits, warnings, and citations, managing the mooring fields, and coordinating and contracting for the maintenance of harbor facilities.
Part of Bornheim’s duties as shellfish constable involve monitoring, inspecting, and enforcing the shellfish regulations.
“This is important to ensure that the clams sold on the market are safe and do not contain contaminated shellfish,” he explained.
After the shellfish are harvested, they are transported by the master digger to the state purification facility and then sold to the market.
“Contaminated shellfish can cause stomach aches to serious food poisoning, depending on several factors,” Bornheim said. “This is a public safety concern – one I take very seriously.”
The department also is responsible for installing and maintaining aids to navigation and operating and maintaining five municipal piers, 13 floats, and associated gangways, a commuter float, and two waiting stations, and operating the pump-out boat from Memorial Day to Columbus Day two days a week, weather permitting.
“During the 2021 boating season, 443 vessels were pumped out, and approximately 5,695 gallons of waste/gray water were removed,” according to Bornheim.
One of his biggest concerns is the condition of the town piers, ramps, and waterfront infrastructure “due to sea level rise.” Other concerns are the needs to replace the commuter float at Pemberton Pier and for more staff.
Hull has been awarded a number of grants for pump-out vessel operation and engine replacement, and funding toward the Nantasket Pier dredging and the eventual rebuilding of the A Street boat ramp.
Bornheim also mentioned “the great working relationship” the department has with Police Chief John Dunn and Fire Chief Chris Russo, and also the U.S. Coast Guard’s Point Allerton crew.