In late May, several hundred school children got to be part of the maiden voyage for a new program being offered by the Port of Oakland—free port tours.
Every other weekend the port will offer boat rides to local residents aboard the historic Potomac, a converted Coast Guard cutter that served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “floating White House” from 1936 to 1945.
While the presidential pedigree of the boat is a bonus, the port authority’s purpose in chartering the yacht is to build community interest in and support for the port.
“We’re not an industrial backwater. We are right in the middle of neighborhoods,” noted Chris Lytle, executive director of the Port of Oakland. “We think it is very important to be able to know our neighbors better and conversely for our neighbors to know us better.”
The 90 minute narrated tour takes passengers out into San Francisco Bay where along the way they can see giant containerships that call the port’s middle and outer harbor being discharged and loaded, ships at anchor, and all manner of working boats.
It’s no coincidence that Lytle is the man who revived tours in Oakland. He was executive director of the Port of Long Beach in Southern California, which also has an active port tour program.
Lytle said the goal is to “bring to light what up to now may be mysteries of what goes on back there in the port” for local residents. “And we will show you a lot of the people involved in moving trade across the docks,” he added.
The Oakland program is starting out modestly, offering two tours per month on a first-come, first-served basis through October.
Several other ports around the country offer tours, including the ports of Houston, Los Angeles, Tacoma, Seattle, Stockton, San Diego, and New Orleans. Some of these are for the general public, others just for school groups, elected officials or dignitaries.
In the Port of New York and New Jersey, a group called the Working Harbor Committee has offered “Hidden Harbor Tours” for about a decade.
These tours seem like an excellent way to build goodwill within the community and we are surprised not every port offers them in one form or another.
This commentary was published in the July 2015 issue of American Shipper.