His territory stretches from the waters of Portland to South Portland. It encompasses Casco Bay waters around House, Peaks, Cushing, Ram, Cliff, Green, Jewell and Little and Great Diamond islands.

As Portland Harbor master, Kevin Battle keeps a keen eye on maritime commerce, recreational boats, ferries, water taxis – and even the occasional swimming moose. Battle has worked for the commission for 15 years, first as a deputy, then since 2016, as harbor master, overseeing a staff of three part-time deputies.

But he’s not a lifelong sailor. He doesn’t even own a boat.

Battle, 61, was born in Ireland, but grew up near Morristown, New Jersey, amid farmland – and with little affinity for the ocean. As a young man, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard because he wanted a job in law enforcement. The Coast Guard sent him to Maine, and he stayed because he “met a girl,” now his wife of 39 years, Kathy. Battle went on to a career as a South Portland police officer before going to work for the region’s port.

As harbor master, Battle reports to the Port of Portland’s Board of Harbor Commissioners, a quasi-municipal corporation made up of volunteer representatives from Portland and South Portland and one appointed by the governor. The Maine Legislature created the job in 1917 to protect the interests of both ports. It is largely funded by the fees charged to pilots and for moorings.

Today, Battle is fond of his chosen home, his job and the busy port he oversees. He thrives on keeping people safe and getting to know his community, from lobstermen and recreational sailors to merchant marines and the captains of container ships.

Battle spends 10 to 15 hours a week on the water, then the rest of his work week at his Marine Trade Center office. But even from his home in South Portland, Battle is on call at all hours, fielding questions from the captains of oil tankers and cruise ships or simply recreational kayakers who get turned around.

He relishes the diversity and the adventure that each day brings.

“If someone had told me years ago that there would be a peddling bicycle-boat tour around the harbor, I’d say, ‘Huh?’” Battle said. “There are weddings that rent ferry boats, and water taxis going back and forth to islands for 50th birthday parties. There’s always something different.”

We caught up with Battle during the busy August tourist season to learn about his work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Battle shares a laugh with Floydzell Johnson, an employee at Southern Maine Community College, while patrolling along the harbor in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

What variety of things do you handle as harbor master?

Today Portland Harbor is the busiest harbor in the state of Maine, and one of the busiest on the East Coast. We get cargo ships, oil ships, tourists, plus the Coast Guard. I’m sorry to say we don’t get many Navy ships. I always wish that the Navy made more of a presence. Eimskip brings in the container ships (from Iceland) because the travel time to Portland is shorter, as opposed to going all the way down to Boston.

Look out the window of my office and you can see several working fishing boats 50 to 60 to 70 feet in length. Then there are the pleasure crafts. This office oversees approximately 1,000 moorings. We have six good-sized marinas and a brand new one going in – Fore Points. That’s for the mega yacht. Portland is now a pretty well-known destination, instead of some place to drive through to get fuel on the way north, like it had been for a long time. And we’re coming up on cruise ship season. Annually, we have about 70-plus cruise ships.

Then, there’s the comings and goings of the islanders. It’s a limited area and a lot of people want to use it. The majority of time there are no problems, but we do get calls for complaints. A couple of weeks ago there was a boat on a regular basis that started going between Little Diamond and Great Diamond. It was a hover boat that got a lot of calls, because it’s louder than most boats. It rides on the water surface. People were confused and said it would slice up lobster lines. I contacted the owner and went for a ride on it to see what it was like so I could answer people’s questions. Every year there’s something different.

Every day is an adventure: On a recent Thursday, Battle tied a log to his bumper to pull it off the pavement at the South Portland boat ramp. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

What are some of the most dangerous things that have happened under your watch?

We have the storms. I have the Coast Guard to help, but I’ve been out there when we’ve had thunderstorms come across. One time, the sailor of a brand new boat, he was up by Cow Island and when the thunderstorm started coming across through the channel, he tried to head for Spring Point Marina. Unfortunately, when he got to the backside of Fort Gorges, he ran the boat aground. He was calling for assistance because he had people who were hurt. When I located him, we had to escort him back out from behind Fort Gorges so the fire boat could get to him. I think it was a 33- or 36-foot powerboat. He had his family on it for a pleasure ride.

We try to tell people to ‘know before you go’ – know the tides, know the weather. When he headed out it was high tide. But on his way back, it was low tide, and the tide here is a difference of 8 to 10 feet. He went from full speed to a sudden stop. That was a scary ride for me because I was on the other side of Great Diamond, and I had to go through the thunderstorm to get to him. The boat I was in was quite capable but that was quite a ride in the wind and the chop. I’m pretty lucky: Most of the major storms have hit at a time when we had the minimum amount of people out.

We’re kind of the middle guard. There is the Coast Guard, which is federal; the Marine Patrol, which is state; and South Portland and Portland police and fire. We work hand-in-hand with all of them.

Is it common to have boats run aground in Portland Harbor?

I would say probably in the summertime we get one or two a week. A number are sailboats with new sailors who are inexperienced. You don’t need a license to sail a boat. A lot of the time I go and make sure nobody is hurt. I’ve taken people off their boat to lighten the load so that when the tide comes in the boat will float – or we’ve set an anchor out – so that when the tide comes in, the boat will rise where it is and not get pushed farther up the shore.

Do you see many fatalities?

There have been some definite tragedies. But we’ve been very lucky, because a lot of dedicated people work on the harbor. Once we put out the service call, a lot of people show up to give a hand. Lobstermen are fierce competitors, but when there is a need, lobstermen will work arm in arm.

About 100 people a year fall into the harbor. The majority of time it’s witnessed, laughed at, and the person is pulled back out because the person is trying to go from boat-to-boat. But there have been a number of times that someone has fallen in during the wintertime, and nobody heard or saw them go in, and with the water temperature below 50, they don’t come up. They get a mouth full of water and their system shuts down.

Do you own a leisure boat?

My father-in-law had a boat that we worked on together, but I never had a boat myself. (My boating) has always been with an eye to see what’s going wrong and watching out for things. I’ve got two boats I could use as harbor master to patrol around the harbor and look for things that are odd. If there is a party on a boat, you want to be seen. I want people to come here, and I want them to have a good time and go home with good memories. I don’t want them getting hurt. Humans, by nature, will push things to the limit. Sometimes if they see you, they don’t.

Battle never knows what he’ll find as he patrols the harbor – from celebrities to bus drivers to swimming ungulates. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Meeting and talking with people. Being out and about on the boat and seeing what’s going on. You have hot, humid days of summer and go out on the water, and out around the islands it can be 20 or 30 degrees cooler. In the Back Cove I’ve seen dolphins, and by Fort Gorges and House Island I’ve seen minke whales. In the past, I saw a beluga whale. Everyone was talking about it. I can remember the mackerel run where it was like a wave of mackerel jumping out of the water, churning the water as they went up the Fore River. I’ve seen deer swimming island to island. I’ve gotten reports of moose.

The port is a small microcosm of Maine. I see many of the same people on the water. There’s a broker, a farmer, a bus driver, a teacher. There’s such a diversity. There’s a master mariner, and a person who just bought a boat.

Have you seen famous people in Portland Harbor, too?

Oh yeah, Elton John, President Bush. Also Garth Brooks and Cher. It was explained to me that wherever Cher goes, her boat shadows her along the coast, and when she finishes a concert, she goes to her boat. It makes sense. It’s like a hotel room, except it’s your place. I passed by Elton John. I saw him without his stage makeup and he was nice. He gave me a quick hello. They’re people, too.


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.