JAMES HAYS, shown in his office on Friday, will retire in May after 12 years as Harpswell’s harbormaster.

JAMES HAYS, shown in his office on Friday, will retire in May after 12 years as Harpswell’s harbormaster.


Harpswell harbormaster James Hays will retire in May after 12 years on the job.

After a 20-year stint as project manager at Bath Iron Works, Hays became the first full-time harbormaster employed by the town of Harpswell in 2005. Since then, Hays has left his mark on the position.

“A lot of people don’t always understand what the harbormaster’s job is,” said Hays, who oversees 214 miles of coastline and eight different harbors and mooring fields throughout Harpswell. “People say, ‘I’d just love to have that job and spend all summer on the water,’ but it’s far more than that.”

Working out of his office at the Harspwell Town Hall, Hays said he’s usually doing more paperwork than boat cruising, but that it’s “all part of the job.”

Hays said that his greatest accomplishment as harbormaster was putting together an online waterfront data tracking program, which he built from scratch.

“The town didn’t have much of a program to regulate the waterfront when I arrived, so I put one together,” said Hays.

The program includes computerized GPS readings for each of the 2,383 moorings along Harpswell’s coastline, which Hays said makes them easier to keep track of.

“Every year I go out and take new GPS readings of the moorings,” Hays said. “It helps me know what’s there, answer people’s questions and see which moorings have been moved or damaged.”

Hays said he gets around 130 boat and mooring applications per year. A little less than half of those who apply are put on waiting lists, which Hays said can sometimes last up to five years. Additionally, current mooring owners must reapply whenever they buy a new boat. Hays has each mooring owner and applicant on a spreadsheet that is directly connected to his GPS mooring tracker.

“When Jim first came here, I don’t think there were any sort of computerized records,” said Town Administrator Kristi Eiane. “Now there are software maps of everything. Jim has modernized this position.”

Hays keeps the town’s 21-foot skiff docked in Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island, where he lives year-round.

“I usually start going out on the water some in June, and then spend quite a few days out there in July, August and September,” said Hays.

Once he takes all of the GPS readings, Hays said he spends most of his time checking channel markers, providing transportation for officials like tax assessors — who check building permits on various islands — and simply “showing a presence on the water.”

Hays also monitors the myriad aquaculture projects that take place throughout Harpswell and, along with federal and state agencies, signs off on the programs before they begin.

“There’s a lot to this job,” Hays said.

The interview process for his successor will begin next month, and Hays said he will most likely help out with the training process.

Once his job is done, Hays plans on remaining at his Bailey Island home and tending oyster aquaculture cages with his son. But Hays said his time working for the town of Harpswell will always be a part of him.

“I think once a harbormaster always a harbormaster,” said Hays. “People associate you with that.”

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