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News - 23/06/14

Annual Report – Communications and Marketing

Cowes Harbour Commissioners has been working hard to open up new communications channels with our stakeholders and to strengthen those already in place. Outlined below is the progress we have made in the past year and we are currently developing our strategic plan, to identify how we can do better going forward. Our aim has been to ensure that the decisions we make are informed ones, that we listen to the needs and concerns of our harbour users and that the reasoning behind the decisions we make is clearly communicated to the stakeholders we serve. 

Cowes Harbour Commission is keen to enable stakeholders to reach us through a range of channels, according to their preferences and needs. Direct access through our websites, by phone, through our social media channels or through visiting the Harbour Office is complemented by access via the stakeholder representatives who sit on our Advisory Committee.

Advisory Committee
Now in its fifth year, the CHC Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from all our main user groups, chosen by the constituents they represent. It is an independent body, the purpose of which is to ensure that the needs and wishes of our stakeholders are taken into account in every major decision we make. To find who your stakeholder representative is, visit:

The Advisory Committee played a key role in the consultation process preceding the January 2014 revisions to Cowes Harbour’s General Directions. A working party was set up to ensure that stakeholder views were properly captured and considered. This resulted in two main changes, new Directions for the Chain Ferry operation including changes to the “right of way”, and the introduction of Directions for the safety management for both the construction and post construction phases for the new Cowes breakwater. Due to the length of the breakwater construction period and the potential impacts due to adverse weather on the construction programme and costs it has been necessary to run the construction period through the main eventing seasons in both 2014 and 2015. CHC are working with the contractors to minimise the impact of the construction on the events but unfortunately, it is inevitable that there will be some impact. The Commissioners are grateful for the support and co-operation of all parties for their assistance on this issue and especially for the support, advice and feedback given by the Advisory Committee members from and on behalf of their stakeholder groups.

Public Meetings
The Commission has increased the number of public meetings and presentations in the past year, with the aim of keeping all parties fully informed about progress on our major project – the new Cowes breakwater. The Harbour Master, Deputy Harbour Master and Commissioners delivered regular presentations to local yacht clubs, Town Councils, Cowes Week Limited, the CHC Advisory Committee, the Solent Forum and other stakeholder organisations, both communicating progress outward and also capturing input. This input has been used to help in the planning of the project, to ensure that it is delivered in such a way as to minimise disruption to our harbour users.

CHC’s monthly E-newsletters continue to play an important role in helping the Harbour Commission keep stakeholders in touch with the latest news and developments. We currently have over 2,500 people signed up to receive the E-newsletters directly by email and they can also be viewed on CHC’s two websites: cowesharbourcommission.co.uk and COWES.co.uk.

A completely new cowesharbourcommission.co.uk website was launched this spring, the result of a successful collaboration between the harbour authority and two Isle of Wight companies, project managers Solent Communications, and internet business solutions provider Netguides Limited.

The new site is designed to enable CHC to better share crucial statutory and navigational information with local residents, visitors and commercial harbour users in a much improved format that offers site visitors quick and easy access to content. It also provides information on our commercial and community activities. In particular, the website will play a key role in the promulgation of the very latest news, safety and navigational information regarding the progress of the Cowes breakwater construction.

The website features expanded sections on the work of the harbour authority; useful additions, such as an events calendar and alerts to the latest Local Notices to Mariners; a mooring and berthing locator with an interactive chart; helpful information for the leisure visitor, and the option to view the site in four languages: English, French, Dutch and German. The site is also fully optimised for use on tablets and mobile phones.

Our second site, COWES.co.uk, is the official yachting and boating website for Cowes and East Cowes. Although owned by CHC, we deliver the site as a stakeholder benefit for the towns we serve, promoting Cowes as a destination and providing a valuable hub for visitor information.

Visitor numbers for this site continue to grow, with record-breaking results during Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week 2013 of over 38,000 visits and up to 150 visitors on the site at any one time. Through the addition of new, interesting editorial sections during the year, we have ensured the website remained No.1 on Google for Cowes. The increasing success of the site attracted some leading brands (eg. Sunsail, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Slam, MDL Marinas, Dean & Reddyhoff) to advertise on the site for the first time, with excellent results.

CHC has also started to raise the profile of the harbour through expanded use of social media sites; Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Our plan is to continue to develop these communications channels over the next few years, to take account of the increasing demand for immediacy in delivering news and information, and the wide use of mobile devices which are transforming the way in which people communicate.

The COWES.co.uk social media channels saw consistent growth over the year. Currently we have 4,270 likes on Facebook, with an additional 3,530 followers on Twitter, and 1,129,876 views of Cowes videos on YouTube. There have been to date 434,259 views of the COWES.co.uk imagery on Flickr – a fantastic photographic record of all things “Cowes”.

CHC has issued 13 press releases this year, resulting in significant coverage of our activities in the local, national and even international media, in print and online. Further editorial submissions have been made to local publications: the Isle of Wight County Press, the Cowes’ Town Councils newsletters and the Solent Forum. Interviews with the Harbour Master and Deputy Harbour Master have been broadcast by, amongst others, Isle of Wight Radio, BBC South Today and BBC Radio Solent.

The Cowes Port Handbook 2014-2015, was published and distributed before Easter. A respected, quality guide to Cowes Harbour and its two towns, we have aimed to ensure it is of interest and value not only for harbour users and stakeholders but for all visitors to Cowes and East Cowes.

This year’s Handbook features navigation and harbour information, tide tables, a comprehensive events calendar and detailed information on General Directions and the Cowes Breakwater Project. New additions included a foreword by Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas, illustrations by a local artist, and an article by Helen Fretter, Deputy Editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine, on why the America’s Cup belongs back in Cowes!

CHC looks upon this Handbook as a resource for both the towns we serve. Local businesses, marine and non-marine, advertise in it, via display adverts and/or business listings in the Directory section.

22,000 Handbooks were published and printed, more than ever before, with planned distribution to include selected mainland yacht clubs, marinas and harbours around the Solent and in London.

2014-2015 PLANS
This has been an exceptionally good year for us, in terms of what we have put out as information to our stakeholders and of the valuable feedback we have had in return, but there are always areas where we could do better.

We are looking to extend and expand our meetings with residents and harbour users, especially during the crucial construction phase of the new Cowes breakwater. We want to make ourselves as accessible as possible and we need to ensure that we communicate properly to all our excellent staff, who are the public face of CHC, so that they continue to be advocates for the work we do.

We have also been slow to highlight how CHC reinvests its surplus each year for the benefit of you, the harbour users. This reinvestment is not merely a statutory obligation, it is our aim, so from now onwards we intend to give you annual updates on how we have delivered it. (This year, we have included a specific section on this crucial aspect of our work, which can be found on page 37 of the Annual Report).

There are still areas where we could and should do more, and we would welcome any suggestions and input as to how we can improve our communications to reach as many of our stakeholders as possible. We can be contacted via our websites, by email or directly at the Harbour Office, by phone or in person.


Destination Cowes
At the CHC Annual meeting two years ago, CHC was asked by members of the public to look into setting up an organisation which could coordinate the towns’ efforts to attract more yachting events to Cowes, to the benefit of all its stakeholders.

In response to this request, and having made a seres of initial enquiries, CHC organised a meeting at the Island Sailing Club (ISC) with clubs, classes, local business and council representatives in December 2012 to establish what was needed and how best to deliver it. As a result, the clubs and classes agreed that they should take the lead and co-ordinate the delivery of the initiative and “buy in” by the various clubs, classes and organisations.

By the following CHC Annual Public Meeting in May 2013 little progress had been made by those who had asked to take it forward, so to ensure that results were delivered as per our stakeholders’ request, we worked together with Cowes Yacht Haven and the UKSA to offer discounted weeks to clubs and classes to attract new events, and in particular in the low season. To date, the only organisation to take up this offer is the Etchells Class Association, which CHC has been delighted to support with their initiative to stage the new International Etchells Cowes Invitational Cup based at Shepards Wharf Marina this July.

CHC has continued to work with Cowes Yacht Haven, UKSA, Red Funnel and the Island’s Destination Management Organisation to encourage organisations, clubs, classes, local councils and local businesses to support the principles and draft business plan for “Destination Cowes”. The five parties had developed an outline proposal with five measurable objectives and a delivery plan with the purpose of marketing and developing a partnership approach to attract new significant events to our towns, including boating events, cruise ships and increased footfall to the towns’ shops, restaurants and pubs. Again unfortunately, the response and support from the main stakeholder groups has been very limited and the three organisations and Red Funnel who have pledged their support and funding for this initiative, consider it is vital for the success of the initiative to have a unified partnership approach with support from all the main stakeholder groups.

We would welcome suggestions and advice on how and whether to take this initiative forward from here. Having responded to a specific and much supported request from you, our stakeholders, we would like to know what you think our next steps should be to ensure that Cowes remains the destination of choice for visitors and yachtsmen and that we attract the events that provide such benefit to both towns.

Extract from the Cowes Harbour Commission Annual Report for 2013-2014.

• Cowes Harbour Commission Annual Report 2013-2014