3/M unlimited looking to transition from Ships to Tugboats

I have a 3/M unlimited license and a Tankerman PIC, I’ve been sailing on various cargo ships on both international and coastal runs for about a year a now, I have about 300 sea days on my license. I’m interested in transitioning to harbor tugs or ATBs- as I don’t really have a preference either one right now.

Problem is I have zero experience with tugboats, and all my shiphandling experience has been on single screw ships. I’m looking for advice on what’s a good path to acquire my TOAR and gain experience with the Tug industry.

I’ve had some people tell me to register for a TOAR training course such as Maritime Toar Assesments in New England, and then reach out to a Towboat company for my 30 days of observation. Others have told me I can reach out to company’s and they’ll sign me on as a deckhand and train me up and a DE can sign off my TOAR.

Any advice appreciated.

It may be doubtful anyone is going to put you in the wheelhouse with only 30 days experience on towing vessels, so a TOAR course may not be the best choice. Maybe look to deck on a tug that has a “Designated Examiner” as Captain. You can get the TOAR signed off while you get the experience most employers are going to want before they move you up to Mate.

Any specific companies you’d suggest reaching out to? I’m really only familiar with the big names like Crowley, Moran, and McAllister and a few local New England companies.

All the tug companies are looking for people…moving oil or not. Vane Brothers and Centerline would be two other companies to check out. Since you are a tankerman too, I’d especially talk to them and Crowley.

Getting on with a smaller company will help you get signed off faster, but like previous posts, youre going to want more than 30 days before sitting a watch by yourself. A great time to transition as most everyone needs competent people. Pick a region in the us where you want to work and go from there.

I think that many companies that transport oil would hire you right away as a Tankerman and let you get your 30 days of tug “observation time.” You’ll probably be observing while sweeping and moping between ports.

At many companies there isn’t much difference between mate and tankerman pay. At some companies the mates spend more time pumping barges than they do in the wheelhouse.

If you happen into a company that has DEs that will sign your TOAR within 60 days or so, great. However, a lot of companies don’t have DEs or the DEs will jerk you around for months before they will sign you off

Just go take the TOAR course and be done with it.

If you want a job right away, try Vitus, Crowley, or maybe Cook Inlet in Alaska. I say this because I’ve heard that they are short handed, and its seasonal work. They are approaching the end of the season. They would be a good place to get your 30 days without any long term commitment.

Compared to tankers and oil terminals, pumping small barges in small communities will be quite a culture shock.

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With 3m unlimited, PIC, and completed TOAR, you
will have no problem getting hired as mate

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Some larger companies, especially those transporting oil, may expect you to work a year or two as an AB/Tankerman before letting you into the wheelhouse. You don’t need to do that.

Some companies with a three watch system on long tows, like Puerto Rico or Hawaii, would put you to work as a second mate right away. You already know how to navigate and do collision avoidance at sea. You get into the wheelhouse quickly at many mom and pop companies .

What are some example of Mom and Pop companies?

Coming from the outside I look at big name companies being Crowley, Seabulk Towing, Moran, and Mcallister and when I think of Mom and Pop companies I think of Genesis Marine, Boston Towing, and Vane Brothers? Not sure if I’m off the mark with that.

I have a friend who said Genesis Marine is known for taking Mates and training them up to get their TOAR.

That’s my experience. I was standing my own watch on a tug about two or three days after I started working there. Just had gotten my license a few weeks before.

Before TOAR of course, and not getting mate pay.

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There’s a list of companies to consider. Not the most up to date but it’s worth going through

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They might, but without a TOAR and 30 days on a towing vessel, you aren’t authorized for that. ATBs at sea still need someone qualified as Mate on a towing vessel in charge of a watch, and without the TOAR and 30 days, you aren’t. See “FAQ” no. 24 in Enclosure (1) of NVIC 3-16:

My towing vessel will be on a voyage of more than 600 miles and will need to add an additional mate. Does this mate need to hold a towing endorsement? What if they will only stand watches at sea in open waters?

Yes. All mariners operating towing vessels must be qualified as Mate (Pilot) or Master of Towing Vessels.



By “right away,” I meant in the context of our prior discussion of getting 30 days plus a TOAR course first, and then sailing as soon as you have Mate of Towing endorsed on your MMC.

Although its legal to sail on a TOAR with proof of 30 days of tug time, I’ve never seen anyone do it. Maybe that works for an existing employee.

I do not envision too many companies hiring a new guy with a TOAR off the street as Mate without Mate of Towing endorsed on his MMC.

I think of Mom and Pop companies as being family owned companies (typically non-union) with just a few boats that have an informal, hands on sole proprietor type of culture , instead of a corporate culture.

Hint: If your contact at the company is an HR person, it’s not a mom and pop. If your contact is the owner, or a son or daughter, it’s probably a mom and pop.

I assumed as much, but wanted to clarify for anyone who might interpret it differently. I probably should that as a preface…


Hawespipe or school? If school I’m sure the alumni office will also have resources for companies too…

I would recommend doing that. Crowley needs people so bad right now they will almost definitely pay you mate pay while you get your 30 days.

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Arent Crowley ATB’s union, do you know which union they are if so?

I appreciate the answers from everyone, I have some companies I’ve jotted down and have reached out to some people I know asking about the industry and training.

I guess one question I have: are their any companies that I should avoid? Poor pay, poor benefits, bad culture, etc?

Their fleet is split pretty much in half between SIU and MMP / IBU.

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Where do you want to work: NE, Gulf, PNW, etc.?

What kind of company do you want to work for: small, medium , large ? Union or non-union?

I’ve said this before: sometimes it’s advantageous to work for a “bad” company with a lot of turnover. You can move up quickly there.

Take your TOAR course, get your 30 days (20-12 hour days), get your license.