ATBs Licensing

I’ve always thought that guys pushing barges of the size that we push should gain unlimited tonnage time for the unit so they can test for unlimited licenses. The problem with the licensing system is that even if I wanted an unlimited tonnage license I’m only getting sea time for the tug which is, in my case under 1600 tons, but for many under 200 tons. On the flip side, why is it ok for someone with a 200 ton license to tow a 9,999 ton barge on the wire but not in the notch? Handling a barge that size on the wire is much more difficult. I spent most of my career towing and the job on an ATB is much easier in the boat handling Dept. Towing we either got in the notch before coming in to port of took it alongside to dock so the handling of the unit coming alongside the dock is essentially the same as an ATB. Where it differs is getting on and off the wire which is challenging for experienced tug guys in adverse weather conditions where the ATB doesn’t have to worry about that. I have no problem getting an unlimited tonnage license but the CG has to make a path for the ATB guys to get the tonnage to get there. Unless you’re suggesting that the CG do away with the hawespipe for tug guys but still allow it on a ship of unlimited tonnage which also doesn’t make any sense.

1 Like

Well, just to bring up an exception:
U.S. fishing vessels up to 5000 GRT can be operated with fishing vessel deck officers licenses of the appropriate tonnage.

Seperate issue:

Another way of looking at it is this: U.S. ATBs of <300 GRT are apparently pushing barges of <10,000 GRT, and doing a pretty safe job of it. I’m not hearing about a large rash of accidents involving such vessels.The rest of the seafaring world may surmise it is stupid, or it is equally valid that the rest of the seafaring world must admit that unlimited licenses are proven to be unnecessary on vessels up to 10,000 GRT.

1 Like

Leadslead, The hawsepipe guys, of which I was a smaller community of mariners before I retired, had their hands full. I get some of the pain for not being recognized for the task at hand that perhaps the licensing authorities did not recognize. A disgrace, but is the requirements now none the less. So perhaps you can understand my point for all these young fellows that seek the Academy route, no matter what school. And hope that they have the mentors on Deck and Engine room that we were so lucky to have.Your comments reflect my feelings back in the day. . Hawsepiper is not dead, but seriously affected by the newer rules. It is my hope the newbies have the luxury to learn from the guys that walked the walk before all this stuff got nuts. No matter where they came from.

1 Like

Any barge, no matter how large, can be towed or pushed by a tug with just a Master of Tow in command. 10,000 GRT is just the cutoff for being required to have a pilot.

So although It may seem odd that a tug master can navigate what is effectively a thousand foot long ship with a limited license, their safety record doesn’t indicate that radical change is needed in the licensing department.

Most of the big rigs I handled were about 500 to 760 ’ overall with 3200 to 7200 HP with 24’ to 34’ draft on the barge loaded, about 16 to 20’ on the tug. Had to be rather cautious with steering and speed navigating the channels and approaching the dock. We were under powered but made it work somehow. The newer ATB rigs have much more HP and less tonnage for the most part. The 1000 to 1200 foot rigs I am referring to are are river tows, which constitute a whole different animal and special skill level. 500 to 1600 ton Masters were the norm back then. Not so much now due to USCG licensing regulations. It is what it is.

1 Like

I don’t think the tests or exams should be any easier. My point is that if you should require an unlimited license for a particular unit you should get unlimited tonnage for working on that unit. Even a 3rd mate out of an academy cannot get his masters license on an ATB because his seatime is on vessels under 200 tons.

Tonnage over 100 GRT is acceptable for an unlimited license. And you can use the aggregate tonnage of the ATB for half of the required service. See 46 CFR 11.402 and 11.211(d).

1 Like

If you are filling a billet as mate (not 3rd mate, 2nd mate, or Chief Mate) and you sea service doesn’t reflect the time that way will the CG accept that?

Depends on what you are applying for. If you want a specific answer, you need to ask a specific question.

Lack of details notwithstanding, 2nd Mate and Chief Mate require time as officer in charge of a navigational watch (not 3rd or 2nd Mate), a “mate” meets that requirement. As for time as a Chief Mate, see the definition of that term in 46 CFR 10.107.

Your understanding of the requirements appears dated. Much of what you posted was correct under past regulations, but there were changes in 2013 that included lowering the minimum tonnage fopr unlimited licenses, and to the type of service required for 2nd Mate and Chief Mate…


You’re right that I haven’t researched the unlimited license path for a while. I tested for my 1600 ton Master Oceans under the old rules. I was under the impression that they were still the same. I will go back to the CFRs and read up. I’d like to test for my 3rd Mate just to have it even though right now I don’t need it.

So looking at this requirement it says that half of the required seatime must be on vessels of 1600 tons or more and the other half on vessels over 100 tons. Am I correct in reading that you can use the aggregate tonnage of the ATB for half of all of that service or is it only half of the time that is required on vessels over 1600 tons? Also, if I have over a year of service as master 1600 ton on a tug that is under 200 GT does the aggregate tonnage of the barge count towards the 3rd mate license?

I’ll answer the easy one first. Aggregate tonnage of tug and barge can be used, with limits. See 46 CFR 11.211(e). This was added in 2013.

Sorry for all of the questions but if an academy grad comes straight to an ATB out of school and all of his seatime is on that ATB with the tug under 200 tons even with the aggregate tonnage of the barge he would not qualify for an upgrade due to the fact that only half of the required time on vessels over 1600 tons can be satisfied by the aggregate tonnage Of the tug and barge. The seatime for an upgrade to 2nd mate is 1 year of service as OICNW while holding a 3rd mate. If half of that time is required to be on vessels over 1600 tons and only half of that can be the aggregate tonnage they would be 3 months shy of the required seatime on unlimited tonnage vessels if I’m reading that right. So if I’m correct on that my earlier statement would be true. You would have to work at least a portion of your seatime on a truly unlimited tonnage vessel to be able to upgrade right?

The provision about half the time being on vessels over 1,600 GRT isn’t disqualifying. If you don’t have half over 1,600 GRT, you would still qualify for the endorsement, but would get a tonnage limit (yes, a tonnage limit on an “unlimited” endorsement…) calculated from the tonnage of the service you have. See 46 CFR 11.402(b).

The only end workaround for the sea time is you need at least 6 months seatime on a vessel which is OVER 1600GT as AB. Anything else will lead to the tonnage restriction. If that’s the case then the paperwork shuffle’ has succeeded in limiting mariners who are actually operating unlimited tonnage (both GT and DWT) vessels simply because they are a tug and barge.

I looked at this in the ‘90s. My only option would have been to get an inland masters AGT license. But to what end or benefit? I can still operate the current 195GT Tug, 8500GT barge (19000DWT) and earn a living. But the restrictions are SO convoluted it is mind boggling.


Technically, yes, but I know people who have gotten 3rd mate unlimited (with no tonnage restrictions) 100% from conventional tug and barge sea time. You could always ask for it and see what they say.

Did you ever hold 500 ton or 1,600 ton mate? If so, when did you test for those?

I know the rules have changed quite a bit since I retired almost 20 years ago. I always wondered why when I had a 1600 ton masters and was limited to that , but pushing a 30000 ton gwt barge, While on my Federal pilot licenses it awarded me unlimited tonnage. Doesn’t matter now, but always wondered why. Perhaps the rule changes since I left are accomodating that now to a degree.

Simply because there are vastly more towing companies who contribute to politicians to change, alter, modify and delete parts of the laws that cost them $$$.

The pilot organizations don’t care about federal law (or FCP endorsements) because they only accept who they vet, and generally without regard to current licenses. A couple states have competive exams to pass to get in but IMHO a monkey can do it after repetition (and some of these have proved it).

I won’t name the Pilot organization in question but I know a guy who was taken into a State pilot organization who got in because of his father that had NO and I mean ZERO maritime experience and was literally working at a liquor store before he started his apprenticeship and is now bringing in post Panamax container ships. It’s shit like that that makes me skeptical of the whole licensing rules period. You damn near have to study the CFRs constantly to stay up to date and even then the REC and National Maritime Center can interpret a CFR differently on any given day. I’ve spent 21 years going to sea mostly tugs moving large oil and bulk barges but 5 years in the CG on small but over 1600 ton vessels and haven’t been approved for an unlimited license yet a guy from a liquor store can bring in some of the largest ships on the sea because his daddy got him the job. At least a lot of the pilot organizations have gotten away from the nepotism of the past but not all of them. I know on the East Coast they Get around that by have one family member in the docking pilot organization and the other with the state pilots. I’m not sure what the answer is to the situation but my opinion on the matter is that if companies want to require ATB operators to have unlimited licenses, and that seems to be the trend, then the CG should allow ATB operators unlimited time for the full amount of service. If we are being honest an ATB for all intents and purposes is a small ship that actually has less sea keeping ability than a ship of the same size which requires better judgment of weather routing and voyage planning. The engine Dept may not have the complexity of a ship but the navigation is the same. We have equivalent draft, beam, cargo, and stability issues with less crew, less safety equipment, less training requirements etc but even those of us who want to get unlimited licenses are hobbled by convoluted licensing and tonnage rules. If you can take the classes required and pass the exams you should be able to get the unlimited license without the restrictions on tonnage. I would understand restrictions on steam or things like that but if the combined tonnage of the tug and barge are over 10,000GT, especially considering the way the CG allows tugs to get away with tonnage hatches to get around rules, we should be gaining unlimited time… just my opinion.

1 Like