ATBs w unlimited license

Recent grad from an academy with an unlimited 3m license.

Thinking ATBs are the way to go. I am in NYC and I wanted any advice from you guys as to good companies, how long it takes to get to the wheelhouse.

Any input on the best companies to work for and/or companies that are hiring would be much appreciated

IF you have been offered a job by an ATB company, consider taking it. Not that many new jobs out there, you can hopefully adjust to your preference later, but it ain’t a bad gig. Good luck sir.


I echo the ‘take any offer’ comment.

How long is completely dependent upon… YOU.

You will not be a solo watch stander any time soon. It will take several things to come together. ( a calendar is NOT one of them)

You must have the luck (sorry. It is luck) to get with a Captain who will allow you to gain experience to get a recommendation. Most Captains won’t bother (especially in this downturn). Most importantly it is YOUR aptitude and attitude that will allow you to matriculate up the scale. It’s not what YOU think your skills are. It’s what the officer who can recommend you to the office thinks.

Office HR will spill all sorts of BS about how soon, won’t take long, or some other crap just to fill a slot.

You don’t need an unlimited license on an ATB (in the wheelhouse). Some companies may desire the unlimited license. But that is company BS versus reality on actual experience needed.

You need boat handling experience. That wasn’t gained at school. It wasn’t gained on Swim Team. It wasn’t gained while on a 90 day sea term and most importantly it wasn’t gained on simulator time.

It will be gained by actually grabbing the helm and showing someone (who will vouch for you) that you can do the job. (IF you can find someone who will let you drive).

On to a more narrow response:

Being a ATB mate is akin to being qualified to being Master. Tugs work differently than ships. Tugs work with a Master and a Mate.

Due to USCG regulations we are limited to working 12 hours a day. This means if I am working MY 12 hour watch my Mate is working the other 12. So, in effect on a tug the Mate must be just about as qualified as the Master.

If My Mate cannot make decisions or ‘stand his own watch’ that means I have to come up. Which means I have violated the 12 hour rule. NO company or competent master will allow you to assume a watch unless you are proven, have shown, and have a complete TOAR.

It is WAY more complicated than this. But there is a difference between ‘having a license’ and being Competent. Knowing the difference is what will separate you from the other shiny new alumni. The actual skill needed is minimal. It is the understanding of what is needed that is tough to comprehend.


Pretty much on point. The atmosphere now perhaps is not for pickers and choosers. Maybe down the road, but not now.

Get in line lol


You will most likely have to sail as an AB at first. Lots of qualified, experienced folks out there these days out of work. Assume it will take a few years to get into the wheelhouse. One of the problems is most HR departments will blow smoke up the asses of a first issue mate out of school, leading them to believe it won’t take a few years. Don’t be one of those brats that doesn’t understand the concept of paying your dues.

If you get hired as an AB, doing the work of an AB will be priority. Once your responsibilities are handled then worry about being groomed for a mates job down the line.

Some companies run mates that are tankermen also, so if you are one of those few that are anti-barge you may have a rough time as well.

Crowley has been known to favor academy grads, so that would be a great place to apply. Google ATBs or tugboats to find other places to apply. Any job is a good job these days so don’t be too picky. If you can get your mate of tow at a smaller tug company that doesn’t have atbs that would be a good option in the interim, plus wire boat experience will leave you less prone to bitching once you are sailin’ on an atb.

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You are going to need a towing endorsement, or at least complete the TOAR and get at least 30 days on deck before you can serve as Mate. So as others have noted, you’re going to have to start on deck first. If the boat has a CG-approved Designated Examiner on board, you can get the TOAR done, if not, you can’t. You’ll probably also need a Tankerman-PIC endorsement, that’s going to take at least 90 days on a tank vessel and assisting in 10 cargo transfers. If you graduated less than 5 years ago, the academy course you took that got you Tankerman-Assistant can be used to get the PIC endorsement. The situation with Bouchard may mean there are some experienced ATB mates looking for the same jobs.


Absolutely correct JD and good advice, as always sir.

I have my PIC, hopefully I can get signed off on a TOAR

Crowley ATBs are AMO no? Not sure who I would have to contact to get with them

Most Crowley ATBs are SIU. The older 550 class are MMP. Apply online(Crowley) for their talent pool. They do most of their hiring directly. It also wouldn’t hurt to join SIU and get the physical done etc etc. crowley likes that. Having PIC is a big one. They will get you your TOAR unless there’s a bunch of competition out there. These days there isn’t much turnover but there are older people retiring. Covid hasn’t helped much either.

Some are, some aren’t. Someone else here can shed light on that but i think their west coast fleet and gulf/east coast fleet have different union contracts from eachother.

Crowley tugs including ATBs is SIU. You could contact Crowley directly or the SIU. Crowley use to have several different unions in different places, but I hear it’s mostly SIU now.

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Is this for mates too? So Crowley ATB Mates join SIU?

Yes, vertical SIU, including mates, masters and engineers

It’s amazing what a poor job of informing students and grads about unions and companies that the academies do.


In all fairness I was in a four year program designed to have me to deep sea. Paths to ATB we’re not discussed and if they were they were not discussed nearly as much. I do know NY Harbor towing companies are mostly private or MMP.

Considering how you can barely turn around without bumping into an academy grad at most tug companies these days i find that a bit odd.


And how to maintain and upgrade their licenses and STCW. I am amazed at how many academy graduates I get asking how to restore a license they allowed to expire. They have no idea about continuity. Same for “How can I renew…?”


As an Academy grad I second these last two comments and would add the overall regulatory scheme in general.

I knew a bit about the unions because I asked questions during my sea year but when I graduated I could barely stumble my way through the CFRs much less knew anything about how class, flag and PSC interrelate or the role IMO plays and how SOLAS/MARPOL/etc. and the CFRs are different but the same.

The academy curriculum teaches you how to be a 3rd mate/engineer on a 1950’s/60’s era break bulk cargo ship and it’s associated equipment. That’s what the classes books, manuals and questions are designed for. No joke. Thus when you get out and your options are fighting for a tanker or container ship gig with the unions, going with a tug outfit, or working offshore oil and gas, it’s not surprise most have no clue what’s going on.