Career advice on ATB's?

Hello, I’m currently a freshman at a Maritime College here in Houston and I was wondering if they were any Mariners here who are or have worked on ATB’s or have insightful knowledge about them? They have always peaked my interests, and I think I would like to work on those ships, What is like to work on ATB Vessels? How are the working conditions onboard? How has your experience and impression been working on these ships? Why do you sail on them? How is the pay? What type of jobs would be onboard these ships, especially in the Deck Department?
What are the Pros and Cons of employment on these vessels, overall in general?
What type of education/endorsements/experience/etc is needed or recommended to work on these Articulated Tug Barges? Any advice for starting a career in this aspect of the Maritime industry would be helpful.
I know the following companies that operate them are Crowley, Kirby Offshore Marine, Reinauer Transportation, US Shipping Corp, Vane Brothers, Bouchard Transportation, Moran, and OSG. I know some hire through the Unions too.

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Most will tell you ATBs are the place to be. I am completely neutral on this subject. There are pros and cons to both conventional towing and ‘pin’ boats. One big thing is coming out of the notch by accident at sea is something you don’t have to worry about on a wire boat. Another is making and breaking tow is less labor extensive on an atb. This is something that can’t be truly appreciated till after one spends some time on a wire boat.
Assuming you are on a atb with a barge that has a ballast system, being at sea will be more comfortable in general. No cargo and no ballast on the barge, different story.
Depending on the company and unit, atbs can have bigger crews. Bigger crews can be good because you have more help with the equipment to maintain, but makes living on the boat a bit tighter! Some companies run mate/tankerman and ab/tankerman and others have tankerman that are only responsible for the barge and they are just passengers on the tug.
Pay in general will pay more than a wire tug. More credentials are required usually to sail on a atb.
You won’t be able to get your toar completely signed off on an atb.
Some pin systems are better than others as far as maintaining and reliability as well.


Some play cornhole on the back deck!

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ATBs are the place to be. The pay is good, the work is easy(for the most part), compared to conventional tug and tow. Job stability is there for the big league companies such as Crowley/Moran/Reinauer. I can only speak for Crowley, but all of their units are on long term contracts.

Crews average 10-12 depending on size.

Mate of tow/oceans/ and tankerman-PIC are all usual requirements.

The hardest part is cargo, you either have it or you don’t but for the most part it’s easy to learn if you have any sort of common sense and planning skill sets.

I enjoy ATBs because the schedule is good for me and my family. Typically 28/28 or 35/35 or 45/45.

Hope this helps.


Thank you for your insight. Interesting to see the difference between a Wire boat and a ATB, also the type of crewing on board.

Thanks for your insight. I am aiming for the big leagues when I finish my Maritime college, hopefully working my way up. Though if at all possible, could you clarify what you mean with the difficulty of cargo?
What type of skill sets would be best for this and any way I can prepare for it?
Also, I what type of internship Maritime experience would be best for applying it to ATB’s?
Later on. would one need to get TOAR to advance?

As far as cargo goes, IMO, it is the hardest part of the job. Holding your own cargo watch you have to plan ahead, create staggers between tanks, monitor trim and stability etc etc. These skill sets all come with time and experience.

If you are dead-set on ATBs then I would try and sail on a petroleum tanker of some sort whether it be an ATB or Traditional tanker. This will help you get loads and discharges to obtain your tankerman-PIC, which is a must to work as an officer on any Tank vessel.

TOAR is also a requirement for ATBs as an officer, however it is fairly easy to obtain. You can take a one day assessment/class in NY along with 30 days on a towing vessel, companies like Crowley or OSG sometimes help you obtain this if you already hold a mates license and PIC.

Good luck.

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One point that many miss is you can document loads and discharges before OR after taking the PIC course. Many are under the assumption you have to take the course first.

As for the TOAR, Crowley had a sweetheart deal with the CG for a “company” TOAR for the ATBs. Is it still in effect?

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Thanks for clarifying and for the useful advice, it’s really been helpful. May I ask how were you able to sail on ATB’s?

I can only speak about the ATB’s for one of the companies you’ve listed. Chip / paint, clean, cook, tie up the boat, spot the boat getting pinned up, help the tankerman get hooked up, some boats ran the deckhand 12hr straight and broke out for OT if needed, some did the 12-6. These ATBs where crewed with 7.

They ride better than wire boats, less skill involved all the way around compared to a conventional boat if you ask me but they are safer. Most of the newer ones are comfortable to live on, some aren’t the prettiest to look at but they move an oil barge efficiently, I personally prefer an Intercon system over a Jak but each has quirks and the technology has come a long ways from even 10-15yrs ago.

Take this as serious advice, I’ve seen guys do this and it didn’t end well. Do not go on an ATB as a “licensed deckhand” and believe that you are better than the unlicensed guys, the tankerman, you may have a bigger license than the mate or captain. Show up, do what they ask and just learn, especially if you want to get your PIC which opens bigger doors if you wanted to sail as a 2nd. I’ve seen where a guy has come on, talked down to the tankerman out of the gate, then started in on the mate, what happened was savage and the whole crew just sat back and watched as a grown man was broken down over a few weeks time, ATB crews run on tears :joy: dont be that guy.


This is good advice for anywhere you may end up. Being Humble and hard working is what gets you respect in this business. No one wants to sail with a cocky asshat who thinks they know everything.


Words to live by.

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I don’t wish to become “that guy” who thinks just because he’s a licensed deckhand, he’s better and more knowledgeable than anyone. That’s not my intention if I am given the opportunity to sail on ATB’s, I’m looking to learn, gain experience and work well with the crew. Thank you so much for this serious advice, it will be useful later on if all goes well for me.
Thanks also for providing what to day life is for a mariner, on what could be expected of me on board and tasks I may have to do.

Yes, indeed.

Yeah, it is. I’ll do my best to be a Humble and hard working mariner on any ship I get the privileged to work on.

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That’s a good start. As mentioned in other threads, its too common these days that mates are taking deckhand/AB jobs. There are more qualified people out there than open spots these days.
If you understand that you need to get in line like everybody else and pay your dues like everyone else, you’ll be fine. Don’t be that kid on your first issue demanding why you aren’t getting a shot at a mate’s spot.

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Learn to steer though so the mate can take a dump


Definitely a good start. I had an AB at United Ocean Services with a 1600ton license who used to fuck with my radar settings and tell me which of the two he was using…

Don’t ever be that guy. It never ends well.


Did you give him the choice of which bridge wing he could stand on? My vote would be for windward.

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I pointed to my eyes and said “THESE are your radars, all your hands are qualified to touch on this bridge are the coffeemaker and your binoculars.”

That ended that.