Continuing the discussion from [Real tug captains]


Continuing the discussion from Real tug captains:

How would you feel if the rule was that they only got a Mate of Towing regardless of what level license they have and Master of Towing required X number of years as mate on a tug?

@tugsailor, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too.


While a TOAR and a requirement for certain amount of tugboat experience are conceptually excellent ideas, the USCG’s implementation of it is so flawed that it accomplishes very little.

What’s the point of a one or two day TOAR course where virtually everyone passes doing deliberately easy tasks a few times, and most of the TOAR is pencil whipped BS? What is the point of long drawn out TOAR experience working on a tugwhere the captain is unwillingly and begrudgingly doing it?

What’s the point in a 60 day (12 hour days) tugboat seatime requirement that is too easy to fake, or even if completed in good faith, is most likely to be an experience that is too narrow in the type, geographic scope, and circumstances of the tugboat work OBSERVED.

All experiences are not created equal. While some experience working on deck of a tugboat has value, it’s really not preparation for the wheelhouse. Experience as an observer in the wheelhouse is much more valuable, especially if the captain is a willing and competent teacher, and actually lets the trainee handle the boat and barges. Experience as an observer where all one does is watch while nothing is explained, and there is no hands on opportunity to try it, is of little value to most people. There are a few talented and experienced people who could learn a lot from merely observing, but what about the other 90%?

Personally, I think TOAR and tugboat seatime requirements should probably be structured more like a combination of the NI’s DP training and Pilot training.

For example (assuming someone has solid seamanship, navigation, radar, chart plotter, AIS, ARPA, and watchkeeping skills):

Step 1: A thorough two week online course with a rigorous computer based proficiency exam.

Step 2: Two weeks of observer time for a particular type, style, and geographic location, of towing.

Step 3: A rigorous two week hands on simulator proficiency course for a particular type, style, and geographic location, of Towing. The failure rate in this course should be at least 50%. (If failed, return to Step 2).

Step 4: Two weeks of hands on tugboat training and practice for the particular type, style, and geographic location of towing. The failure rate should be at least 50%. (if failed, repeat Step 4 until required proficiency achieved.)

Step 5: Sail as as a tugboat “training mate” with hands on practice for 60 days.

Step 6: One week capstone simulator, and hands on, tugboat training course for the particular type, style, and geographic location of towing. The failure rate should be about 25%. I f passed, Receive USCG Mate of Towing with no further testing for a particular type, style, and geographic area of towing.

Step 7: 180 days of sailing as licensed Mate, to be eligible for accelerated training for different types, styles, and geographic locations.

Types of towing: on the wire, ATB, Pushing ahead, on the hip, and combinations.

Geographic Areas/Local Styles: Oceans, East, Gulf, and West Coasts, ICW, Lakes, Bays and Sounds, Harbors, Harbors with Rivers, Lower Miss; Upper Miss; Columbia River, West Coast Bar Crossings, etc. Major Ports: NY, Chesapeake, Florida, Houston, LA/LB, SF Bay, Seattle, etc. Obviously, there could be some combination courses given in certain places.


Back when I was sailing a Chief on large ATB’s, it always worried me when we would get a Newer’s Captain that had little to no wire experience.

I’ve been on boats when we had to come out of the notch, either in an emergency or before the weather got too bad (pre ballast / double hulls). It was bad enough to be doing it with a Very Experienced Captain and a CE (me) that knew how to work a winch but having a deck crew that never did it. Towards the end of my career, I sailed on boats with an entire Wheelhouse crew that NEVER towed and Engineers that have never ran a winch! I was lucky to work on InterCon equipped vessels but we had some Bludsworth boats also and with them it’s not if you get knocked out of the notch it’s when will it happen.

What the answer is I have no idea, I just hope that it will not take a big loss of life to have them do something about this mess!


I ran into this when I sailed with Belcher on the BELCHER PORT EVERGLADES, right before I came ashore. Not one single crew member had any wire or recent wire experience. For anyone not familiar with the vessel, it was not an ATB, but a notch tug with a single screw slow speed diesel plant. It was held into the notch of the barge with large poly facing straps, one on each side. There was an axle with several wheels and airplane tires on the bow that acted as a bearing for vertical movement in the notch while underway. To keep the tug tight in the notch, several glycerin filled “bags” fitted into the sides would be pressurized and compressed against the notch. After a sister tug sank because of bag failure, Underwriters prohibited sailing in the notch if there were more than two of the bags were non operational. This was the situation when we left Pascagoula (I think), bound for Tampa, on the string. I don’t even want to comment about how the tug rode out of the notch, but I have to say it was miserable. When we were approaching Tampa, the second engineer went out to start the diesel towing winch. In the rough seas, he lost his footing, bumped into the air brake lever and released the wire which immediately started paying out. . . the high speed caused the clutch to shatter as he had the presence of mind to close the watertight door behind him. Shrapnel from the exploding clutch pack put divots in the bulkhead behind him. We spend the rest of the day recovering the wire, moving back into the notch and swapping ends on the tow wire. Come to find out, no one in the wheelhouse thought that it was a problem to tow without engaging the hand brake on the winch (which was rusted and unusable, anyway). When I asked how they freshened the wire during tow, all I got was a blank stare. . . . I was never happier to quit a job in my live. It amazes me that no one got killed on those things, although, as I stated, they did lose one of the tugs. . .


I remember when Maritrans got her in the deal for her Barge. Just looking at her made me wonder WTF were they thinking! I’ve sailed on some questionable towing vessels but I think I would have passed on that thing.


As long as it was in the notch, it seemed to work well. . . was a decent plant, too. Heated oil system instead of steam. You know, I can’t recall if it had a waste heat boiler. . it has been that many years, but I don’t recall. . . Cats for generators. . . but that connection system . . .WTF? And they way they worked the crews and the pay. . an apt final seagoing berth for me. . . I really have little good to say about working there, other than getting some slow speed diesel time. . .


Wasn’t the connecting system called Artubar?


It could well be. . . I was only on there for 6 months or so, maybe a bit longer. . . and hell, that was 30 years ago. . .


I went and googled it, and no, it wasn’t. No pins. . . no “solid” connection of any kind between tug and barge, not even as weak as that silly Bludworth Bow Clamp. . . .


IIRC, she had two Hydraulic Rams on the Stern to maintain pressure on the Push / Face Wires. The condition that she was in by the time Maritrans got was pretty poor.

Someone picked her up and had the bright idea of using her as an Ocean Going Tug.

Here’s her latest name.