Deep Sea to Tugs--- Has anyone made the jump or considering?

I have my second mate unlimited and I’m awaiting a test date for 1600 ton master. I have been sailing deep sea for five years and I am considering making a move over to tugs. I know there has been discussion on this site before about breaking into the towing industry, but I am curious to hear from anyone who has crossed over from deep sea.
As many people know, second mate aboard a container ship is a very comfortable job. So I’m not going to lie, the idea of starting as deckhand, and working harder for less money is not a big selling point for me. However, I feel that once you put your time on deck completeing the TOAR and finally get the towing endorsement it may all pay off once you get up in the wheelhouse. I am drawn to tugs for many reasons, the boat handeling and a steady 14/14 rotation being the two biggest factors.
I’m looking for any advice as I weigh my options and try to map out some kind of career path in my head. I’m ready for something different than ocean crossings, and I’ve tried DP and hated siting still for weeks on end. Tugs seem like something I will enjoy and be able to make a good living doing. I know that tugs are a different ball game than deep sea, and I am willing to start out at the bottom again and work my way up. I took and AB job on a tramp steamer to west africa when i first got out of school, I’m not afraid to work hard and put my time in, I guess I’m just wondering if it’s worth it at this point in my career.
Any stories of people breaking into tugs from another sector of the industry would be much appreciated, especially in NY harbor or on the north east coat. I’m curious to know if anyone was able to find a training mate position, and with what company. I’m also curious to hear how people were recieved on the tugs after making the switch. How long can one expect to be on deck before being given an opportunity to learn the wheelhouse, is there an industry standard? And about how long does it take to complete a TOAR? And finally I know some new rules just came out regarding the TOAR, if anyone can clarify what the new rules mean, that would be great.
Like i said any advice would be greatly appreciated.

The new rules on towing vessel licenses do not have any impact on you, they allow experienced Masters less than 200 GRT to qualify by getting 30 days on a tug and completing a TOAR (probably takes more than 30 days). Since you have a license for over 500 GRT, you’ve always had that option.
James D. Cavo
Chief, Mariner Training & Assessment Division
USCG National Maritime Center

Sometimes it may be hard to catch every scenerio on a TOAR, but I have done them fairly quickly, and only with licensed 1,600 ton Captains to date. I do take being a DE seriously, but not to the point of where I’m trying to mold a tug captain from scratch, that takes years. If the person can competently complete the skill without question as described in the DE handbook provided by NMC, I sign them off for that skill. I have completed over half of a toar in one day if the conditions facilitate it, but chances are 30 days might be pushing it.

I’m 2nd Mate 1600 Master also and I tried Tugs, twice. First time was inter-island Hawai’i and next was Hawai’i-Marshall Is-Hawai’i. The second job was pretty much like blue water sailing on a ship as far as watchstanding and routine, etc. The first job was an exercise in sleep depravation because there was a lot of sit-around-and -wait in the daytime, the runs were mostly at night and of short duration and arrivals were early in the a.m. and it was all hands evolution to tie-up. The new guy that was of course on the mid-watch got screwed out of a lot of sleep, I’m sure I never got 6 straight hours of “rest”. On tug jobs, the crew ties-up and cast-off their own barge and depending on the configuration/size of the barge things got a bit “gymnastic”. My thoughts were that It was a good job but wish I had gotten into it younger so by the time my athleticism had waned I would have been holding the masters job and could have avoided the swinging and jumping and leaping and repeling and the waist deep water at 5 a.m. I did all this before TOAR came out (2000-2003). My advice, as they say in Hawai’i - “chance 'em brah!”

Hey Jeffrox, Geev 'um, brah! Me too at Sause, in the 90’s.

I have to admit, this is interesting. Anchorman, I’ll quote you: <strong>“I do take being a DE seriously, but not to the point of where I’m trying to mold a tug captain from scratch, that takes years.”</strong> And, <strong>“but I have done them fairly quickly, and only with licensed 1,600 ton Captains to date.”</strong> Well, I’ve got news for you, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you sign off on a 1,600 GRT Master, especially in the <strong>Maneuvering</strong> section. You’re <strong>personally</strong> attesting to <strong>their</strong> competence to serve as <strong>master</strong>. In just 30 days, huh?
In the present deeply-flawed TOAR system, the <strong>DE</strong> is the last line of defense against allowing people who aren’t ready to stand a watch completely on their own aboard a towing vessel, whether as master or mate / pilot, from doing so. The Coast Guard says it. AWO says it too. In fact, it was a major point that they both cited to justify extending the incredibly foolhardy 30-day-and-a-TOAR loophole to the 200 GRT and under licenses earlier this year. The DE’s, it seems, are expected to ensure professionalism and prevent the worst from happening when no one else will. And yet, when several DE’s wrote comments to the Coast Guard strongly protesting the proposed rule change as dangerous, they were completely, 100% ignored. Not one DE thought it was a good idea. It says on my DE letter, <strong>“We greatly appreciate your willingness to serve as a designated examiner. This role is critical to maintaining a high professional standard among U.S. mariners.” </strong>Then they turn around and ignore the warnings from their DE’s? There is a big contradiction here.
When you sign off on someone who holds a <strong>master’s</strong> license of over 200 GRT (500, 1,600, or unlimited tonnage) that TOAR is the <strong>only</strong> thing standing between them and the authority to serve as a <strong>Master</strong> of Towing Vessels. There is no further testing. There is no further scrutiny or review by the Coast Guard of <strong>any</strong> kind. With those licenses one merely needs to be in possession of their non-towing license and a completed TOAR. Once they have it there is nothing preventing a DRD Towing-type outfit from hiring them and putting them in a position for which they are notprepared for, even if they’re considered to be qualified on paper.
30 days <strong>might</strong> be pushing it? <strong>30 months is more like it</strong>. If the Coast Guard wants to give anything more than lip service to towing vessel safety they should stop with this fiction that it <strong>“probably” </strong>will take more than 30 days and get real for a change. This attitude only makes the marginal outfits like DRD, and there is no shortage of them, feel that the system can be easily gamed. And they’re right. If the Coast Guard can’t be relied on to offer a realistic set of safety guidelines for licensing towing vessel officers then you can’t expect the towing industry as a whole to take any of this very seriously.
And rwleo, your willingness to “start at the bottom again” and go out on deck and really learn the job the right way is admirable. While you might be tempted by the shortcut, you’ll find in the end that things will go much better for you if you don’t take that bait. Those that do stand a good chance of crashing and burning.
Go to and check out the <strong>30-Day Wonder </strong>for yourself.

I went to and read the story of the sinking of the tug Valour. Scary. Read the comments about the 2mates readiness and qualifications and then see how a 30 day TOAR completion is absurd. BTW is there a TOAR type qualification for the engineroom folks? Or is this another situation where requirements get piled on the deck guys and not on the engineroom guys, i.e. required 3/2mate and CM/Master required STCW schools and assesments? Tugs are small vessels and there is a lot of cross-decking of duties that goes on. I think I read somewhere there was going to be an ERRM class like the BRM class? Maybe there should be a “Crew Resources Management” school, not just one for the bridge folks.

I read the story of the TV Valour sometime ago and have been holding on to this question …
At one point ,the tow was about to trip the tug…The Capt sent a mate aft to cut it loose…The mate did not know how and had to find one of the AB’s to do it…How is that possible?? Not having been on a tug before,there must be a reasonable explaination as to why a " mate" could not carry out this deck assignment…

On many tugs the CE always operates the winch and a young 2m might not know how.

Thank you CA, I knew that there was a reasonable explaination for it…
I do know that if I find myself on one someday,even as an OS… I will KNOW how to cut the tow loose…

CMA graduates have a completed TOAR upon graduation because we tool around with a ancient tug and massivly undersized barge in the carquenez straights for 3 hours a week (or less depending on how the instructor is feeling) for one entire semester. I hate to rag on myself and my beloved alma mata but when I graduated I was in no way shape or form able to be an officer on a tug in fact I wasn’t even that good of a boat handler and yet my TOAR and licence qualified me to be a chief mate on a tug.

Thanks for being honest about it, abergeron. We’ve heard reports of the gundecking of TOAR’s, or programs that were and are not operating in the intent and spirit of the original regulations that were put into effect in 2001, even if they’re not “technically” breaking any rules.
And Shellback7, if you go back to the Valour report you’ll find that the 2nd Mate was neither young nor inexperienced, just incompetent. <strong>Everyone</strong> on the crew should know how to release a tow so that in an emergency whoever gets to the towing machine first can act, independently if need be, and possibly save the vessel and everyone on it. It generally isn’t difficult, but you must know how to do it under duress and without fail in what may be pretty harsh conditions. I consider this to be no less important than knowing how to deploy the liferaft or activate the EPIRB, and maybe even more so. Knowing how to slip the tow might prevent you from having to do either of the others.

That sure did sound good, but you wouldn’t know where to start to have news for me. Whenever you sign off a TOAR, you’re not attesting to anyones ability to serve as a Master. That is the Coast Guard’s job and the employer’s choice to employ that person in that capacity. The TOAR is just part of that process. As you brought up the manuevering section of the TOAR, lets say “Manuevering a tow in High Wind”, Do you really think by signing that you’re attesting to that person’s ability to manuever every towing vessel, with all concievable horsepower ratings, light and loaded, with a multitude of sail areas, to manuever in all high wind situation and be liable for their judgement? Of course not, and that’s exactly what would be expected of a MOT. The TOAR in itself will never do that. It will never teach experience, and it certainly will not fix stupid. If I think it will take 30 months to complete a TOAR, I would tell the person to take a hike and come back when I have something to work with. My experience gives me the luxury to know if a person can or can’t manuever a vessel in a high wind situation fairly quickly. Not to mention the subjectivity of what a high wind is for that particular vessel. It’s not rocket science. I don’t have to see the same thing every day for 30 months to know if someone can handle it.
Every TOAR that I have done was with licensed idividuals that had the 1,000 ton freight and towing before the 1600 ton master and never got the MOT.

Whatecver its faults, isn’t the TOAR better than becoming qualified by just passing a multiple choice test that only had a couple questions about towing?

Jim, you know better than that. One does not become qualified for anything but applying for a job by passing a test.

Captjacksparrow, I did see that…In fact the thing that really caught my eye on the whole situation was the amount of experience that this crew had…They new their business…or should have.

In my attempts thus far for employment. I have noticed that an AB unlimited rating is an asset but my little 50 ton near coastal license is discarded, off handedly…I guess some employers don’t realize that when you are a small license holder you get to be everybody…Skipper,engineman and deck hand all in one…Knowing how everything works and what to do, is vital to your survival…Cross training should be an everyday event but maybe that’s not how it is in reality…I’ll find out soon enough …But one way or the other, I will make it a point to find out how potential life threating and life saving apparatuses work ,on whatever vessel I end up on…

<p align="left]As to Jeffrox’s post: “<strong>I think I read somewhere there was going to be an ERRM class like the BRM class?”</strong>
In this months issue of AMO’s newspaper on page 3, the National Vice President at Large talks about new changes to the STCW code that are looking to be implemented as soon as 2010. He talks about a few things, but one thing was BRM, ERM, and leadership training. He writes,
“BRM has been a required training course for deck officers since the implementation of STCW. ERM will be a new STCW requirement for engineeers. ln conjunction with these courses, a new leadership course will be required of senior deck and engineering officers.”

“In conjunction with these courses, a new leadership course will be required of senior deck and engineering officers.”

I guess a leadership course would be OK for towing vessel engineers if they had someone to lead. Most tugs are running the bare minimum crew and one engineer. With no entry level jobs in the e/r the companies are complaining about the shortage of engineers. Go figure…

Lots of interesting stuff and helpful information, although the post has seem to fallen off topic a little bit.
The mtv association had a lot of great stuff. Thanks for the link.
I have contacted several NY tug companies and they all have shown interest. Some interested in bringing me on as a deck hand, others in a more formal “training mate” position, which seems to be the same as a deck hand with a more prestigious title. I want to work for a company that does work with both barges, and ship assist so that kind of limits me to two companies up here in NY harbor. To be honest if I’m gonna be out in the ocean I’d rather be on a ship, not very interested in doing ocean runs, but willing to give it a shot if it gets me in the door.
Still interested to hear from anyone who switched from deepsea to tugs just to hear about there experiences and to see if they are happy with the decision.

What you’ll generally find, rwleo, is that there is a great and nearly universal reluctance amongst the majority of towing companies to hire people and place them in a dedicated mate-trainee position, meaning that the individual would be an extra crewman who’s primary function is to train in the wheelhouse. It has been that way forever and only lately has there been some slight movement away from that practice.
The problem is this: people who want to lateral over into the towing industry as deck officers, whether they attended an academy or not, usually feel that they’ve already paid their dues and don’t tolerate the idea of being “demoted” to deckhand very well. Because they have no experience on towing vessels they don’t realize that deck experience gained elsewhere doesn’t really prepare them for what we do, and the AB’s from ships are usually quite lost on a tug as it’s a completely different world, with it’s own language and skills. Over the years I’ve watched several of them flounder around almost like a greenhorn. Some quit and some stuck, but their blue-water AB status was essentially irrelevant in most cases.
So the deck time is necessary, both for learning purposes and to weed out the pretenders. Unfortunately, many companies will leave a good prospect to rot out on deck long past the point where we’ve figured out that they have a good chance of making it. They get discouraged when the “promises” of an opportunity to get trained for the wheelhouse and advance take too long and many wind up quitting in disgust. Some companies are starting to move slowly away from this way of doing things, but full-time training positions are not the norm, regardless of what they call them.
In NY harbor, the bigger companies mostly do either barge work or ship assists. They occasionally do a little of the other when other companies need an extra boat but they tend to stick with what their specialty is. Moran and McAllister do most of the ship work; Bouchard, Reinauer, Hornbeck and K-sea move most of the oil. With a few exceptions, whenever you see Moran or McAllister moving barges they’re usually doing it under charter for one of the oil-movers. When the ship docking companies run short on boats for ship assists, they hire a Reinauer or K-sea boat to plug the hole.
Long story short, you’re not likely to find one company that gives you an equal amount of experience in all the different towing disciplines, so you’ll have to pick one and go with it. Hope that helps you…