Deep Sea to Tugs

Has anyone recently made the jump from Deep Sea sailing over to tugs? Getting bored with standing uneventful watches and filling out paperwork/charts. Been seeing quite a few ads for tug companies looking for Mates where I live and I’ve spoken to a few. Two have offered mates spots.

I know it’s a huge lifestyle change, just looking to hear how the transition has gone for someone who’s done it and what their biggest challenges were. I did tugs as a cadet and a little in my first two years after graduating but it was mostly fill in work when they needed a hand, so I have a general idea of living arrangements etc.

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Do you have mate/master of towing or a completed TOAR with a license over 500 tons?

If not you will have to start as an AB, which you should do anyway to learn the trade. Tugs are not the same as ships.

Couple of things come to mind.

There won’t be any option to just delegate and manage a watch. On tugs everybody lends a hand. You may have to hep the engineer change filters, help the deckhand get trash off and make up tows, help the captain do paperwork, do all the safety inspections, and stand your nav watch, you may even be asked to cook.

It’s much less formal than the ship world, generally work on a first name basis, less emphasis on rank and seniority, more emphasis on knowing what you’re doing and doing the job right, every time.

You’ll be expected to learn to handle the boat/tow proficiently, then confidently. You’d better like handling boats under pressure. Some people just never get confident handling the boat and end up exiting the industry. Not saying that will be you, but it is a hurdle that you will have to clear in order to make it in tugboating. I understand there are some seabuoy mates out there in the towing world but in general, the towing industry demands that you can learn to handle the boat.


Mate of Tow

Well aware. I’ve done ship assist in college and some light boat delivery and such since graduating. Was more looking for how was the transition/what were the biggest hurdles etc.

If you have Mate of Yow and 2/M unlimited, ive seen that come master of tow somehow, even without the crossover exam. Not that it matters that much.

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I started out commercial fishing, then went deep sea, then to tugs. I transitioned to tugs as an OS, moved up to tankerman, then mate and now captain. I haven’t done it all, but I’ve done a lot and think I have good grasp on what each arena is like.

In general, the commercial fishermen that transition to tugs do MUCH better than the guys that transition from deep sea. Most fishing boats are smaller and much less comfortable. The work is extremely demanding and everybody has to know how to do just about everything.

Deep sea ships are bigger and more comfortable. The positions are more specialized. There are people for most things, so “not my job” actually holds true. That would never fly on most tugs.

My chief engineer cleans up after dinner. I lug bags of trash to the dumpster in the yard. Everybody goes grub shopping at some point. Everyone cooks and helps with mechanical issues. The mate answers the phone and makes changes to our routes and timing when I’m not on watch. The deckhand helps out on the barge for loads and discharges.

Tugs take a more flexible and hands on approach, in my opinion. This in no way means that one is better than the other. In general, people wind up where they are the best fit. I couldn’t hack it on ships and I have enjoyed my career on tugs.


Curious, what’s your overall career goal with the transition? Just eventually work tug captain or transition shoreside eventually?

Overall career goal is a little up in the air. I like sailing, just my current situation with family and living isn’t conducive to doing 120 day trips anymore. Being that government contracts were/are my bread and butter, deep sea it’s basically impossible to find a 60-90 permanent position on a government contract. I don’t have my PIC, I don’t want it. So that leave with me slim pickins in AMO as far as permanent positions go.

For the right company/schedule/pay, sure, tug captain sounds good. But I think frankly this is a half exit from the industry and somewhere I can make money and be closer to home while figuring out my next move.


Well, you’re transitioning at a good time. At lot of tug companies are looking for wheelhouse people (and engineers too). If you’re going to be away from home, you may as well make as much as you can for being gone. If you’re East Coast, New York tends to pay the best. I can’t speak to West Coast wages as I’ve never worked there.