Highest Paying/Best Tugboat Companies for Graduate

I’m graduating next year with a 3rd mate unlimited and a TOAR endorsement. I also have pilotage for the lower MS mile 88 to mile 235. I’d like to gauge some pay for a tugboat company either doing ship assist, fleet work, or pushing barges in the river. I live near New Orleans so the lower Mississippi would be ideal. What are some companies and what are they paying for a fresh graduate? What kind of advancements are open? Thanks.

I understand I can work other ships with my license but tugboats interest me so I’d like to weigh my options.

Is the TOAR for western rivers, and do you have time on a towing vessel on western rivers? An inland, near coastal, or oceans mate of towing vessel can’t work on the rivers. You need the WR TOAR and 90 days on a towing vessels on western rivers.

TOAR is for inland rivers and the only time I have on a towing vessel is a 60 project I did in school, in addition to my other two sea projects totaling 300 days.

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How did you get the pilotage? That should open doors for you.

That’s not a thing. Inland and Western Rivers are different. And towing vessels on western rivers aren’t in the hierarchy of routes for other licenses, i.e. you must nave western rivers to work on wester rivers.

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rode as a pilot observer with a couple friends, there a few doors that are opened but nothing is guaranteed and won’t happen for a few years at least

Its an Inland endorsement

Not a place that I’ve been to for many years, but I’m guessing that mile 88 to 235 of the Mississippi River is roughly NOLA to Baton Rouge. That is certainly Western Rivers.

If on a towing vessel, that would be Western Rivers observer time towards a Western Rivers TOAR.

IIRC that’s NOBRA pilots and part of Federal pilots territory?

When you say that you “have pilotage.” I assume that you mean that you have the trips necessary for a “pilotage waiver,” not that you have already received a USCG First Class Pilot’s license.

I have sufficient trips and will be testing for my pilot’s license. Assuming I pass would this increase my value on a tug boat? Or does it not matter since its not a requirement?

It might increase your day rate.

It would certainly make you stand out as a more attractive prospective employee.

Oil barges over a certain size require tugboat officers with 12 trips over the route and recency (pilotage waiver qualified). Very large oil barges require licensed pilots. I avoid oil, so I’m not up to date on those rules.

I highly recommend that you sit for the pilotage exams when it’s practical to do so, and get your USCG First Class Pilot license.

Find out what you need to do to get a Western Rivers TOAR.

All that said, I also recommend that you should get a broad variety of experience ( deep sea, oil patch, coastwise tugs, river, before you focus on any one thing.

My two cents:

Go offshore and sail around a little, get salty and learn the ship/offshore tug/supply boat side of things before you come inshore and start working ship assist or pushboats. Makes you more well rounded and it’s easier to start offshore and then move to the nice inshore lifestyle rather than get used to inshore and then have to walk away from that lifestyle and go to sea for real again.

Make sure your license is inked before you tell any employer you “have pilotage”, on any route. There’s a ton people who have trips and “want to draw”, a lot less that actually follow through with it.


I disagree somewhat. First, I wouldn’t bother going to sail deepsea ships anyone can get hop on a ship as a third mate and have no clue what they are doing. Second I do agree that he should not go inland right away. Try near coastal tugs or something offshore with a lot of ship handling exposure. Maybe dredge support tug or wire towing barges near coastal.

Get that experience hipping up, making and breaking tow. Basically go anywhere you can get ship handling and exposure ti different tug evolutions.

Learn how to drive and move around dont get stuck just pushing barges.

I agree with @Sailor51, the skill set inland and near coastal sailing takes is very valuable one you get it down. Not much of what I do can be learned quickly regardless of your license level.

I’m not trying to start something, but I know I can step on a ship and at least be semi functional, but almost no deep sea mariners can come and do what we do with out a lot of time and handholding.


He obviously is vying for a cushy pilot gig, so he needs to upgrade to 2nd mate at the minimum to qualify for an appointment. Go sail, get your upgrade, go back on the rivers, kiss as much ass as you can, be a pilot at 27.

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Also agree with Sailor and Tugboater. I’ve long said “Put me at the Chesapeake sea buoy and I’ll find Gibraltar without hitting anything on the way.”

Having gotten a taste of the Bronx River, Newtown Creek, and some of the other places where 99% of the world doesn’t know there’s water? Totally different skill set. Not going to take the position that one is harder than the other, I’m just smart enough to know I was only trained for one of them.

While I don’t have a ton of experience compared to the other folks giving you advice, I’m going to agree to jump inland and do your thing. I have a bad habit of jumping between tugs and ships, maybe I’m well rounded, maybe I just have habits from each sector that frustrates captains and mates from the other. I will say the most fun I’ve ever had was pushing barges up and down the Kuskokwim river. If I were starting over and didn’t mind living in Louisiana- those guys pushing 36 barges have the coolest job in the world, nice rigs, and are fantastic boat handlers. Staying at one company is certainly the easy, granted perhaps a little slower route for sure, but some like to enjoy life so I can’t knock them for it.

Drawing for pilotage is a lot less scary once you find your groove, I’d encourage you start now, start before you’re ready, you’ll figure it out and get the skills you need along the way. Sounds like you’re going to need your Western Rivers TOAR, which is a matter of paperwork, time, and some work on deck, but far from impossible.


The whole point of this thread was to gauge daily pay scale for someone wanting to work on a tug boat on the Mississippi River. How much does a deckhand make? How much does a wheelman make? How long to become a wheelman? Does anyone have an answer to that. Most companies don’t shell out the pay scale so I’d like that information from someone who works there.

Most companies do shell out the pay scale in an interview when they offer you a job. Most companies also won’t offer you a job until you have license in hand.

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The pay for the lower River companies dont seem to come out in the open very often. We don’t seem to get many forum contributors from the river companies either, for that matter. So it could be a little difficult to get those numbers. You live close to NOLA, I’d go knock on their doors. They will tell you what they pay if you go in and have a real talk with them in good faith about working for them. Interview as much as you can, it’s outstanding experience and to be a great interviewee is a powerful and valuable skill.


I’ve been working brown water for 12 years. I’ve worked unit tows (two or three larger tank barges), harbor tugs, and mainline boats currently (25 + barges on the Lower Miss).

Pay depends on where you end up. Harbor tugs in my experience is the lowest in that group, though they seem to be coming in line with unit tows. Unit tows start pilot(equivalent to nav mate maybe don’t know much about offshore positions) off around $500ish on the lower side.

Linehaul/ heavy tow/ mainline vessel pay starts off as pilot $750ish and goes to over $1,000/ day for 42 barge, 6 long boats.

I know there is already a pipeline in place for college grads to get on unit tows with Kirby.

No such program is in place for linehauling. Though they are short people and if anytime is a good time to try and convince them why you’d be worth it now is that time.

Typically speaking to become a pilot on linehaul takes longer than unit tows. Quickest on unit tows I know of is 3 years, but that’s due to having to acquire sea time for licensing. I think the program at Kirby can get you running boats within a year maybe, coming from school.

On linehaul getting to pilot house can take awhile longer, 5ish years is quick for typical route/ hawespipe. You’d have to blaze your own trail as far as making the transition from college to boats as there isn’t an established one currently. Which now is a good time to do it as everyone is short people.

I don’t have experience working the fleets, they do pay the least across the board in the $500’s which I’ve only heard, no personal experience. Perks of going home everyday I suppose. No established route from college to boats on fleet boats either.