How to improve your tug company?

I have sailed for a few different outfits both large as well as mom and pop and would like to hear what you guys would do to make a smaller company more desirable for mariners. We are looking to decrease turnover as we expand.

Would higher pay attract? Would nicer boats attract? Grub? Better office support?

Having worked for Bouchard, I can tell you first hand that pay and nice equipment only gets you so far. Bouchard even tried hiring cooks to put out better meals. That failed also.

My list in order of importance to me:

  1. schedule that doesn’t get messed with. I get it that there are emergencies and such, but that’s what part timers and relief captains are for.

  2. Decent equipment, doesn’t have to be a museum, but everything should work, and be clean.

  3. Latitude for captains to hire and fire crew. Nothing worse than being stuck with guys that are juiced in.

  4. Pay should be OK, somewhere around union scale. When a guy who is normally an AB works as mate he should get the mate rate. A lot of companies can’t figure that out.

  5. Safety. emphasis somewhere in the middle. I’m no safety nazi, but I don’t want my guys hurt or killed. I lost 1 deckhand, 1 tankerman and 1 engineer in the last 5 years, all preventable, none while on my boat fortunately.


Maybe have different vessels in the fleet try different work hours other than 6 on 6 off. 6 & 6 never bothered me but I’ve heard mariners say they could never work tugs because of it.

If you look into it, don’t just go by the captains word that no one one board is interested. When I worked on tugs a QHSE lady came on board to do training on CIMS. She brought up different work hours & the possible benefits to sleep patterns but our captain shut her down instantly. Later my assistant wanted to try it just between our 2 man engineroom dept & I was game. The asshole captain was more harsh with us than her. Even though it had nothing to do with him, his mates or AB’s he was still a complete dick about it.

1 Like

For someone like me who is supporting a single income family, an affordable benefits package for the family is critical for me. A lot of smaller outfits have a hard time doing that.

Of course decent equipment and shoreside support help. Semi-reliable crew changes too.

I know a lot of us remember the days of hitting a payphone when we could to call home, and now because times have changed some of us are spoiled… but having decent coms available offshore has become important. I.E. wifi, satphone, etc…


I just left a small little outpost that is basically its own tugboat company in a larger tugboat corporation. I’ll use them as an example of how not to run things.

  1. Don’t preach “safety safety safety” and then demand that guys work outside the rules when it isn’t convenient to follow them.

  2. If you get a report of an asshole captain drinking on the job, do something other than hope everyone forgets. They don’t. And the ensuing HR mess will make your life miserable.

  3. If you brag about how productive and profitable you are, expect your guys that are already paid below industry standard to ask why it’s been 4 years since the last round of raises.

  4. Don’t treat your best workers worse than your warm bodies. Pretty soon you’ll only have warm bodies.

  5. The shoreside is there to support the boats. Not the other way around.


Oh, another old timer. . . . I guess the days of the marine operator are behind us now. Calling the office from a pay phone. . .the ballsy guys would call from the bar. . . . or so I have been told. . . . I was lucky in that I don’t think that I ever sailed with a drunk captain. . . weed smoking? Well, that is another story.


Very well stated. I’ll add:

  1. Travel pay.

  2. Benefits package. I’m single so it’s not that big of a deal but the guys with families were getting crushed. Try to meet somewhere in the middle. 401k match is nice too.

  3. Competent, impartial, management. I did a decade at one of the big red east coat outfits and our particular port’s management had their favorites. Z-drive experience was easy to get if you were in the “club”, next to impossible if you weren’t.

But honestly the 2 biggies are schedule and boat comfort. Guys don’t want to work on ancient shit heaps anymore.

  1. Treat people well with flexibility and without a lot of petty bullshit.

  2. Full wages and all travel expense paid door to door (just like every other corporate employer in the US).

  3. Holiday pay

  4. After 30 days, full benefits: very good health, short term and long term disability, fully vested 401k, etc.

  5. Modern, up to date, comfortable, safe, Northern European standard boats. Replace the old, uncomfortable, minimally equipped 40, 50, and 60 year old boats

  6. Good communications and reliable high speed internet.

  7. Increase wages to properly compensate he skills, licensing, risks, and being on the job 24/7 away from home for weeks or months at a time. Pay wages that reflect the local cost of living and taxes.

  8. Only hire quality people.


Making the AB’s work 6 hours on and 6 hours off is beyond me.


6/6 is complete lunacy…especially if you’re expected to get up for anything off watch. I hate it. I can understand maybe for tankermen and for the wheelhouse, if they are involved in very busy and intense situations that more than 6 hours is just too much, but other than that, 6/6 is a real widowmaker.


40 years or so ago I did a 60 day contract 6/6. I was a zombie after a week. There have been numerous studies showing that NOTHING is to be gained by a 6/6 schedule. I know of no other 1st world country that allows it. It should be illegal in the US from both a safety and health standpoint.

1 Like

There are gulf and east coast companies that will never change their 6/6 policy until someone regulatory makes them. There are also plenty of mariners that prefer 6/6 and will never change unless they have to. One of the reasons i quit my last job was because of 6/6 and expecting to be up off watch, not get OT and make up the hours on ‘the other end.’

I do know when i am at home now i sleep much better and rarely have those nights of waking up at 0200 and not being able to go back to sleep.


Why in the world would anyone prefer 6/6? When I asked that question the answers I got were nonsensical. “Been doing it a long time, I am used to it.” Geez, I suppose one could get used to any sort of low level torture over time but it’s still torture.

1 Like

The main reason I hated my few months of tugboating was because of the 6&6, and that’s the reason I would never go back. Cramped living quarters AND never having enough rest? No thanks. There’s been time on deep sea ships I’ve had lack of sleep due to ops/unexpected weather/shit breaking, but I was always able to make it up because I knew I had an 8 hour rest period coming up at some point. 6&6 you start behind and fall further behind because of ops going longer than planned.


I can understand how a lot of capts and mates in new york harbor prefer it. Very stressful and challenging place to be moving barges.

Did the zombie 6/6 for decades. Was rough, but at least got paid overtime. Then, bean counters took us non-union, cut the crew from 12 to 8 or 9 crewmembers. Turned the barge “Captain” into a 3rd mate and had the 2nd do cargo as well. Got my 4-8 at sea officers, but worked our balls off in port. Short trips were darn tough. Cargo was 6-6 in port… Only help engineers (6 and 6 STILL) got was from me and the cook loading stores, engine supplies, and repairs. Nobody else was left until I could beg, borrow ,or steal an extra AB or OS. 4 and 8 is the way to go with a full crew. I see Cmakin was the only engineer for quite some time., and made it work somehow. I have respect for that, not an easy haul by any means.

1 Like

I understand that but why not 8 on and 16 off? Sure the company would have to pay more crew but those tug companies do not run on razor thin margins, especially in NY. No one else in the developed world puts up with what US mariners put up with I don’t think but I may be mistaken.
If anyone on the forum knows of another country that insists their workers work 6/6 I would be interested in hearing from them.

. Do manufacturing plants who have 24/7 operations work 6/6? No Why not?

No disrespect tengineer, hard enough to get crew for 4-8. 8-16 would be a huge stretch. I can’t sleep more than six or seven hours even today…

The plants were on land and stayed still underneath you. Many are undermanned as well.

Off point but some crews in Mexico work it. Fits in fine with the siesta culture but the siesta is a 3-4 hour sleep instead of a 2-3 hr nap.

I agree with @Ctony that some tugboaters love the 6&6 & would never change. I also agree with Ctony & @BeerCaptain that people quit over it & some will never go or go back to tugs because of it. All these negative opinions of 6&6 from mariners who have been there & done that should give a partial answer to the OP’s complex question on how to improve & make his company more marketable. Give mariners options on work schedule instead of forcing the 6&6 on everyone because a few love it & that’s how its always been done.