How to move up?

I’ve been an AB on tugs for 2 years towing and pushing. Am almost 20 now. Got my ticket running crewboats as well to get seatime for master 500. I’m going to Apply for my mate 500 NC and OINCW less than 500 NC and 200 Master NC and get my
Mate of Tow; Oceans when I can. I am wondering how did yall go from Ab’s to mate of tow. Like did y’all talk to the head captains to start piloting tugs? Because there is no training program where I work. Or did you become the best on deck to where the captains noticed that it was time for you to move up?

It’s often largely a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

If a mate quits, gets fired, gets sick, gets hurt, or whatever, and they need a mate, and you’re right there with a license, you may suddenly become the new Mate —- on training wheels.

It will also depend upon what type of tug, what it does and where, how many mates there are, and the type of company.

If you are working for a good East Coast company that transports oil, and there is only one Mate who is expected to do everything the Captain does, it will be difficult to move up and it will take years.

If you are working for a small construction company with a couple of tugs hauling small gravel barges, you might move up much faster.

If you are on a coastwise boat on the West Coast, where the captain makes all the arrivals and departures, and the mates only need to steam out in the open, you might move up faster.

If you are on a coastwise or ocean tug with two mates that’s not hauling oil, you might move up faster.

If you are at a crappy company with a lot of turnover, you might move up faster.

If you are willing to work long hitches, and work over, you might move up faster.

Most company “training programs” barely exist. If you can find a company with a real training program, you might move up faster, or it could take years.

Try to get experience actually running small vessels. Try to get experience as a deckhand on a variety of different types and sizes of vessels doing different types of work in different places.

Become a good cook. Become a good deckhand/engineer. Learn computers and electronics. Find out what skills a good mate needs to do the job where you want to work, then acquire those skills.

Remember, as a Mate, your primary job is to make the Captain look good.


Damn that’s a good summation :arrow_up:

What I would add is this. Companies I called to interview with that said they wanted to see me on deck for “a couple years” to see if they wanted to promote me, I avoided. Companies I called to interview with that said they had real training programs, were looking for mates, and would train me if I showed promise, I went with. It worked out for me. You can usually gauge from what they are telling you whether they are actually serious about looking for candidates to promote, or just need hands and will tell you whatever to get you working and then forget about you.


I will also add that if they are dicking around with you at your current company, just move on. Life’s too short and there are too many opportunities out there right now to spend years wasting away somewhere that isn’t going to promote you.


Thanks for your insight

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I would say it’s a little of both. If I got a new guy onboard who was immediately talking about wanting to learn to drive the boat I’d be put off. Show you’re a good deckhand first, then ask to learn to drive. But yes, you can ask to be taught, you don’t need to impress the Captain until they offer to teach you.


From personal experience I’d say if they’re giving you the run around where you are even after you have the license and certifications for the job, move on, stop wasting your time.
I had to take the first crappy job I was offered and qualified for, (overqualified for) but I also had to walk away from a great AB/Tankerman position on an ATB on a very good contract with a lot of down time.
There are some jobs out there many Mariners don’t want to do and mostly there’s always an open position which pays well.
Once you have the Mate time on your resume prospective employers take you a little more seriously.


I agree with this, I never had much problem finding a job a mate on a tug. In my case it was always with a captain most mates didn’t want to work with.

I did sail mate with a couple that probably would be considered unsafe, better to avoid that but mostly it’s the screamers. I’ve found once I figured out how they wanted things done they settled down.

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How to move up on a tug? Numbered but not in order.

  1. Do the job you were hired for first, be on time for watch change and ask questions if you aren’t sure what they’re saying.

  2. Learn the area where your vessel operates, Learn the bridges, landmarks and local references. Gain the local knowledge that makes them valuable. Keep track of your recency/trips. I use a spreadsheet with a separate page for each port or pilotage area.

  3. Ask to steer, light tug, light barge, anything. The basics don’t change that much regardless of what you’re doing. If you ask it shows your interested, just sitting up there and waiting to be asked will take forever.

  4. Get the license, take the classes including STCW of it applies to your situation. There’s no point is training someone who isn’t licensed to do the job, even if they’re ready.

  5. If you’ve been with a company a while, you should find out what their training/ class reimbursement policy is, the Capt should be able to help with this.

  6. You need to get a signed off TOAR, or work to get your Towing Endorsed, make sure you end up with a Captain that is a DE and can sign the book.

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Great advice thanks

Absolutely. During transits don’t just fuck off in the galley, be on the bridge learning what it looks like from up there. Ask about the names of notable places until you can recognize them day or night.

Ask to drive instead of just observing, when light at first until the oow sees that you’re able to do that then maybe when loaded.

(When I was running assist tugs we didn’t have autopilot on one of my primary boats, having a deckhand that could steer was crucial, especially for long transits.)

You don’t really need one. If you’re working East Coast boats where the mate is expected to do everything without calling the master once you’ve done the above and shown your capable you can ask to train on the bridge during maneuvers when you’re off watch and not expected to be on deck helping. (Having more details about where you work or the kind of operation you work at would help with more specific advice.)

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Thanks for the advice, I work on the West Coast doing NC tows and some push boat stuff in LB, SD, and Frisco.

Does the Captain do all the boat handling for all maneuvers? If so then there isn’t a whole lot of training involved in becoming mate once you’re an experienced deckhand.

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Pretty much. The mate takes the night watch. Captain lands the barges. Seems like I need to get a tour signed and bounce?

Not necessarily, if you like where you work stay. As long as the Captain is a Designated Examiner that is.

What does the night watch have to do with anything? They never do any maneuvering at night?

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They always plan the eta for 0600 so mate is sleeping and captain is up

It’s always worth it to bounce around. Don’t stay in one spot dreaming that someday they’ll promote you. Everytime you upgrade take a look around at your options. If you have a really good company you like though and they really do show interest in advancing you it’s worth it to stay.


Great advice here…and it can pay to have some patience. Give it a few months.

However, by all means if a year has passed and you’ve seen them hire outside folks instead of giving you a shot then by all means go to greener pastures.

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Sounds like OTB, run


While OTB/Centerline doesn’t have the best equipment out there, they pay a fair wage after they got raises if not a little low, the checks always hit the bank and the benefits are industry standard. Bonus, you’ll learn how to pump oil and tank a barge very quickly.

There is usually movement there top down, so if they were to get the appropriate license for those boats (I can’t recall if their ATB’s are over 500t, but their Marco tractor tugs are below) it may be a great opportunity to move up and if on an ATB he would get 1/2 time Unlimited tonnage.

They also have a couple harbor tugs in SF and that would be a lot of quick wheel experience for someone wanting to get the experience.

The one downside to OTB is their Mates get little of that time, they have to load and D/C the barges, most of their driving duties are while underway on AP.
In essence, they’re glorified Tankermen and in fact their title is “Mate Tankermen”.

CLL/OTB and FOSS were the two that came to my mind but I don’t believe FOSS is making that run, by his description but probably right with the former.

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