Single screw tugs

I have I have run single screw boats for @ 25 years, mostly 1800-2200hp(deckhand and mates on larger twins). Maybe 2 months running a twin screw tug.

Last year I spent a week running a tug for a company that had bow thrusters in all its single screw tugs, even a little 55 footer. I thought it was odd and didn’t use it. Though i can see the benefit when facing up to the barge with inexperienced crew.

Recently I had lunch with a captain who was telling me about another company had thrusters in all its singles. He said the captains insisted and wouldn’t run singles without them. We also discussed another company with 3000-6000hp singles that had captains who certainly could run them with out the thrusters but had them installed anyway. They used them to keep the boats competitive in the local ship assist market.

I work on the Great Lakes and single screw tugs are still common but fewer all the time. What is it like on the coasts? Are singles screw no longer meeting the demands of the market? Is it an issue of finding experienced crew?

I am curious if the switch to twin is entirely customer driven or have legal and regulator changes influenced it.( like towing hazardous materials/petroleum

And what about hawser tugs? Is it all cable boats now? If not who is still towing barges with hawser?

West Coast boats doing ship assist are mostly twin z drives. Still a few voiths running around too. Not sure how many pilots would be receptive to any conventional boats showing up to a job. Varies by port.

Not sure if a stand alone single screw tug would be moving oil barges around either, and if there is or isn’t may be more of a regulatory requirement to be a twin screw for that type of work. Also, slowly but surely, equipment has been updated. Still a few dinosaur rigs out there working offshore I’m sure.

Not sure if still the case, but the ship assist boats in the Cape Fear river were all single screw for years. Used a lazy stern line to hold at a 90 against the current. Would assume they have upgraded over the years.

Single screw tugs were all built of wood down here. The William C Daldy built in Renfrew, Scotland in 1935 and steamed out here 12,000 miles is still steaming on the harbour for tourists and she was the first twin screw ship assist tug.

Single screw tugs and the guys who can run them are almost a thing of the past. I see a few single screws towing logs, gravel, etc.

The subchapter M drydock exams will be the end for most of them.

I’ve run a couple of single screws that have bow thrusters. Being able to get the boat pointed in the right direction before putting her in gear can be a big advantage.


Still some conventional twin screw tugs doing ship assist in the PNW, namely Brusco tugs in Grays Harbor, and in Everett and Olympia in Puget Sound. Shaver, I think, still has one or two conventionals occasionally doing ship assist in the Columbia River.

There are a handful of single screw tugs towing around here. I know of at least one that had a bow thruster but the other ones don’t.

I’m not aware of any single screw tugs still doing ship assist out here though.

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I know of only a bare handful of single screw tugs still doing ship assist on the east coast, and those are in tiny ports. A few laid up rusting away. Hardly anybody can run them anymore and they would not be wanted by pilots, anyways. There are however plenty of twin screw conventional boats still docking ships on the East and Gulf coasts, though. A good twin screw conventional tug with a good operator is still totally capable of performing effective ship docking operations, even though twin screw z-drives are now the standard and preferred by just about everyone.


Great Lakes Towing still has more than 20 single screw tugs doing ship assist work. Though they are starting to replace them with conventional twins. I had forgotten about them as the stick to ship assist and ice breaking. They dont push barges generally speaking.

I ran a single screw tug for 3 years before my prior gig. Owner bought the bought cheap and ran the sh-- out of it. We moved mostly scrap, dirt, shred, baled cars and some construction equipment. Owner was able to offer more competitive pricing, with a cheap more efficient boat.

We even did creek work with it, nothing like English Kills or Bronx River with a 12 foot draft.

He eventually sold the boat and I have to run a twin screw now. Two entirely different skill sets. A bow thruster would be sacreligious and an unnecessary expense. The only thing that would have made it more fun is direct reversing. There are still a bunch of single screws out there doing the aforementioned work.

This district’s regulations prevent us from touching oil barges. I think it might be legal to move an empty one. They did some ship assist work before I got there but now nobody wants to hire a single screw anymore, nothing legal they don’t want them.


In a concept similar to the “junk chartering” that use to go on with ships, there were some mom and pop companies buying single screw tugs for scrap value. Same thing with old single skin oil barges.

They did not try to charter or insure them (they only had P&I and pollution cover)

They looked for non polluting commodities (salt, aggregates, scrap steel, etc.) that they could buy low in one port and sell high in another port. They could often make enough off the first voyage to pay for a tug that was bought at scrap price.

Subchapter M has undoubtedly changed this.

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