Tugboat Job Market

The tugboat job market is strong and looks like it will remain so for awhile into the future, regardless of the coming recession.

Big Infrastructure spending on heavy civil works projects is already funded for years to come.

Lots of dredging continues.

The Oil patch is going strong.

Offshore Wind starting to ramp up.

High fuel prices, driver shortages, and emissions concerns may redirect some cargo from trucks to tug and barge (e.g. lumber from Canada to California).

USCG licensing and credentialing creates significant barriers to entry of new workers.

Kids today want to work from home on a computer while smoking legal weed, not line up for drug tests to go to sea for weeks or months.


If all the conditions you list are correct then wages for tug work will inevitably rise. There is a point between $300/day and $1000/day that will attract a worker away from a job in construction or a gas well in Wyoming. It’s just a matter of finding that point.

I would certainly like to see mariner wages rise faster than inflation. But…

The problem occurs if the construction or energy trades raise their wages to attract their workers back from maritime trades. That’s a cause of inflation: a cycle of companies outbidding each other for workers, which then drives up the costs of the goods or services that pay for the workers, making the raises meaningless.

The root cause is lack of workers. A problem over much of the world. In the last month I’ve spoken to Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis—all of them have labor shortages.

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Yeah it sounds way more preferable to living in a room the size of a closet sharing a head with 3 other guys working 6 hour watches. Want more “kids” sailing? Pay enough to convince me it’s better than “smoking legal weed” and sleeping in my own bed every night.


Re:when I read “weed” nowadays I mentally insert the word “alcohol”.

Weed needs to be legalized in all of the US, otherwise the industries that ban THC users will be at a hiring disadvantage. Which companies ban non-workplace use of alcohol?

Change federal law, then have USCG rules re: THC mirror those re: alcohol.


I know in Southern Louisiana during oil booms hiring agencies, osv, oil, drilling & tug companies would advertise on billboards looking to hire or poach employees. The New Orleans & Houston newspapers used to have ads for maritime jobs under the marine or offshore sections. 20+ years ago Mississippi River push & tug boat companies would advertise in local newspapers.

The question is, are workers so scarce on the west, upper east & Florida coast companies are advertising maritime jobs to the non-maritime public?

Generally speaking, I haven’t seen any of that on the west coast…or in particular California. I do know that Curtin Maritime is all over social media and other outlets looking for entry level people and making an effort to explain from the get-go what the potential earnings and future can be for the right entry level person. Other than that, it’s mainly word of mouth and networking.

There is a high school in San Pedro (pola-port of los Angeles) that makes an effort to provide maritime industry awareness to their students…but I will revert back to some of the comments above regarding new blood coming into this industry and accepting that they have to be part of a random drug testing program. Many people aren’t willing to change their lifestyle.

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I do not think many companies advertise in newspapers anymore. I have not read newspaper help wanted ads in years.

It’s all online now.

Recruiters are active. I got a few recruiter calls this year asking if I knew of any engineers that might be available.

I have been more and more involved in hiring. Working my contacts trying to find crew.

Money talks loudest. Companies are starting figure that out.

As Tugsailor alluded to, advertising has changed drastically in the past 5 years. Newspapers are the buggy whips of this century- they’re for people to read at a coffee shop or on public transportation, and for marketing to people over 60.
Labor scarcity is not a bad thing to the eyes of many. For people crying about pay disparity, it’s a leveling effect, in theory forcing money downwards into the rank-and-file. Short term, many of us suffer as companies increase demand on existing labor, but as the saying goes, that which can not last, will not last. The flipside to that coin is forced efficiency- forcing automation, or the big box store model of labor.

It seems like now is a good time to be a tug engineer. Several of the Northeast companies are looking for crew.

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I agree newspapers want ads aren’t what they used to be nor a solution. But if companies & maritime sectors are having a very difficult time recruiting new blood they’ll need to think outside the box to bring it in. The few times I went to Indeed & other jobs search sites to see what jobs were available I had to type in what I was looking for. I’m sure a laid off factory worker or unemployed guy from Utah can spend all day on Indeed & never have a maritime position pop up on their screen. And even if a young recent HS or VoTech grad did stumble across an online maritime job ad, chances are that tech savvy kid isn’t going to go work on an old tugboat where the “web” doesn’t exist in a lot of places.

IMO, these struggling companies shouldn’t focus exclusively on want ads in maritime publications & websites to poach existing mariners which doesn’t help the mariner shortage problem. They should advertise in economically depressed areas, rural areas & other industries publications & websites. If I owned a tugboat company & needed new people I would print 500 colored flyers seeking employees & post them in every vocational school cafeteria & cork message board in a 200 mile radius. Pretty much everyone leaving a votech school is looking for a job & doesn’t mind to get dirty.

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I have been recruiting people for 25 years. Advertising in “newspapers” nowadays means running internet ads on those newspapers’s platforms. Response varies. Useless in the Seattle Times. Too many different jobs available in Western Washington. Better response from other sites, which I will not mention because I am in competition with others for manpower. The web ads then get picked up by aggregator bots, that spread them elsewhere. Not as useful as you would think…

Social media and You Tube are great but no panacea. Both require different types of expertise, which you have to go out and find, and which ideally need to dovetail with company liaisons close in age to the target demographic.

Internet advertising is a huge business based on “banners” and “impressions” and “geofencing” of cellphone data. A lot of start-ups out there with Zoom meetings to sell you the latest advertising sure-thing . In the end it’s all incremental. $3k of advertising might buy you a couple of more heads or you might get bupkis. The costs stack up.

A billboard in Seattle can cost you $10k per week. I won’t gamble money on that. A billboard in Havre MT would be cheaper but…

The thing to remember is that the hiring market is national. Take the Alaskan fishing trades. Since at least the 1990s they have recruited a lot from Montana, Dakotas, and Wyoming, among other places. Even though Wyoming and the Dakotas have a booming energy employment sector. I’ve seen Alberta advertise in Seattle high schools for people to work the tar sands. So there are few untapped employment “wells” anyplace.

This last year I advertised for months in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and a couple of small town Montana papers. Seems like a narrow market but these small newspaper chains have a website co-op for their ads. Run a web ad in a paper in Montana and it will be linked to a website associated with a newspaper in rural Virginia, and all over the rural US. Doesn’t matter. Hardly any response. Lots of jobs available everywhere.

We use the typical web employment sites, of course. Better than nothing.

We hardly use outside-recruiters . My experience over the years has told me it is better to do it in-house, but then again we are typically only looking for people in the single digits.

The thing to remember: ALL employers are singing the blues about why they can’t find employees. They are all scouring the same hinterlands. It’s not just tugs. It’s not just maritime.

We’re doing better than a lot of companies. We have a unique summer program for cadets that serves as a pipeline for new hires. Absolute gold for recruiting the best and hardest-working. Nothing like it anywhere. But it takes a lot of time and effort.

Flyers in a vocational school by themselves do nothing. I’ve tried it over the decades. Advertising has to be backed up by recruiters talking at that school.

I have a brilliant person who flies all over the country to colleges and maritime trade schools to recruit. She’s always part of a crowd doing the same thing. They travel like a herd of wolves from meeting room to meeting room…


I have not really looked for a job in a few years.

Jobs look for me.

I use to enjoy doing a variety of one-off voyages, but now I rarely have time to do them.

I’ve also become “too expensive” for most one-off jobs.
Most employers have the strange idea that they should be paying a temporary contract employee doing a one-off voyage (that none of their own guys want to do) with no benefits the same day rate that they pay their regular employees.

There was a time, long ago, when I subscribed to Seattle and Anchorage Sunday papers and read the want ads every week.

Resumes don’t work anymore. Back in the 80’s and 90s, I’d send out a dozen resumes to Seattle companies every spring. Within a couple of weeks, I’d have a few job offers. Now companies get thousands of resumes (mostly from hopelessly unqualified people) and nobody has time to read them.

The PNW and Alaska are fishing vessel and tugboat meccas. They have never had enough local mariners. New England mariners have always been a significant part of the fleet.

New Yorkers crewed the NY tug fleet in the 70s, but now it’s mostly guys driving down from New England or flying up from the South. Tugs don’t pay enough to be able to live in NY, unless the guys are recent immigrants living in the ghetto.

New England has always had far too many mariners, but only a few jobs at much lower pay.

If a mariner lives in New England, he probably works in NY, the Gulf, or PNW.

Currently, we have far too much of the workforce sidelined but drugs. We have too many people addicted to welfare. Covid, particularly long covid, is also sidelining part of the workforce.

The USCG has created too many barriers to entry.

Employers are making very good money.

This is our best opportunity to make money. We need to demand that employers pay up.