Tugboat Manning and Safety - Panama Canal

With regard to the article “Panama Canal Tugboat Captains Sanctioned Over Refusal to Transit Vessels in Neopanamax Locks”… What’s the industry standard (globally) for manning aboard tugs in similar situations?

In panama - prior to entering locks - one line goes up on the STBD bow and one on the PORT bow to use a bridle… which is why the tug captains want 3 seaman on deck.

I think this was a stupid idea:

“Unlike the original locks, which use “mules” to guide ships through the locks, the new neopanamax locks require the use of pilot tugboats to maneuver ships through.”

On deck on the tugs?

Yes, three on the deck of the tugs.

Is that overkill or a good safety measure?

I say overkill, but I’m assuming that those nice, new looking tractor tugs also have synthetic lines on winches on the stern for doing this type of work.

With a proper setup I see no need for more than one deckhand. If they’re in a hurry to get two lines up then two so they can send both lines simultaneously, but if the ship drops heaving lines (which they should) it doesn’t really take any longer to tie two sheet bends compared to one.

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Yeah that seems a little bit like overkill. Why aren’t they just hooking up a single centerlead tugs line through the bullnose and using those tractors as designed for indirect pulling? That’s fairly standard in locks elsewhere in the world.

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Due to limited space for the tug to maneuver , tests determined the two line bridal method on the bow was much more effective and quicker response. This is especially useful moving chamber to chamber for bow control. Especially on vessels without bow thrusters


On the tractor tug, a line leading through the center lead fwd and aft you don’t have the positive control in the tight confines of the locks, which is paramount to keep the ships off the walls of the locks. When the new locks opened they tried the single line in the center lead and were not able to control the ship effectively, which resulted in damage to the locks/walls and to the ships. This is why they are utilizing 2 lines (similar to using gate lines) on both tugs, it provides for more precise control of the bow and the stern.


Given that the average person in Panama only makes about $800 a month, there is no reason not to have plenty of deckhands.


That was my thought exactly. A single line is great if you have room to maneuver but two lines gives almost instant pull in either direction.

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3 seaman. 1 operating the winches and the other 2 handling lines.(2 lines)

The manning problem and dispute is not yet solved:

Anybody with first hand knowledge of the situation??

I’m getting a 403 response on that link.

OK. Try this one. Directly from the horses mouth as it where:

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