Tugboat Wages 2022

Does raising industry pay really make up for the crewing shortages that most companies are having? Would more reasonable schedules and crew comforts/benefits be a more efficient recruiting approach for future mariners? While important to some, money is not of the utmost importance to others. It is easy to sit here and think that we all deserve more money, but at the end of the day how much money do you expect to make (realistically) for the service we provide?

Just a thought.

Absolutely. However, more money=higher tolerance for bs.


While raising pay scales might not stop shortages, they help prevent them from accelerating. Hard to hang onto workers if their purchasing power drops 7% in a single year because of inflation, while the crew on the next dock over got a glorified COLA to cover the 7% drop.

On the other hand, raising wages is a contributor to inflation. Too much money chasing too few workers or goods is one of the main causes of inflation, and the reason we’re seeing it now, for the most part.

A lot of variables to consider in setting pay and benefits.

“More reasonable schedules” is the same as saying “hire more workers to do the same job", which equals increased labor costs, if only because of benefits. Leaving employers with a decision: have a few workers making more money, or hire more workers and pay them less money?

Managers faced with that decision often go to the sailors they have and present a third option: We’ll pay you more if you sail with smaller crews. And the mariners often take the deal. Sailors like more money. It might be shortsighted of them, but

It’s rare that a maritime employer can both hire more workers and pay them more. It did happen with the oil field boom years ago. But then it went bust, as did wages and employment.


Well said, @freighterman1, you bring up some great points. Another variable to consider is the operational costs involved with owning/operating a vessel. Crew costs account for roughly 80% of overall yearly operating costs of US flagged vessels. Raising day rates will in turn force companies to increase margins, theoretically of course, and possibly losing business to “the other guy”. Though I think that mariners do indeed deserve a raise, throwing more money to the fleet is a short term fix for a long term problem.

Better schedules, benefits, and crew comforts are very important. I think this is especially true for the younger generations. As a whole, they seem to place a higher premium on time off and quality of life issues than they do on money. They are much quicker to leave and not put up with the BS. Paying higher wages would definitely help though, because the gap between maritime pay and many other fields is always shrinking, and inflation only exacerbates that issue. I have known many mariners who have decided that it’s just not worth the time away from home, the dangers, or the BS anymore. They are willing to take pay cuts to be done with all of it, because the size of those pay cuts is always shrinking.


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For construction work on west coast those rates are garbage. Im assuming terrible medical amd retirement on top of that?


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For construction work on west coast those rates are terrible. Im assuming medical and retirement are just as bad?

Internet: Today, good, reliable, high speed internet is necessary. If you don’t have it, you will find it difficult to hire good people under 40, and even harder to keep them.

Schedule: Rotations over 60 days are harder and harder to crew. In most cases there is no reason for it. Plane tickets are cheap enough.

Travel: Most of America pays full travel and full wages while traveling under the Portal to Portal Act. Mariners are exempt and being taken advantage of. They are sick of it.

Insurance: Only young, healthy guys, old guys on Medicare, and guys with wife’s insurance, can work for a company that does not provide good health insurance. $5000 deductibles are a fraud, and a time bomb, not insurance.

Food: Crews need good healthy food and plenty of it, including snacks and drinks. Most guys expect to eat as well on the boat as they do at home. The food budget must be generous, if any budget at all. This is the last place to economize. If a company is cheap on food, that’s a red flag.

401k: Companies must have a 401k. A match is not essential, but if there is a match, it should be good.

Holiday Pay: Everyone else in America gets it, and mariners deserve and expect it even more.

New Boats: The fleet of line haul tugs, really any tugs except tractors, is old, noisy, and uncomfortable. It’s time to build some new boats.

Profits: Even companies that are badly run with junk equipment are making very good money.


I’ve always thought that California non-union pay is way too low.

Where does Curtin process it’s payroll? Do they deduct California state taxes?

It seems like some of the work Curtin does is local work that could be subject to state tax, but some of their work definitely is not local or subject to state tax.

California just assumes that you live and work in California and owe state tax, and must file a state tax return. They are very aggressive about filing tax liens.

Personally, I think a Los Angeles or SF Bay company should be paying a lot more than a Seattle company.

Who are you comparing that to and what are their rates on Ocean going tugs?

I live out of state and work for them, my tax guy does a good job of getting me set up though. Im pretty sure if you live out of state you dont have to pay into commiefornia’s tax scheme.

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If the employer’s accounting books are open there is no problem with employees, in my experience. If the CEO is making millions a year but insisting it is not possible to pay employees more, that doesn’t sit well with most folks.
If a business owner opens the books and lets the employees see the true financial facts it benefits everyone. Independent company financial audits and profit sharing always seems to me to be the way to have a successful business. I tried it on a small scale and it worked,

That’s not how it works.

I wholeheartedly agree. I’m surprised some tugs don’t have dedicated cooks. I can’t imagine being gone 60 days eating food cooked by someone who isn’t a professional.

The comment about food budgets is interesting. We carry dedicated cooks who do nothing but cook. All are good. Some are superb. We also have food budgets. Interesting thing: the best cooks, with great menus and fantastic variety, routinely use only 2/3 of their budget a voyage. Lesser quality cooks and relief cooks max out the budget but deliver meh-food.

Great cooks spend less because they cook everything fresh. Sub-par cooks use expensive packaged food.

Good cooks make fries out of real potatoes. Bake bread claws, cookies, and donuts from scratch. They don’t order fish sticks. They buy frozen fillets straight from the canneries in Alaska, defrost them and bread them themselves. No frozen lasagna. They make fresh lasagna, and the bread sticks and marinara to go with it. All of this is great for morale, and costs much less than meh-food.

You can tell the expertise of a cook from how much they spend on mediocre packaged food. The cost difference between them and real ingredients is amazing. When a new cook comes into our system we tell them don’t worry about the budget. Worry about making great food from real ingredients and the budget takes care of itself.

Sometimes a new cook will complain they got a bad eval from the captain about their cooking. Maybe complain that the captain has it out for them. I look at the cost of their last food orders. If they’re maxing out the budget I know the problem. I call in our best cooks to have a menu discussion with them. Sometimes it works, and the cooking improves. Sometimes the new cook packs his Fry-Daddy and can opener and goes someplace else…


The math on that doesn’t check out unless you’re not moving, get your fuel for free, or work on harbor cruises

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I expect that the good cooks also have less waste for various reasons as well.

I also have never understood why tugs can’t have cooks. What percent of tug mariner pay includes cook pay or is that a freebee?

I’d say that at least 80% of coastwise tugs do not have cooks. Even on 90 day plus voyages.

30 years ago most boats had cooks. They also helped out on deck. I don’t recall any increase in pay for doing away with the cooks.

There is a lot of food waste without a cook. Food that isn’t good gets thrown out. Leftovers are not utilized in future meals. The guys eat a lot of expensive packaged crap that tastes better than what was cooked.

On many, if not most, tugs the BIG expense is fuel. It does not matter whether the customer is paying for fuel or not. If the owner is paying for fuel a boat’s day rate is high. If the customer is paying for fuel, the boat’s day rate is low.

On lower horsepower tugs on short coastal runs with modern fuel efficient engines that are not run hard, fuel might cost less than crew. On most tugs fuel is by far the biggest daily operating expense.

Food, even if it’s bought in expensive places like Dutch Harbor, is a tiny part of the cost of running and maintaining a tugboat.

Certainly, crew turnover, particularly in a remote place like Dutch Harbor, is much more expensive than food. Not to mention that any crewmen, much less good ones, are hard to find now.

Management time is valuable, especially at a Mom and Pop company where the office is not overstaffed. What does it cost in wasted management time to find and fly out crew because of an inadequate food budget or no one onboard that can make decent food?

Its rare to have any food budget in Alaska. I can only think of one company operating in Alaska that stupidly fusses about food cost or what food the crew buys, that company has a lot of turnover.

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We get $25 a day subsistence pay. Bring your own food, haul it to the boat. That includes your drinking water too.

That’s ridiculous, but harbor boats are different. They assume everyone is driving right up to the boat, so they can bring food, bedding, towels, etc.

$25 a day might be a good food budget in a place with low food costs, but if each guy is bring his own food in an uncoordinated way, that must be a mess.

We did get coffee filters in a contract negotiation…. But I can’t tell you the last time those arrived at the boat when not bought by a crew member