Tugs or OSVs

Well I started my job search and I’ve started to receive some offers. Interviews to follow next week. I’ve been contacted by an OSV company that will hire me on as a mate with an even time schedule. I’ve been contacted by a few big tug companies that will hire me on as an AB. I’m kind of stumped as too which route to go. I’ve sailed deep sea for the past 6 years and have a 2nd mate license and I am looking to slow down and have a life. I have 120 days as a cadet on OSVs back in 2013. I have 0 tug experience. Trying to weigh the pros and cons of each job. Money would be better with the OSV company as a mate than it would be as an AB with the tugs. I also prefer the OSV rotation. Not a fan of 6 hour watch schedule. I find OSV work boring. I am drawn more to tugs especially west coast. Anybody have any opinions or experiences working both and can chime in what they preferred?

You will most likely be more comfortable on an OSV. Less ups and downs with the towing industry though, generally speaking. Depending on the tug company you go with, getting into the wheelhouse could take a while. Lots of licensed guys on tugboats working as ABs and getting strung along waiting for advancement.


Not incorrect.

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@Ctony was spot on. I liked tugs better than OSV’s but that’s just me.

If you had a couple of offers from OSV companies don’t neccesarily go with the one paying the most but the one most diversified outside of the oil & gas industry & try to get on those vessels. It’s not a matter of “if” the OSV market takes a dump again but when. If Fourchon is booming again that is great but I’m sure a year ago it was a ghost town & some time soon it will be a ghost town again. How all those licensed, fully trained officers can disappear, reappear, disappear & reappear over & over again is a mystery to me.


I take that back & remember now. When business is bad many OSV companies layoff all the AB’s & QMED’s & get captains, mates & engineers to fill the spots. Also, instead of working 28/14 or 28/28 schedules are reduced to 14/28 to keep as many officers as possible for the next boom.


Years, try months. Things only started to speed up around December last year, and now its warp speed. For how long nobody knows.

They get guys back because they start throwing absurd money at us. Each time it becomes more and more. Last time masters where around a grand aday with some guys overseas making up to $1200 a day. This time its going to be mates making at least a grand a day.

There is a sever personnel shortage right now with every boat possible working there’s not enough guys to bring more boats out.

OSV better living conditions, decent pay, crazy ups and downs.

Tugs decent pay, living condition are what you make of it, swings are not as crazy.

Life time earning even out over the long run, maybe even favor tugs due to less wild pay cuts. I went down as much as 66% pay cut to keep working and am still not back to what I was making at the best of time 6 years ago.


I’m a tug guy moving oil, there are definitely pros and cons for both sides. You can chase the money but from my side, tugs weather the oil market fluctuations much better than the OSV side. 2014 had almost no effect on us while OSVs are just now starting to recover. You can go OSV and switch to tugs when the bottom drops out but so will a lot of your shipmates.

As far as the watches go, it’s something you get used to. Its a harder transition for most deep-sea guys since it’s such a change. Tugs also tend to run with a lower manning scale so you’ll have more responsibilities. I should also note that while it’s not as severe as the Gulf, many tug companies are hiring and having difficulty.

You will need a minimum of 30 days on deck before you can sail Mate on a towing vessel, and more likely 6 months or more. You will need a minimum of 30 days on a towing vessel, and to complete a TOAR.

Find out if the tug company has a “Designated Examiner” in house and whether you will be on the same boat as the DE. If they do not have one, you will find it very hard to complete the TOAR and move up to Mate.

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There’s a labor shortage across the entire industry it seems so you can have your pick. Tugs will give you valuable wheelhouse experience that you can leverage later on if you want to transition to OSVs. I’d also recommend avoiding the big players in the tug world and look to smaller mom and pop. Dredge ops is a good place to start. There’s way more opportunity on the East Coast IMO than West this better upward mobility. Might be lower pay, but you’ll have a shot at the wheelhouse much faster. That is, of course, if you work hard as an AB and prove your value.

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They are less likely to have a Designated Examiner in-house, so look into that before committing. Without good access to a DE, it will be very hard to complete a TOAR and get off the deck and progress to Mate.

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There’s definitely plenty floating around. It’s worth asking. My company has one…

Right now, if you go take a one day TOAR simulator class, and sail for 30 days as an AB, you find yourself getting an instant promotion to mate.

I agree that you could be in the wheelhouse quickly at the mom and pop companies.

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With what companies are guys progressing so fast into the wheelhouse? And which smaller companies do you all recommend?

Generally speaking, the tug companies that are not moving oil will have quicker opportunities for the wheelhouse. Dredging, construction, tugs doing that kind if work will have quicker advancement.

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It does not take a lot of skill or experience to be a second mate on a boat making long outside tows.

If a dredging or construction job runs 24/7, the mate will probably need the same skills as the captain: barge handling, ramming sections of dredge pipe together, running anchors, etc.

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A lot of people don’t wanna do the dredge/construction work so if you can work past that, not only will you learn a tremendous amount in a short time, but you’ll set yourself up long term to have better prospects. Weeks, Dawn, Gulf Coast, Norfolk Tug, Precon, Stasinos, GLDD, etc are good places to start.

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While it might be worth it for someone with a mate of towing license to work as AB for a year for Foss, Crowley, Moran, or the big ATB companies with great equipment and top pay, there isn’t much point in doing it for longer, or for the lower paying companies with old equipment.

There are plenty of open mate’s jobs right now begging for the first warm body with a license. Not much point in sailing AB.

Sailing as AB for years is no longer the path to the wheelhouse that it once was. Nor is it necessary.

It’s certainly true that you will learn more about barge handling in a month of inside work, than you will in a year of outside work.

However, it’s a lot easier to “fake it until you make it” doing outside work.


I have a master 200 near coastal and master of tow. Sounds like it’s time to send out some applications. Thanks everybody.


Good luck! My guess is you’ll be fine

Didn’t know there was a TOAR simulator, and if there is I bet you can’t get all of the assessments done, I did mine on a boat but sounds fishy.

It’s at MITAGAS in Seattle. Since it’s MMp Union school it’s definitely fishy. Haha!