What do I need to move goods across a harbor / river and start my own service?

I have a smaller construction and construction supply company. I started a project and was complaining how it’s a real pain getting supplies via truck to my current site. I then used a friends fishing boat to bring the supplies via water and worked out great. It got me thinking about the feasibility of using a small simple boat like his to make deliveries in my area. I know I got away with this a few times for myself but what is actually needed for me to move goods over the water short distances? It would all be done in Baltimore. I have a lot of customers that get bulky goods delivered on the riverfront and this worked so well and saved so much time / money it made me look into.

I am having a hard time finding what licenses I need for the vessel.
do I need specific insurance?

I am sure that me bringing goods by boat must have a lot of regulations I am completely unaware of. I spoke to another supplier and he loves the idea too. We both do a ton of work on the waterfront.

Any direction would be appreciated. I just don’t know where to look for regulations regarding transporting goods over water. All of the information I find is geared towards huge ships not a 60foot boat hauling construction supplies.

You don’t need a CG master’s license if you are operating it yourself to carry your own freight and don’t charge compensation from passengers.
You might also consider a push boat and barge with a push boat under 26’ which does not require a licensed operator. Insurance is a separate issue.

I agree that the just under 26’ push boat with a small barge is the way to go. Minimal regulations that way and no licenses.

I wouldn’t know where to go for insurance in Baltimore. Start with your current agent. Find some contractors that operate little 26’ “truckable tugs” and ask them. There use to be a couple of small marine construction companies in Curtis Bay.

Can’t he just cut out the “middle man” and get a powered barge? One unit? I know I’ve seen these things around shipyards.

A small landing craft is popular on water front here.

Stop focusing on the boat he needs. His question was whether or not a license was required. 46 CFR §15.805 dictates whether or not a license is required to operate a vessel. Since he is obviously going to be under 200 GRT, won’t be carrying passengers and won’t need to tow, I don’t believe anything is required to haul cargo across the harbor.

Does anyone believe differently?

Once upon a time I knew a guy that hauled some freight on an 80 fishing boat. He simply bought the freight and could legal transport it because he was not carrying “freight for hire”, he was carrying his own property. When he delivered the freight he sold it back to the people that hired him. If the boat sank, it would have been his loss.

A contractor that only hauls his own property can get away with quite a lot.


I have often wondered why ship providers and marine engineering companies don’t use small craft for delivery to ships in port, particularly in container ports. The stores crane on the seaward side is unrestricted and 4 tonne cylinder liners etc are loaded more conveniently and without waiting.
It works in a lot of Asian ports and Rotterdam.

I don’t know, but the American longshoremen’s union probably has something to do with it.

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Bunker barges operate that way all the time.

That may be a big part of why it’s not super common, I feel like most big ports we get parts in we have a whole raft of oil barges alongside already

The stores and spare parts supply are alongside for a short time compared to bunker barges so it is just a question of coordination.

When I did some time on the Mississippi river on a line boat we took our supplies and fuel underway midstream. A delivery boat would come along side and give us stores and fuel.

As are as larger ships go the cost of a delivery truck and a single driver’s time is usually far less than a boat and its crew.

I haven’t seen any fuel barges that far out but ULCCs anchored outside the Houston sea buoy engaged in lightering depend on boats out of Galveston to deliver provisions and parts.

That’s brilliant! Buy it, move it across the water, then sell it at a mark-up.

Many years ago serving in tankers running Saudi to Aussie we used to go South about via Cape Leeuwin to Sydney then back via Singapore. All our stores came by boat at the Eastern Anchorage.

Be sure and don’t get to ambitious or getting bigger boats/ barges because that will wave a red flag to the Coast Guard to come check it out.
This kind of commerce has been popular in SE Alaska for a long time.
There was a fellow from Seattle that had an about 65’ ferro cement sailing vessel. It had a large cargo hold and every year he would buy washers, dryers, freezers, TV’s etc… and sail north to SE Alasaka ports and set up shop at the city docks/ floats and sell his goods.
Since the town merchants have to pay a pretty penny to have all their goods shipped by barge, after a few trips they started squawking to the CG and state of Alaska. Even though it was technically legal they found other ways to give him grief such as vessel safety and required equipment, city business licenses and state permits…
He finally gave it up.

Bareboat charter does not fly if the owner is onboard, nor is it applicable to what we are discussing.

What I mentioned to similar to the common practice of buying goods CIF (cost, insurance and freight).

This has made me curios as well. We did this once with an old beater cabin cruiser* moving lumber to a waterfront construction site. This was long ago and “rules” were not so much of a thing.
Is there a rule on this for < 200 tons? There are plenty of normal sized tugs and barges around Baltimore already. The small barges being pushed or pulled by small boats I see around here are pretty much all related to pile driving and marine construction.

  • stability, what’s that? run back and forth and see what happens before we leave :roll_eyes:

Customers/deliveries makes it pretty clear that the operation would constitute freight-for-hire. Vessels carrying freight for hire are subject to the Coast Guard inspection regulations in 46 CFR Subchapter I, unless the vessel is under 15 gross tons. As a rule of thumb, the 15 ton mark is at around 35 feet. Chances are a 60 foot vessel like you described will be over the threshold of 15 gross tons, but under 100 tons. As such, should it meet the standards specified in Subchapter I, your vessel would receive a Certificate of Inspection from the Coast Guard specifying a crew of one licensed master of the appropriate tonnage for the vessel and one unlicensed deckhand provided the voyages are for a duration of less than 12 hours. Based on your route description, it sounds like you would qualify for a Lakes, Bays, and Sounds, or possible a Rivers route, which would make a lot of the oceangoing ship requirements not applicable to your operation.

Portofdc’s comment would be correct for a seagoing uninspected vessel, but that’s not the case if you operate a freight vessel in inspected service.

tugsailor’s and tugger50’s comments regarding ownership of the freight at the time of shipping is incorrect as the fact that it is sold upon arrival at the destination makes it freight for hire in the eyes of the Coast Guard, as well as the federal courts when that viewpoint was challenged.

Alternatively, you could use a <26 foot workboat to push a small barge with the cargo for hire on it and not require a licensed master or USCG inspection.

If you add any cargo fuel or hazardous materials to the boat/barge, everything I just wrote goes out the window and things get way more complicated.

Your best bet is to call up USCG Sector Maryland and ask to speak to someone in the domestics inspections branch that could assist you with your plans. Always better to talk to the Coast Guard inspectors before you do something than the Coast Guard investigators after you do something.