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Fifth Coast Guard District
Towing Vessels

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The Fifth District commercial towing vessel fleet consists of an estimated 300 vessels.  These towing vessels range in size from the smallest at 7 gross tons with a length of 30 feet to the larger 1,515 gross tons at 124 feet in length.

The tugboat and barge industry operates througout the U.S., including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and the interior river system, which include the Western Rivers and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  With approimately 6,000 tug/towing vessels and 27,000 barges, over 800 million tons of raw materials and finished goods are moved each year.  This industry contributes over $5 billion each year, making it vital to the U.S. economy. 

Tug Assisting Aircraft Carrier A towing vessel or tugboat is a commercial vessel that is engaged in or intending to engage in pulling, pushing, hauling along side or a combination thereof. They move other vessels that either should not move themselves, such as ships in a crowded harbor or a narrow canal, or those that cannot move themselves alone, such as barges, disabled ships, or oil platforms. These vessels are powerful for their size and strongly built.  Some towing vessels serve as icebreakers or salvage boats. Early towing vessels were powered by steam engines, but today diesel engines are used. In addition to towing gear, many tugboats contain firefighting monitors or guns, allowing them to assist in firefighting duties, especially in harbors. Towing vessels and tugboats vary in size, length and horsepower they provide, which often dictates how they are utilized.

Commercial Tug (Sea Tow) Assisting MarinerCommercial Assistance: These tend to be small craft designed to help out other small craft with mechanical problems or that have just run out of fuel. They are the sea-going equivalent of Triple A. Although they may be available on a call-out basis in some harbors, many also offer a membership, again like Triple A. The Sea Tow franchise is the most visible and well known of these outfits.

Harbor Tug on Inland RiverHarbor tugs. Any vessel who's job it is to help a large ship get into & out of an anchorage; maneuvering in a harbor; or is used to tow/shift of barges. This is the kind of vessel most people think of when they think, "tug boat." These tugs are very powerful for their size to, in effect, provide an additional engine for the large ship they are assisting. Harbor tugs tend to have lots of cushioning, especially on the bow, so they can get right up against other vessels. They pull by attaching themselves to the vessel using wire cable or strong fiber line.

Seagoing Tug Assisting Tanker Through LocksSeagoing tugs. These tugs meant for ocean service may be seen hauling a barge of supplies to Alaska or islands in the Pacific, or towing a large ship from one port to another. The picture to the left is a seagoing tug towing a ship through the Panama Canal.

Towboat pushing barge on river.River towboats. Flat on the bow, these boats push barges ahead. Their design makes them unsuitable for sea-going duty, but perfect for the complicated navigation and close-quarters maneuvering required on rivers.  These Include Linehaul tugboats, Locking River Towboats, Canal Towboats, and Fleeting towboats.

Crowley Tug & tank vesselTanker Escort Tug.  These are the tugboats that are primarily used to escort tankers into & out of specific navigational areas as dictated by regulatory requirements.  There purpose is to provide stopping and steering capabilities to tankers in the event of engine or steering casualties during transits.

Last Modified 1/12/2016