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A tugboat (tug) is a boat that maneuvers vessels by pushing or towing them. Tugs move 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. Tugboats are powerful for their size and strongly built; some are ocean-going. Some tugboats serve as icebreakers or salvage boats. Early tugboats had steam engines; 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.

Types of tugboats

Swedish harbour-tug Svitzer Freja in tug-operation
(3,600 kW / 453 gross register tons (GRT))
The tugboat Matthew Tibbets in New York Harbor with Ellis Island in the background

Seagoing tugboats are in three basic categories:

  1. The standard seagoing tugboat with model bow that tows its "payload" on a hawser (long steel or soft fiber rope).
  2. The "notch tug" which can be secured in a notch at the stern of a specially designed barge, effectively making the combination a ship. This configuration, however, is dangerous to use with a barge which is "in ballast" (no cargo) or in a head or following sea. Therefore, the "notch tugs" are usually built with a towing winch. With this configuration, the barge being pushed might approach the size of a small ship, the interaction of the water flow allows a higher speed with a minimal increase in power required or fuel consumption.
  3. The "integral unit," "integrated tug and barge," or "ITB," comprises specially designed vessels that lock together in such a rigid and strong method as to be certified as such by authorities (classification societies) such as the American Bureau of Shipping. Lloyd's Register of Shipping, Indian Register of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas or several others. These units stay combined under virtually any sea conditions and the "tugs" usually have poor sea keeping designs for navigation without their "barges" attached. Vessels in this category are legally considered to be ships rather than tugboats and barges must be staffed accordingly. Such vessels must show navigation lights compliant with those required of ships rather than those required of tugboats and vessels under tow. Articulated tug and barge units also utilize mechanical means to connect to their barges. ATB's generally utilize Intercon and Bludworth connection systems. ATB's are generally staffed as a large tugboat, with between seven to nine crew members. The typical American ATB operating on the east coast, per custom, displays navigational lights of a towing vessel pushing ahead, as described in the '72 COLREGS.

Harbor tugs. Historically tugboats were the first seagoing vessels to receive steam propulsion, freedom from the restraint of the wind, and capability of going in any direction. As such, they were employed in harbors to assist ships in docking and departure.

River tugs River tugs are also referred to as towboats or pushboats. Their hull designs would make open ocean operations dangerous. River tugs usually do not have any significant hawser or winch. Their hulls feature a flat front or bow to line up with the rectangular stern of the barge.

Tugboat propulsion

Tugboat engines typically produce 500 to 2,500 kW (~ 680 to 3,400 hp), but larger boats (used in deep waters) can have power ratings up to 20,000 kW (~ 27,200 hp) and usually have an extreme power:tonnage-ratio (normal cargo and passenger ships have a P:T-ratio (in kW:GRT) of 0.35 to 1.20, whereas large tugs typically are 2.20 to 4.50 and small harbour-tugs 4.0 to 9.5). The engines are often the same as those used in railroad locomotives, but typically drive the propeller mechanically instead of converting the engine output to power electric motors, as is common for railroad engines. For safety, tugboats' engines often feature two of each critical part for redundancy.[1]

A tugboat's power is typically stated by its engine's horsepower and its overall bollard pull.

File:Tugboat diagram-en edit.svg
Diagram with components named

Tugboats are highly maneuverable, and various propulsion systems have been developed to increase maneuverability and increase safety. The earliest tugs were fitted with paddle wheels, but these were soon replaced by propeller-driven tugs. Kort nozzles have been added to increase thrust per kW/hp. This was followed by the nozzle-rudder, which omitted the need for a conventional rudder. The cycloidal propeller was developed prior to World War II and was occasionally used in tugs because of its maneuverability. After World War II it was also linked to safety due to the development of the Voith Water Tractor, a tugboat configuration which could not be pulled over by its tow. In the late 1950s, the Z-drive or (azimuth thruster) was developed. Although sometimes referred to as the Schottel system, many brands exist: Schottel, Z-Peller, Duckpeller, Thrustmaster, Ulstein, Wärtsilä, etc. The propulsion systems are used on tugboats designed for tasks such as ship docking and marine construction. Conventional propeller/rudder configurations are more efficient for port-to-port towing.

The Kort nozzle is a sturdy cylindrical structure around a special propeller having minimum clearance between the propeller blades and the inner wall of the Kort nozzle. The thrust:power ratio is enhanced because the water approaches the propeller in a linear configuration and exits the nozzle the same way. The Kort nozzle is named after its inventor, but many brands exist.

A recent Dutch innovation is the Carousel Tug, winner of the Maritime Innovation Award at the Dutch Maritime Innovation Awards Gala in 2006[2]. The Carousel Tug adds a pair of interlocking rings to the body of the tug, the inner ring attached to the boat, with the outer ring attached to the towed ship by winch or towing hook. Since the towing point rotates freely, the tug is very difficult to capsize[3].

The Voith Schneider propeller (VSP), also known as a cycloidal drive is a specialized marine propulsion system. It is highly maneuverable, being able to change the direction of its thrust almost instantaneously. It is widely used on tugs and ferries.

From a circular plate, rotating around a vertical axis, a circular array of vertical blades (in the shape of hydrofoils) protrude out of the bottom of the ship. Each blade can rotate itself around a vertical axis. The internal gear changes the angle of attack of the blades in sync with the rotation of the plate, so that each blade can provide thrust in any direction, very similar to the collective pitch control and cyclic in a helicopter.

Tugboats in fiction

To date there have been three children's shows revolving around anthropomorphic (living) tugboats. In the late 1980s, 13 episodes were made of TUGS. It had an American spinoff called Salty's Lighthouse. One of the creators of that series went on to make Theodore Tugboat. On Tugs, the models were able to move their heads and eyes and didn't have motors. On Theodore Tugboat, the models have motors and moving eyes.

Little Toot (1939) is a children's story that tells the story of an anthropomorphic tugboat child, who wants help tow ships in a harbour near Hoboken. He's rejected by the tugboat community and dejectedly drifts out to sea, where he accidentally discovers a shipwrecked liner and a chance to prove his worth.

The children's book Scuffy the Tugboat, first published in 1946 as part of the Little Golden Books series, follows the adventures of a young toy tugboat who seeks a life beyond the confines of a tub inside his owner's toy store.

The Dutch writer Jan de Hartog wrote numerous nautical novels, first in Dutch, then in English. The novel Hollands glorie, written prior to World War II, was made into a Dutch miniseries in 1978, concerned the dangers faced by the crews of Dutch tug salvage tugs.[4][5] The novella Stella, concerning the dangers faced by the captains of rescue tugs in the English Channel during World War II, was made into a film entitled The Key in 1958.[6] The novel The Captain, about the captain of a rescue tug during a Murmansk Convoy, sold over a million copies.[7] Its sequel, The Commodore, features the narrator captaining a fleet of tugs in peace-time.

Canadian writer Farley Mowat wrote the book The Grey Seas Under telling the tale of a legendary North Atlantic salvage tug, the Foundation Franklin. He later wrote The Serpent's Coil which also deals with salvage tugs in the North Atlantic.

Tugboat Annie was the subject of a series of Saturday Evening Post magazine stories featuring the character of a female captain of the tugboat Narcissus in Puget Sound, later featured in the films Tugboat Annie (1933), Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940) and Captain Tugboat Annie (1945). The Canadian television series The Adventures of Tugboat Annie was filmed in 1957.

Tugboat Races

Tugboat races are held annually on Elliott Bay in Seattle,[8] the Hudson River, the New York Tugboat Race,[9], the Detroit River.[10] and the St. Mary's River[11]


See also


  1. Bilinski, Marcie B.: "The Workhorse of the Waterways" Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, Coastlines 2007
  2. "Novatug.nl news". Novatug. http://www.novatug.nl/news/index.php?year=2006&id=7. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  3. "Novatug.nl product information". Novatug. http://novatug.nl/works/index.php. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  4. "Hollands glorie". IMDb. http://imdb.com/title/tt0178141/. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  5. Mel Gussow (September 24, 2002). "Jan de Hartog, 88, Author of His Own Life". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806E1DC1539F937A1575AC0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  6. "The Key". IMDb. http://imdb.com/title/tt0051816/. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  7. "Hartog, Jan De [1914 - 2002"]. New York State Library. http://www.nnp.org/nni/Publications/Dutch-American/hartog.html. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  8. Port of Seattle
  9. "In search of the toughest tug," by laurel Graeber, New York Times, aug. 29th 2008.
  10. www.tugrace.com
  11. The Great Tugboat Race
  • Jane's Ocean Technology 1979-80 / Jane's Yearbooks, 1979 - ISBN 0 531 03902 1.
  • On Tugboats: Stories of Work and Life Aboard / Virginia Thorndike - Down East Books, 2004.
  • Under Tow: A Canadian History of Tugs and Towing / Donal Baird - Vanwell Publishing, 277 p., 2003 - ISBN 1551250764
  • Primer of Towing / George H. Reid - Cornell Maritime Press, 1992.
  • South Park- Episode 83, Russell Crowe Beats people up around the world and has a tugboat as a companion.

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