The LeadersIn Maritime Law

What Is a Tug / Tugboat?

Smaller vessels known as tugboats (alternatively known as "tugs") are vital to offshore operations. These smaller boats are used to either push or tow larger vessels that cannot or should not move themselves. Scenarios in which tugs would be used include when a large rig needs to move through narrow canals, or when a platform, disabled ship, or barge needs to be moved to a different location. In these scenarios, the tug is an invaluable vessel.

Three Most Common Types of Tug

  • Seagoing Tugboats:
    These vessels are strong enough to tow vessels into open waters and are designed to make long trips unassisted. The four categories of seagoing tugs include the standard seagoing tugboat, notch tug, integral unit, and articulated tug.

  • Harbor Tugboats:
    These tugs are generally smaller in size than seagoing tugboats and are designed to work within harbors. In smaller harbors, they have earned the nickname "lunch bucket boats" because they are manned only when necessary.

  • River Tugboats:
    These vessels are aptly named as their use is limited to inland rivers; their hull design would make it dangerous to operate them in the open ocean. Commonly known as towboats or pushboats, river tugs are actually only used to push barges from behind; the name "towboat" originated in the canal age when barges were pulled by draft animals.

Common Accidents on Tugs / Tugboats

Due to the high horsepower of tugboats—as well as the use of winches, drums, and towing lines—work on a tugboat is especially dangerous. Although a vital part of offshore operations, maritime workers on tugs can be seriously injured. These injuries can stem from common offshore accidents (such as falling on a slippery deck), or can stem from incidents specific to tug operations (such as injury by the winches, cables, or lines).

Common causes of tugboat accidents include the following:

  • Frayed / weak lines;
  • Tow lines sweeping the deck;
  • Inclement weather;
  • Capsizing of the tugboat;
  • Malfunction or unspooling of winches; and
  • Collisions with a dock or other vessel.

If you have questions about tugboats, do not hesitate to contact our offshore injury law firm today.

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