The tug and barge industry is the healthiest segment of the U.S. Merchant Marine. Developing over decades to replace ships in domestic trade river and coastal as well as international trades, and employing ever-increasing levels of technology in the traditional areas of harbor tug and workboat design.

Robert P. Hill – Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering Corp.

I have never been one to be able to simply leave things alone. As a kid, I used to spend a lot of time by the docks in my home of Troy, NY, watching the tugs and barges that plied the then-busy New York State Barge Canal. Unlike living at the coast where you would see a barge leave port on a hawser, I constantly saw them pushed by tugs fit into notches at the barge stern. So for a boy of 12, pushing barges seemed the only logical way to move them. That logic would remain with me over the years and through my career as a naval architect. I would grow up to learn of coastal towing and in fact I would often go to sea doing just that. But what started as a "given" for me, became an obsession. Everything I'd learned over the years taught me that pushing was simply a better way to do things, yet in coastal and ocean service, pushing was severely limited in application. I decided at a very early stage of my career to try and fix that.

What are some examples of the types of boats which inhabit the various groups in the tug and barge industry?

The early “notched” barge, then ITB (Integrated Tug/Barge), and now AT/B -  all grew out of the demand for low cost, safe, reliable, and more rapid marine transportation. While transportation using the conventional towed barges was less expensive than a ship, they were extremely weather dependent making them unreliable in some conditions and they were also much slower than the ships they often replaced.

It is the dream of every tug and barge operator, to find a trade where one can build less tugs and more barges. Obviously, as my friend Mr. Yamaguchi often reminded me – the barge is the “Earning part” – the tug is the “Expense-part”.

  • Despite large increases in refined product retail prices, rates for water transport of those products did not increase proportionately. Tankers were increasingly priced out of the low-rate market.
  • Operation of terminals at razor-thin inventory margins, required reliable, on-time replenishment from the transportation system. Towed barges were very slow and not as reliable as ships were, schedule-wise.
  • Towed barges did not provide the weather-reliable transportation needed to work with reduced terminal inventories – but low rates excluded tankers from competing.
  • The weather was not going to change, and tankers were not going to get cheaper to build or to crew/operate. Somehow, the tug and barge solution had to be improved.
  • There was a shift in transport patterns. Less and less refined product moved from the Gulf to East coasts on the water, rendering the higher speed of a tanker less important.

The tug and barge industry relies more than ever on both traditional and advanced power generation installations in its vessels.

  • Individual units for insurance purposes - loss of one does not mean a unit CTL.
  • As compared to a ship, a wider availability of shipyard sites for drydocking the powerplant.
  • Ability of both tug and barge to function as fully independent units when one or the other requires shipyarding.
  • Smaller crew and different , more efficient crew culture.
  • Ability to build both vessels in specialized shipyards, lowering costs. Ship-reliable ETA’s at greatly reduced operating costs.

Here is the NICOLE LEIGH REINAUER/RTC 135 combination operating in 12 to 20 ft Seas off Cape May, NJ in March 2000 and March 2001.

AT/B’s are as different from ITB’s, as AT/B’s are different from ships. Some history is in order.

The early “notched” barge, then ITB, and now AT/B - all grew out of the demand for low cost, safe, reliable, and more rapid marine transportation.

  • In America, where the movement of petroleum products was one of the most important uses for tugs and barges, there was a steady reduction in the number of marine terminals, and in the amount of inventory kept on hand at those which remained.
  • Towed barges provided very low rates, but were very unreliable schedule-wise, and subject to extensive weather delays.
  • The cost to operate tankers and other U.S. flag self-propelled vessels was increasing past the point where coastwise operation became less and less profitable. Both the crewing and regulatory environment favored tug/barge.