Tugboats, Towboats, and Barges…Oh my!

Interesting Facts About the American Tugboat, Towboat and Barge Industry

1. On our nation’s inland waterways and coasts, America’s tugboat, towboat and barge industry:

  • transports 20% of America’s coal, enough to produce 10% of all electricity used each year in the U.S.
  • moves 60% of U.S. grain exports, helping American farmers compete with foreign producers.
  • carries most of New England’s home heating oil and gasoline.

2. A typical inland barge has a capacity 15 times greater than one rail car and 60 times greater than one semi trailer truck.

3. The industry allows the United States to take advantage of one of its greatest natural resources – the 25,000 mile waterway system – and adds $5 billion a year to the U.S. economy.

4. The greater fuel efficiency of tugboats and towboats results in cleaner air and is the most environmentally friendly mode of commercial transportation. (Facts)

I captured this tugboat while on a sunset cruise with my husband. I love the coloring of the sky as the sun was almost set and the lights on the tug all lit up.


The term “tug” appears to have derived from an early 1800’s British vessel of that name which was used to assist larger ships in docking and undocking. A TUG has a deep hull, usually rounded or some approximation thereof by use of one or more hard chines, a “pointy” bow (called a model — from “modeled” bow), and the propeller or propellers are deep in the water. A tug is generally designed to operate safely in rough water conditions — openings can be made water-tight, doors have high thresholds so water can flow past but not into, there are scuppers to allow water taken on deck to run off and there is safety equipment carried on board. (Tugboats)

The term “towboat” is generally used to describe a vessel used to handle towing tasks on inland waterways. A TOWBOAT has a squared-off bow with pushing knees, a hull that is flat-bottomed until the stern where it rises to allow room for one or more screws. The tips of these are in tunnels and may be at or just above the water’s surface. The superstructure is generally a simple stack of boxes of various sizes, perhaps with some streamlining added for looks. Freeboard is minimal and doors are not watertight. There are no bulwarks. (There is, however, a modified type of towboat sometimes known as a Cajun boat that is designed for use on the InterCoastal Waterways and moderately open waters that has high doorway thresholds and some form of bulwarks.)

In the early years of river towing, some tows were handled astern, and thus the terminology “towboat” was developed. However as the size of the towboats and tows increased, most tows were handled by pushing them in order to allow for better control and tighter turning in restricted areas. The more modern terminology “pushboat” tends to be used interchangeably with “towboat” and in many ways is a better description of the function of these vessels. (Tugboats)

Works Cited:
“Facts About the American Tugboat, Towboat and Barge Industry.” The American Waterways Operators. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.americanwaterways.com/industry_stats/facts_about_ind/factsabout.pdf&gt;.

“Tugboats and Towboats.” Tugboat Enthusiasts Society. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.tugboatenthusiastsociety.org/Pages/tugboats-and-towboats-01.htm&gt;.

Image Credits:
Genoa Design International
. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.genoadesign.com/index.php?option=com_morfeoshow&task=view&gallery=22&gt;.

Genoa Design International. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.genoadesign.com/index.php?option=com_morfeoshow&task=view&gallery=27&gt;.


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