Specific Roles Aboard a Tugboat for a Merchant Mariner

If you have the desire to work as a mariner, tugboat jobs are some of the employment opportunities that you might want to pursue.  While most people that want to become sailors often dream of sailing on a deep sea vessel, tugboats in the U.S offer plenty of river work as well as ocean towing and ship assist work.   Tug boats are found in the by the hundreds in the Gulf of Mexico and other ocean environments in addition to the tow boats that can be found sailing in the Great Lakes and inland rivers.   The good thing about getting a job on a tug boat vessel is the fact that there are several different types of job opportunities and roles to be filled.    This allows people with different credentials and experiences the opportunity to enter the maritime industry as merchant sailors.

If you are interested in working aboard a tugboat, here are some of the employment opportunities that you might find available.


This is an entry level job on a tow barge or tugboat.  Deckhands carry out duties given by the captain.  These might include barge towing operations, handling anchoring and dock related duties.  Deckhand workers can work their way up to become able bodied seamen or even work in the engine room upon demonstrating proper work ethic, the right credentials and expertise.

AB (Able Bodied Seaman)

This role on a tugboat is basically similar to that of a deckhand only that an able bodied seaman or AB is considered to be more skilled.  The AB also carries out roles ordered by the captain or mate such as but not limited to tow operations, deckhand chores and maintaining cleanliness on a vessel.  Better credentials and ample ‘sea time’ experience, an able bodied seaman can elevate to better jobs within the hierarchy of the tugboat.

Engineer / QMED (Qualified Member of Engine Department)

The operation and maintenance of a tugboat is often taken care of by the chief engineer of a tugboat.  Mobilizing the engineering crew as well as the main engines, cargo handling equipment, auxiliary machinery and loading of fuel are all duties and areas under chief engineer.  Depending on the tonnage level of a vessel, there are many technical systems that need the expertise of an engineer.  These include the hydraulics, electrical distribution, fuel service, polishing, sanitation and generator systems to mention a few.

Maintaining all of these sections of a ship is not a one man task.  The chief engineer always has deputies to help with the work.  A large vessel might have several deputy engineers by every seagoing vessels must have an engineer to man the engine rooms.


Individual with qualifications and experience as mates can also work on push boats when the chance arises.  Mates are almost like the deputy to a captain. They report directly to the captain about the condition of the sailing vessel.  It is the role of these individuals to supervise vessel towing, ship assist operations, docking and vessel navigation among other administrative roles.  The tonnage capacity of a ship is also used to distinguish the level of competence or experience for mates.


Among the different positions that tugboats have to offer, the captain is the highest rank and is responsible for the lives and safety of each crew m ember working aboard a merchant carrier.  The captain is also responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.  Being the overall authority on the ship, a tug captain also has to oversee maritime procedures with the help of an assistant or mate.

Besides having the relevant skills for navigation, seaman and towing expertise, a captain is also required to possess leadership and managerial skills because of the nature of the job.  It takes several years of sailing to get to this level in addition to having the relevant qualifications.

Tugboat jobs in general offer a wide variety of employment opportunities for mariners with different levels sill and experience.  Whether you are seeking an entry level job or an administrative position, having the appropriate credentials is essential.  To learn more about how to get a job on a U.S. tugboat as well as the relevant qualifications that are required for different roles, get a copy this eBook offer titled ‘How to become a sailor in the U.S. merchant marine fleet.  You stand the chance to learn the secret towards starting a professional career as a sailor.

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