McAllister’s newest tugboat sets high water mark for bollard pull

Grace McAllister’s broad and beamy hull form is designed for ship assist and escort work in the busiest East Coast port.
Grace McAllister delivers 85.5 metric tons of bollard pull, the most of any harbor tug working in New York.
Grace McAllister delivers 85.5 metric tons of bollard pull, the most of any harbor tug working in New York.


Grace McAllister
| McAllister Towing, New York, N.Y.

New York Harbor is at the heart of the United States maritime community. Grace McAllister, the newest tugboat in the McAllister Towing fleet, sets a new standard in the region for raw power. 

Grace McAllister packs 6,770 hp into a 93-by-38-foot hull design. The result is 85.5 metric tons of bollard pull for ship-assist work powered by Caterpillar 3516E Tier 4 main engines paired with Schottel SRP 490 z-drive units.

Washburn & Doughty of East Boothbay, Maine, designed and built the new tug. It is the third delivery of a five-boat order, just behind Jane McAllister, which entered service last year in Norfolk, Va.  

Multiple fendering courses on the bow provide cushion and grip against the ship.
Multiple fendering courses on the bow provide cushion and grip against the ship.

Grace McAllister is the latest tugboat in New York Harbor with EPA Tier 4 engines and a Low Emissions Vessel (LEV) notation from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). Capt. Brian A. McAllister and Ava M. McAllister, delivered in the late 2010s, also achieved the certification. 

Grace is both nimble as well as powerful. And what’s more, she’s green,” Capt. Steve Kress, McAllister’s vice president of operations, said in a recent interview. 

“Some folks might like the way a tugboat looks, the shape of the superstructure, but what really matters is performance — and that comes from what you don’t see, what’s below the waterline,” Kress said. “When we build a new boat, we strive to improve on what we’ve done previously. McAllister has been in New York Harbor since 1864 and has always been an innovator.” 

For example, the previous class, which included Capt. Brian A. and Ava M., was the first to break 80 metric tons of bollard pull with their 6,770-horsepower engines. McAllister also was the first East Coast ship-assist company to operate an azimuthing stern drive tug. 

That tugboat, Brooks K. McAllister, is still in service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, although it has been renamed Brooklyn McAllister. 

Power and hull design make Grace McAllister the most advanced and powerful tractor tug yet to work in New York Harbor. Its horsepower nears 7,000 hp, like the previous class, but in a more compact hull. The key feature of the hull design is the skeg, and that makes all the difference, said Kress. 

More skeg forward and less aft allows the stern to move quicker. This skeg enables Grace to be positioned more perpendicularly when escorting or alongside a ship. Being perpendicular helps the vessel apply more force in any needed direction than tugs with a full keel. Furthermore, Grace’s inboard turning propellers also improve water flow to the drive units, which help increase performance and boost bollard pull.

Grace improves on the previous class by reducing length, breadth and draft without sacrificing performance. 

Another innovative feature of Grace is its low emissions. It was the first tugboat in the harbor to carry the ABS LEV notation. Introduced in the June 2020 update to the ABS “Guide for the Environmental Protection Notations for Vessels,” LEV indicates that the diesel engines exceed the standards for gaseous and particulate emissions regulated by MARPOL Annex VI. 

Kress noted that the tug’s Caterpillar 3516E Tier 4 engines came with factory certification of this fact. “We had the paperwork at launch, so we put the green notation on the boat on day one,” he said. “Once we had the ABS paperwork on other boats, such as the Captain Brian A. and Ava M., we put that notation on those boats as well.”

Currently, seven McAllister tugboats carry the LEV notation and two more are on the way at Washburn & Doughty, with delivery slated for late 2024 and mid-2025. 

Grace’s Cat 3516s attain the Tier 4 status using a selective catalytic reduction system, an active emissions-control technology system that sprays atomized deionized water and urea into the exhaust stream to convert nitrogen oxides (NOx) to harmless nitrogen and water.  

Capt.Jeremy Harris praised the tug’s wheelhouse ergonomics and visibility.
Capt.Jeremy Harris praised the tug’s wheelhouse ergonomics and visibility.

Capt. Jeremy Harris, who works on Grace McAllister, praised the smart design and performance of the new tugboat. “I love this boat. It cuts through the water like a knife. She has all the power that Capt. Brian A. McAllister does, but the more compact size and open keel allow it to apply that power much more quickly. Call it nimble, or just call it fast, when a docking pilot needs power applied to a section of a ship, Grace gets it there faster than any other tugboat.” 

Harris is a fourth-generation tugboater who has worked for McAllister for more than 20 years, previously on conventional tugboats. “I’m a hawsepiper, starting on boats as my first real job right after high school,” he said. Glancing around the other tugboats at the yard, he added, “I’ve worked on almost all these boats at one time or another.” 

His father, uncle and grandfather all had careers on McAllister Towing boats as captains and docking pilots. He’s thrilled to be the first captain on Grace, his first z-drive tractor tug. 

McAllister worked with Washburn & Doughty to incorporate a lot of improvements in this design, according to Harris. “Visibility from the wheelhouse is superior. This means safety: I can easily see where my crew is.” 

Besides the redesigned glass and wheelhouse, 10 cameras are positioned around the boat and can be monitored from various locations, including the wheelhouse and the galley-mess area. “This is great for the crew because in inclement weather, a deck hand can remain inside as we approach a job and yet remain aware of our location and conditions.”

Harris also gave high marks for the wheelhouse layout features, such as the fold-away screens. “I can have the radar and chart screen in front of me when I need them, but when I don’t, they fold down and away, allowing unobstructed vision.” He also praised the twin Schottel SRP 490 z-drive controls as very responsive.

Engineer Jimmy Pate checks the electrical panel below deck.
Engineer Jimmy Pate checks the electrical panel below deck.

Both Harris and engineer Jimmy Pate were enthusiastic about visibility in the engine room. “I can see where the engineer is immediately, whether I’m coming down the companionway directly or with engine room cameras, not like on some boats where the sightlines are obstructed by the engines,” Harris said. This was accomplished in the frame design, which sets the Caterpillar 3516E main engines into recessed cradles rather than bolted atop a frame.  

The engine room not only seems spacious but also is relatively quiet. The four-cylinder John Deere generators and the Schottel drives are isolated from the main engine room area behind the bulkhead and watertight door at the stern of the tugboat. This feature maximizes crew comfort by minimizing additional machinery noise in the living spaces.

Deck machinery includes both a bow and a stern winch. Forward is a Markey DEPCF-52 75-hp Render/Recover Class II escort winch loaded with 800 feet of 10-inch Samson AmSteel-Blue line. “I use that winch every time I assist a ship into or out of the port, and the wheelhouse controls are placed exactly where I need them,” Harris said. Power for the winches is through a variable-frequency drive that gives the operator infinite speed control. The generators can be paralleled for high-power operation as needed.

AB Lee Price, Engineer Jimmy Pate, Capt. Jeremy Harris and AB Howard Taranow pose beside Grace McAllister’s Markey DEPCF-52 escort winch.
AB Lee Price, Engineer Jimmy Pate, Capt. Jeremy Harris and AB Howard Taranow pose beside Grace McAllister’s Markey DEPCF-52 escort winch.

Aft is a Markey DEPC-42 hawser winch that can be loaded with 450 feet of 2.25-inch Samson Amsteel-Blue line. The rationale, according to Kress, is to enhance the adaptability of the tugboat. If a ship at a berth has engine issues, Grace can tow the vessel like a conventional hawser boat out to an anchorage to open the berth.

The capacity of containerships calling in the Port of New York/New Jersey has risen from around 8,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) before 2015 to more than 15,000 TEU currently, and a shipping line has recently inquired about handling a vessel measuring over 16,000 TEU in capacity, according to Kress.  

“Power is important,” said McAllister Towing President and Chief Executive Buckley McAllister, explaining that much of the McAllister fleet has around 4,000 hp with 50 tons of bollard pull. “Our newbuilds have almost double the power and 80-90 tons of bollard pull. With the size of post-Panamax ships, it is clear why we made this movement to increase power.”