Betz reflects steady modernization of tugboat world

It was the tug J. George Betz that recently got my attention. For some reason the name of that tug has always stayed in my mind, ever since it was featured in the first edition of American Tugboat Review — back in 1996. Something about its no-nonsense appearance, brute strength and all that serious towing gear on the aft deck seemed to make it stand out. 

The Bouchard tug, J. George Betz, shows off her offshore towing gear in this photo shortly after her delivery from the former Trinity Marine shipyard in 1995. The tug, featured in the first issue of American Tugboat Review, is already 15 years old. (Photo courtesy Bollinger Shipyards)

That issue was dated 1996, but the tugs it featured were largely built over the prior year — 1995. By that measure, both this magazine and J. George Betz are 15 years old. Most things about our lives that we suddenly realize are 15 years old are bound to catch our attention. (American Tugboat Review was started, and still is, an offshoot of Professional Mariner magazine, itself launched several years earlier).

So the tugs that we once admired and photographed and wrote about when new, are now already back for what could be their mid-life refurbishments. In the case of J. George Betz, a 6,100-hp ocean towing vessel owned and operated by Bouchard Transportation, the tug recently came out of one of the Bollinger shipyards, not only having been refurbished, but also having been converted to ATB capability with a new Intercon pin system.

Imagine how Mort Bouchard feels. That issue of ATR carried a photo of Mr. Bouchard looking young and fit outside the pilothouse of his newest tug. We haven’t seen him in a while, but one might suspect that Mr. Bouchard, like many of the tugs we have featured over the years, has a few more gray hairs showing.

Crowley Maritime has a new class of oceangoing tugs, which reflect constantly modernizing concepts of tug design. (Photo courtesy Bollinger Shipyards)

Back then, those were still the formative years for tractor-style tugs, although they were hardly a new technology. We figured there were roughly 75 tractor-style tugs — both cycloidal drive and azimuthing z-drives — operating in the U.S. and Canada at the time. Foss Maritime was way ahead of the pack in this department, with about 10 tractor tugs, mostly cycloidal drives, while Edison Chouest had its fairly new fleet of C-tractors and several other companies had three or four. That compares to today’s tugboat world in which we figure there are more than 275 tractor-style tugs of all types operating in the United States and Canada, including those at Puerto Rico and Hawaii (see listing of all tractor tugs, Page 42).

When someone asked us the other day what was new in the tugboat world, the first thing that popped out was that we are seeing these so-called tractor tugs, and other types of workboats, being built with azimuthing stern drives for a variety of purposes, including the plain old pushing of barges. That includes pushing barges both on salt water and in the inland river system.

In 15 years of publishing American Tugboat Review we have seen tugboats change to the point where z-drive propulsion has become commonplace on new vessels unless it is absolutely unnecessary and not worth the extra expense, and where barges equipped with articulated connection systems are also commonplace. In 15 years we have also witnessed the beginnings of so-called •hybrid’ propulsion technology and the steady government imposition of tougher standards for cleaned-up engine emissions throughout the industry.

The elevated tower of the new ATB tug Freedom, introduced this year by Express Marine of Camden, N.J., illustrates some of the change in technology compared to J. George Betz. Freedom uses z-drive propulsion and an ATB coupler system to move coal barges. (Brian Gauvin photo)

In this issue of ATR, one of the tugs featured — a new tug for Express Marine of Camden, N.J. — combines both z-drive propulsion with an ATB coupler system for its barge which will carry, not oil, but dry bulk cargoes, mostly coal. Now that is a view of the constantly modernizing tugboat world. •


American Tugboat Review editor

By Professional Mariner Staff