Tugboat: when and how to hire one

  • 26/02/2019
  • 10 分钟

Hiring an efficient tugboat is an essential part of maritime operations. It is, after all, responsible for the safe arrival and departure of ships on the ports, and also necessary in emergency situations, such as open sea fires.

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Do you know what aspects of these vessels you need to consider before closing a deal? We’ve talked to Arnaldo Calbucci, maritime vice-president of Wilson Sons, to know what a charter professional must ponder in order to find the most suitable tugboat for a successful shipping agency operation. Check it out!

What are the types of towing

The main type of towing is the port one, since it is an obligation in most of the ports in Brazil. It has to do with the execution of maneuvers so the ships can enter or leave the port. In general, it is to this type of towing that we’ll refer to in this article.

Ocean towing happens more sporadically, because it takes place when a ship goes through an unforeseen situation, such as a lack of propulsion in the open sea. In such happenstances, the vessel is towed to a safe point.

Tugboats are also needed for rescue assistance in case of fires on board or to solve refloats. Calbucci explains that, in the case of port towing, hiring usually happens at the beginning of the chartering negotiations, but it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the charterer, because the shipowner can also hire tugboats.

“But all that always happens well in advance of the ship’s arrival at the port”, he highlights, pointing out that planning is essential when hiring the service, because each port has specific requirements and, furthermore, the schedule must be strictly followed so as not to cause subsequent delays.

What to consider when hiring a tugboat

You must make sure of a series of factors before hiring a tugboat for your operation. For Calbucci, the main points that must be verified are the safety provided, the tugboat’s capacity, and the expertise of the company about the ports of operation.


“The charterer and the shipowner must hire towing companies that are able to execute the operation they need safely”, says Calbucci. Safety is essential on the operation of a tugboat — not only to protect the tugboat itself, but also to preserve the vessel being towed and the port from any accidents.

After all, only having the charterer and the shipowner taking care of safety is of no use — hiring suppliers that care about the matter is equally important. Before closing a deal with a towing company, check out which SMS requirements (from the Portuguese “Safety, Environment, and Health) the supplier follows. They must be aligned with your company.

“It’s fundamental to hire companies with a valid P&I”, points out Calbucci. P&I stands for Protection and Indemnity Insurance.

Safety obviously doesn’t only have to do with supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPG) for the workers, training them, or having a risk management plan. It also requires adapting to the ports in which the tugboat will work, because each one has different specificities to be followed, as we’ve highlighted in our article about Paranaguá. With that in mind, you must carefully consider the next item.

The company’s knowledge about the ports

The Brazilian ports are very different from each other, so it’s important to know their characteristics well before planning a maritime operation. “There are ports which are more complex or that have peculiar qualities, and the towing company must have a trained, capable crew”, reminds the vice-president.

An “ideal tugboat” capable of meeting all the requirements of all the vessels in any port doesn’t exist. Each situation will present unique aspects, and a single charterer will hardly know all of them.

Therefore, make sure that the towing company has experience on the port you’ll operate, because it’s fundamental that it knows the particularities of the place. Besides, it’s interesting that the company be used to dealing with the type of cargo you transport — after all, as you probably know very well, each type of cargo requires special care, as we’ve discussed in our article about soy shipping.

Capacity and naneuverability

As a charter professional, you know that tugboats are nothing more than small sized vessels capable of maneuvering much larger vessels. That is possible thanks to its great capacity and maneuverability.

“There might be a risky situation if tugboats without enough capacity and maneuverability are hired, because they might not be able to help on the pilotage and on the mooring of the ship”, alerts Calbucci.

Once again, you must keep in mind that there isn’t an ideal capacity recommended for any situation. Each vessel and each port will require a certain capacity and, often, more than one tugboat. Therefore, it’s important to hire a specialized company, capable of providing exactly what’s recommended by the port authorities in each scenario.

What can be observed on a global scale, according to Calbucci, is the growth of the container ships. “Ever bigger vessels have been putting Brazilian ports on their schedules. Having a fleet of potent tugboats to assist those vessels is a trend in Brazil and in the world”, says him.

How can Wilson Sons help you

You certainly recognize that maritime operations are very complex. Only in this article, we’ve mentioned chartering, the clients’ knowledge of different ports, and the technical calculation about the tugboats’ capacity. There are many details and, because of that, it’s interesting to count on a company that dominates them all.

Wilson Sons is a group with more than 180 years of experience on the field of port, maritime, and logistical services, ranging from towing to shipping agencies, for example. That guarantees expertise on several branches of the business and allows us to transmit a broader perspective to the clients.

Another point that must be highlighted is the preoccupation with constant technological development. In 2018, the company launched the most potent port and ocean tugboat in the Brazilian market, the WS Sirius, which operates in the Port of Açu, in Rio de Janeiro.

With 90-tonne static traction, it’s the third Escort Tug fabricated by the company, and it’s even capable of interrupting the navigation of a large vessel, if necessary.

After reading the information in this article, do you think you’re better prepared to look for the tugboat that’s ideal for your operations? Don’t stop here! Get some more tips on how to improve your charter navigation negotiation techniques!