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Gard Guidance Masters


The main cause of damage to locks, port installations and the vessel is insufficient tug assistance, particularly in prevailing strong tides and winds. Due consideration should be given by the Master to engaging sufficient tug assistance to enable the vessel to safely depart from and arrive at a port or berth.

Most standard towage contracts allocate liability to the tow. The tow carries all the risk even when there is no fault or negligence on the part of the vessel. It is often difficult to prove fault or negligence by the tug as most contracts are based on the principle that the tug is the servant of the tow, even when navigation is conducted by the tug. A claim for any damage suffered by the tug is often lodged after completion of the towage.

Thus, the Company and ultimately the P&I insurer may be held liable when a tug is damaged or cause damage whilst berthing, unberthing or under tow. Likewise, damage to the own vessel affects the Hull and Machinery cover, as liability of the tug is excluded under nearly every standard towage contract.

Prior to engaging tugs, the Master should consider not only the number of tugs required, but also that sufficient bollard pull is available. In case of doubt the Master should not hesitate to order additional tug power. Also, the power and the bollard pull of the tugs engaged need to be evenly distributed to avoid damaging the own vessel such as torn bollards.

Prior to commencement of a tow, whether in open sea or approaching or leaving a berth or lock, the manoeuvres should be discussed as part of the passage planning – please see above section 2.13.3 Passage planning – departure and arrival. The Master should insist that the pilot’s directions to the tugs as well as ship-shore communication be given in a language understood by him, to enable the Master to have a full understanding of the manoeuvres undertaken at all times.

If towing lines are provided by the tug, the officers on stations should carefully check – if possible – the condition of the towing lines and inform the Master immediately in order to rectify the situation if the lines are not suitable.

Replacement towing lines of a sufficient breaking load and in good condition should be available on the vessel and be ready to be deployed if the tug’s line parts or must be rejected due to its poor condition.

As a general rule, whilst under tow, the Master and his/her officers should

  • be vigilant and alert when any manoeuvres are carried out by the tug or the vessel
  • always be aware of the tugs’ positions
  • continuously monitor the vessel’s own speed to avoid overrunning the tug
  • co-operate with the pilot and tug master.

    When manoeuvring under tow, the vessel’s own bow thrusters may be used to prevent any difficulties occurring. Transverse movements of the vessel supported by the tug’s pull may be underestimated.

    The names of the tugs and the time the tugs were taken on or started to tow should be recorded in the bridge bell book or other appropriate logs.

    If any incidents occur during tug operations, the action to be taken and documents to be collected can be found in section 3.17 Towage – damage cause to or by a tug.