Tow Boats


Video Length: 4 minutes and 4 seconds



From fishing vessels to water taxis, tugboats to police craft, small non-pleasure vessels are a common sight on Canada’s waters. But accidents can happen at any time – and to anyone. As the operator of a small non-pleasure vessel, it’s your responsibility to make sure your vessel operates safely and is properly equipped for emergencies.

Powerful and agile, towboats – also called tugs – make their job look easy. But when you’re pulling barges and other vessels, you need to be ready for anything.

Interview 1:

“We’re towing barges, we’re towing cranes, we’re moving things on the station, we’re doing hoisting operations on the water, we’re clamming, we’re dredging, we’ve got risks of girding tugs where whatever you’re towing can overcome your tug boat, we’ve got mother nature, as you can see, the wind is starting to pick up here. Sometimes you’re towing a barge across the lake or down the east coast across the Atlantic. The Wind comes up, there’s not really any place you’ve got to go so you basically buckle down. You go through weather. That’s where the experience of the crew comes in.”


Staying alert is key, especially on the aft deck. Bridles and towlines can have a mind of their own, so make sure you’re not in a position where you could get caught in a tight wire. The nature of the job means towboats can lean at sharp angles. To keep water out, make sure all doors and hatches on the main deck are closed – and inspect their watertight seals on a regular basis.

Interview 2:

“As soon as you start rolling a boat over the water is going to come up and start down-flooding through any openings. And once you get water going in down there the boat become very unstable and it will just keep on rolling over.”


When the tow overtakes the tug, this is called girding – and it can cause your vessel to capsize. Strong currents and severe weather are common causes of girding, so always be aware of local conditions. Knowing the characteristics of the tow itself is also important. A loaded barge handles quite differently than an empty one, for example. At the same time, you also have to know the capabilities of your own vessel. If something goes wrong, aborting the tow could prevent you from girding. Your crew must know how to release the towline at a moment’s notice – and this mechanism should be tested often. But if girding does occur, capsizing can happen very fast. Your only way out might be an emergency escape – these routes must be clearly marked and kept operational.

Interview 3:

“We have all sorts of policy and procedure in place. We have experienced crews but after a while people get complacent. That’s where the toolbox talks, the checklists, and that matter comes in. It refreshes them; it makes them more aware of it. We’re always in contact with our guys on our vessel, we’re always trying to, basically, make them aware of the hazards. I mean, it could happen any time. It could happen on a calm day; it could happen in fifteen metre seas. If we have an incident we try and make sure it never happens again. We bring our people into the loop; we talk about it. Why did this happen? What can we do to prevent it? And move forward.

Interview 4:

“These are our vessels, our business, and our responsibility.”


For more information about how you can help Canada’s waters remain a safe place to do business, visit the Transport Canada Marine Safety website.