Tugboat and Towboat Types

US Coast Guard Tugs

USCGC CHEROKEE - WMEC 165 - Was the sole survivor of three US Navy fleet tugs that were prototypes for their type. Her two sister ships were lost in World War Two. The CHEROKEE served for more than five decades in the US Navy and later the US Coast Guard before being retired in the late 1990s. CHEROKEE had a slightly different hull form, internal arrangement, and propulsion machinery from all the later fleet tugs. Her near-sister USCGC TAMAROA - WMEC 166 - is shown below at Governors Island, NY. Note the significantly different stern design on this vessel compared with CHEROKEE.


Article by Hugh Ware

Think of the US Coast Guard and tugs and the knowledgeable think of three sets of tugs. The first set is comprised of the many ex-Navy tugs of various classes that the Coast Guard used after World War II as medium-endurance cutters. Perhaps the most-famous of these tugs was the USCGC TAMAROA of “Perfect Storm” double-rescue fame. (Refresh your memory here by re-reading Sebastian Junger’s wonderful ”The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea.”) Before it became so famous, it had a highly honored career as the Navy fleet tug USS ZUNI during World War II.

All of these ex-Navy tugs have been retired except the USCGC Alex Haley medium-endurance cutter, a former USN Edenton class salvage tug built in the United Kingdom in 1967 and transferred to USCG in 1997 and converted to operate in Alaskan waters as a patrol and rescue ship.

The second set of tugs that comes to mind are the famed 110-foot icebreaking tugs, each powered by two diesels turning generators to create power for one electric drive motor for 1,000 hp. Three classes of these WYTMs (Coast Guard Yard Tug, Medium) were built between 1934 and 1944: four pre-war CALUMETs, four ARUNDELs in 1939, and nine MANITOUs of 1943-1944. All are now retired but many remain in commercial service..

Now the Coast Guard has two classes of specially built icebreaking tugs. Fifteen sturdy 65-foot icebreaking tugs were built between 1961 and 1967 and four decades later were still giving service although several had already been retired. These 400-hp single-screw tugs, classified as WYTLs (Coast Guard Yard Tug, Light) and named after nautical hardware such as bitt, pendant, shackle, etc, come in four classes basically distinguishable by the length of their superstructures. There were six tugs in the A class (CAPSTAN, etc), three in class B (BRIDLE, etc), three in class C (HAWSER, etc) and three in the D class (BITT, etc). On the earlier tugs, the stack is half-immersed in the rear of the deckhouse whereas the D class has the deckhouse extended aft so the stack is sited atop the superstructure. All of these tugs in service were re-engined between 1993 and 1996.

Nine newer 140-foot icebreaking tugs, were built between 1979 and 1988 to replace the 110-footers. These WYTMs were originally designated as WYTBs (Coast Guard Yard Tug, Big). To eliminate confusion during radio transmissions, they are not based anywhere near the bays they are named after. (For example, the BRISTOL BAY is based at Detroit, far from Bristol Bay, Alaska.) Most of this class work on the Great Lakes and Hudson River and can become very busy during ice seasons. With the aid of their weight and diesel-electric propulsion (from two Fairbanks Morse diesels, each of 1,250 hp) and an air-lubrication (bubbler) system for the hull, they can break ice up to twenty inches thick.

(On the Lakes, broken ice tends to pile up in places and the stacks may reach down the bottom so much of the really heavy icebreaking is shared between Canadian icebreakers such as the SAMUEL RISLEY and the US Coast Guard’s newbuild powerful icebreaker/buoytender USCGC MACKINAW, a truly multi-purpose, all-year-round vessel indeed! Both icebreakers have azimuthing drives and these can be pivoted slightly outward so as to drive the broken ice aside, leaving a wide ice-free channel. This cannot be said of icebreakers that just break the ice.

The Coast Guard has operated a miscellany of other tugs from time to time. One example was the MESSENGER, an unused Army tug taken over by the Coast Guard in 1946 that went on to serve as yard tug at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, MD for 49 years.

A brief but surprisingly complete overview of the Coast Guard’s several classes of tugs in service from its formation in 1915 onward is available at:

The predecessor Revenue Cutter Service owned a variety of vessels including tugs. Photos of some RCS vessels are listed at:

Of particular interest may be the tug HUDSON, whose Spanish War record warrants further exploration by the viewer.


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