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