Tugboat captain salary: How Much Does a Tugboat Captain Make? (+ skills, licenses, and benefits)

Learn all about the tugboat captain salary and skills required to become a successful tugboat captain

Tugboats are powerful vessels that push and tow large ships and barges in port areas, rivers, and open seas.

Life as a tugboat captain comes with its challenges and rewards. A tugboat captain has to navigate tight courses in inclement weather, meet strict landing schedules, and ensure everyone’s safety on board.

Although the job offers the freedom and adventure of being out in the water, it can also be quite dangerous.

In this post, we shall learn more about tugboat captain salary and their responsibilities.

Read on to find out –

  • How much does a tugboat captain make?
  • What qualifications do you need to become a tugboat captain?
  • What do tugboat captains do?
  • What are the benefits of being a tugboat captain?
Learn all about the tugboat captain salaries and skills required to become a successful tugboat captain

How much does a tugboat captain make?

Tugboat captains earn handsome salaries.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, captains of water vessels can earn an average salary of $87,420, which comes to an average of $42 per hour.

Captains with licenses that allow them to tug large vessels tend to earn the most. An average tugboat captain salary ranges from $400 to $800 a day.

Tugboat captains spend two-weeks on the water and receive the next two weeks off, which means they work 180 days a year. They are paid between $72,000 and $144,000 per year.

Tugboat captain salary also depends on the degree of difficulty of the job. Moving a vessel through narrow canals or into a crowded harbor requires a lot of precision and skill.

In some cases, a tugboat captain’s job involves maneuvering large vessels through the ice, which needs a lot of skill. 

Experience in the field also makes a massive difference to the pay scale of a tugboat captain. A captain with five years of experience can earn up to $82,000 a year. This figure includes bonuses, pay for overtime, and tips.

A captain with 20 years of experience in the industry can earn up to $107,000.

Average Salary of a tugboat captain
Source: PayScale

As per Payscale.com, the tugboat captain salary at entry level with a 1-year experience is about $89,000 including the tips, bonus and overtime pay.

A tugboat captain with experience of 1-4 years makes about $98,453 per annum and an experienced tugboat captain salary with a higher experience is $117,054 on average.

However, a mid-experienced tugboat captain with experience of 5-9 years makes an average salary of $88,027 per annum

What qualifications do you need to become a tugboat captain?

There are two types of tugboat captains –

The mate of towing (second captain)

The master of towing (first captain)

To become either of the two, you need to complete maritime training through a formal academy.

The US Merchant Marine Academy awards a Bachelor of Science degree and a US Coast Guard License.

All graduates have to serve for at least five years in the US maritime industry with eight years of service as an officer in the armed forces’ reserve unit or five years of active duty in the armed forces.

You can also complete a bachelor’s degree program in state academies like California Maritime Academy and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. These courses prepare students for a career in the merchant marine industry.

You can also do other courses like basic safety training and watchkeeping designation.

You will also have to pass a criminal background check to become a tugboat captain.

What experience do you need to become a tugboat captain?

You cannot become a tugboat captain unless you have the required on-the-job experience. You need a minimum of three years’ experience to land this job.

To be a tugboat captain, you need at least 30 months of experience working as merchant marines, and at least 12 months of that time must be spent as a steersman or a tugboat apprentice mate.

To work as a steersman, you must have at least 18 months of experience working as a deckhand on a tugboat.

You must be at least 21 years old to work as a tugboat captain.

You should be a US citizen or an immigrant who meets the eligibility requirements established by the federal Transport Security Administration.

As a tugboat captain, you should be able to read and use the metrological devices onboard. You also should know the dangers you may experience on the job and how to handle them.

You can qualify for a tugboat captain’s license only if you do not have convictions for crimes like murder, fraud, terrorism, espionage, drug distribution, smuggling, and arson.

Tugboat captain salary and experience required

What skills do you need to be a good tugboat captain?

To be a good tugboat captain, expert knowledge of maritime procedures is a must.

You must also have the ability to remain calm under pressure and should possess strong leadership qualities.

A tugboat captain should be a team player to ensure the smooth functioning of the tugboat operations.

You should have the training on avoiding dangers such as shallow waters and other obstacles such as sunken debris or vessels.

Also, you need to read weather patterns visually with the help of onboard meteorological devices and make records about them.  And then make weather-related predictions using the information you have.

What licenses do you need to become a tugboat captain?

The US Coast Guard issues the Merchant Mariner Certification for qualifying individuals to work as a tugboat captain.

To obtain this certification, you must first have a Transport Worker’s Identification Credential from the US Transport Safety Administration.

 You must complete the Merchant Mariner Certification paperwork and wait for it to be processed.

The National Maritime Center will review your application and issued the certification after checking into your professional qualifications, criminal record, citizenship status, and medical status.

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What does a tugboat captain do?

As a tugboat captain, you hire, train and ensure the crew’s safety, oversee the operations of your boat, communicate with other vessels, and ensure that all processes work smoothly.

The job involves towing barges and ships into harbors, rivers, lakes, straits, and estuaries. You might also maneuver oil platforms across sections of the oceans.

As a tugboat captain, you also provide berthing assistance to large ships in harbors and provide recovery and towing services to vessels in distress.

For this, you will need to determine the speed and the course of the boat and take into consideration the wind speed, currents, tides, and weather.

As the tugboat captain, you have to ensure that the boat and its load are headed in the right direction and reach your destination without any damage to the vessel.

For this, you will need to continually scan the GPS, compass, radar, and sonic depth finder.

You also need to be vigilant of any underwater dangers like shallow waters, sunken debris, and tree limbs.

As a tugboat captain, you need to keep an eye on the weather conditions. Freezing temperatures, high winds, massive waves, or strong currents can push you off course.

A tugboat captain’s responsibilities are wide-ranging, but you don’t have to do everything on your own. It is also your job to hire skilled crew members to perform different tasks on the deck.

The maintenance of the engine and the machinery is also one of your responsibilities as a tugboat captain.

Tug boat captain should also maintain the records, documentation, and ship’s logs required by international, federal, state, and local laws and policies.

This means that you must keep current on applicable shipping and maritime regulations and how they relate to your tug boat’s efficient operation.

What are the advantages of being a tugboat captain?

Being a tugboat captain requires a lot of hard work and skill, but it comes with a whole list of benefits –

1. Good pay

Tugboat captains earn attractive salaries. You can earn between $72,000 and $144,000 per year, depending on the job’s difficulty and your years of experience.

2. Freedom and flexibility

As a tugboat captain, you have complete authority over your crew on the open water.  You generally work 12-hour shifts, and the mate takes command when you are off your shift.

3. Visiting new places

As a tugboat captain, you get the opportunity to visit new places. You get to see different cities after docking your boat. You can enjoy various sites, sounds, and tastes of the places you visit.

4. Comfort

Some tugboats have accommodation on board, which is helpful. There are also chefs on board, so you don’t have to worry about cooking your meals.

Are there any disadvantages of being a tugboat captain?

One of the reasons why the tugboat captain salary is high is that tugboats can be pretty dangerous.

Accidents can happen even when everything seems perfect and Crew members can fall overboard or get crushed between the boat and the vessel while they are towing.

There is also the danger of your boat being hijacked by pirates, especially around Somalia.

High rewards comes with high risks and that’s why being a tugboat captain have its own set of rewards as well as challenges.

Where can you find work as a tugboat captain?

One way to find work as a tugboat captain is to search online for companies looking to hire.

You can also start work as a deckhand and work your way up in the same company.

Final thoughts about tugboat captain salary and career path

The job of a tugboat captain requires strong leadership qualities and an ability to multitask. It is a well-paid job and allows visiting new places.

The position also comes with its risks and dangers and you have to work under challenging conditions, and accidents can happen. 

If you are aspiring for a career as a tugboat captain, we hope this post would help you.

How much does a tugboat captain make?