This Is a Work Boat Not a Cruise Ship!

By Anthony M Davis 

I heard it often said that life on a towboat isn’t for everyone. And I must say from experience this is rightly so! I’ve been asked many times what kind of work we did on the boat. It’s far from being a stupid question because most people who have ever seen a towboat has only seen them from a distance pushing barges this way and that.

I’ve had most folks think that we didn’t really do much of anything at all! HA! Hardly! There is always something going on on a lineboat! The one big project you’ll see every boat with most every company do happens from spring to late summer/early fall. And that’s to chip, grind, prime and paint the outside of the boat from top to bottom. The inside is usually saved for late summer to fall and after the outside is finished.

Sometimes we would sooge (wash) the boat with soap and water. Inside repairs (depending on the job) are done by the crew and/or the chief. Such things such as polishing the brass horns, trim and instruments, for example, is more of a skill than a job. A list of some of our jobs on the boat include, but are not limited to:

Making locks, making bridges (calling in distances for the captain), clearing ice off the decks, repairing sounders, repairing sounder cords, putting eyes in lines, tow work, tightening tow, replacing flags and pennants, waking up the next watch, cleaning the windows, set out the head gear, dusting, sooging the captain’s room (which included changing his sheets, making his bed, cleaning his bathroom, etc.), set up coffee in the galley for the next watch, set up coffee in the wheelhouse for the next captain.

We also made bumpers for use in the locks, count rigging, take out the trash, sweep and mop all floors and rugs, build tow, sooge the inside walls, check barges for water (leaks), patch any leaks found, pump water from tanks with heavy leaks, clean the stainless stove and doors, put away dishes, set out the peep light and signal lights at the head of the tow, replace batteries in those lights, thaw lines with lanterns and tarps in the winter, assist the chief with any projects he may need help with, wipe down the wheelhouse, any job the captain asks you to do, and much, much more!

When you work on a lineboat you literally live your job. Every watch has a clean up duty. The boat is your home 9 months out of the year, so your crew becomes your family. You work 12 hours a day in two 6 hour watches. You work seven days a week for a least 30 days in whatever weather mother nature throws at you. I didn’t like some of the work I had to do. But it was the best job I ever had!

Anthony is a former deckhand with a towboat company. He is now a licensed EMT-IV and enjoys coaching people on lessons on stress management.

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