Last Call for Navy's Large Harbor Tugs

Friday, April 20, 2007
Large harbor tug Opelika (YTB 798) and Kittanning (YTB 787) follow alongside the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) as she gets underway on board Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bryan Reckard

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bryan Reckard, Fleet Public Affairs Center Detachment Japan The U.S. Navy large harbor tugs seem to have all but disappeared from most U.S. ports over the last decade. But in a few ports around the world the Navy-owned and operated tug endures as the backbone of port operations.

Fleet Activities Yokosuka happens to be one of the naval bases on which the legacy of the large harbor tug continues to influence not only the operations of the port, but the Sailors that work aboard these perennial workhorses of the Navy. A year ago Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Jared Kendrick would never have thought he would be working on the diesel generators that power the large harbor tugs, or working shoulder-to-shoulder with the boatswain’s mates that make up most of the tugs crew. That all changed seven months ago, when he was assigned to the Large Harbor Tug Opelika (YTB 798).

“I never had to know boatswain’s mates jobs,” said Kendrick. “Here engineers work side by side [with] boatswain’s mates, that’s the big thing. I had to learn a lot.” Kendrick has been in the Navy for just over six years, and was first stationed on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54). Although being assigned to a large harbor tug is considered shore duty, according to Kendrick, life aboard a tug is considerably different than your ordinary shore duty.

“A lot of ships have emergencies, and they have to come in right away. We’ll get called up at late hours sometimes,” said Kendrick. “You have to come in and pull the ships in late at night when they have problems. I like that -- having to stay on your toes.” Many of the large harbor tugs have been sold and taken out of the Navy Vessel Register over the last several years, making the few that remain the last of their kind.

Talking with the crew members of the Opelika it does not seem likely that the memory of the U.S. Navy large harbor tug will be easily forgotten, as they reel off numbers and facts, with the pride of knowing they are the last of a dwindling breed. For Kendrick, it’s the excitement of the job that keeps him passionate about his assignment to the Opelika. “You are doing something everyday, pushing the ships and getting them to where they need to go,” said Kendrick. “I like what I do. You never know what’s going to come along. I like being able to say I actually love my job.”

There are currently five U.S. Navy large harbor tugs in active service status at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, including the oldest large harbor tug in active service status, the Muskegon (YTB 763) launched in 1962.

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