TOWBOAT TECH: Tougher, Kinder and more Hospitable

Thursday, August 01, 2002

By Larry Pearson

The design challenge for towboats in the new Millennium is they are being called upon to do tougher jobs on the water but at the same time have be more environmentally friendly to the water on which they sail. Also, many of today's towboats are light years ahead of their predecessors of just a few years ago in crew amenities and berthing spaces.

Government Driven High Tech "Much of the new technology we are seeing on towboats is because of new IMO, EPA, OSHA and ABS regulations," said Terry Boffone, president of Progressive Barge Line, Westwego, La. Progressive's business is mid-streaming fueling, so careful delivery of the products they carry such as diesel fuel and gasoline from the tank barge to the ship is critical. We are under the control of Coast Guard regulations on our mid-stream fueling operations, " Boffone said. "We are building a new pushboat at LaForce Shipyard in Bayou La Batre, Ala.," said Boffone.

"We had to look closely at the design to be sure we were not in violation of any of these government regulations," Boffone added. The vessel is 74-feet by 28-feet and is powered by a pair of 785 HP Guascor inline 8-cylinder engines. "The pilot will have a 29-foot eye level view for excellent visibility both fore and aft," Boffone remarked. To be called Freedom, the pushboat joined the Progressive Barge Line fleet in early July.

Conoco Raises the Bar Another major towboat contract also shows the emphasis being placed on the environment. Conoco Marine, Houston, Tex is building four ABS-classed towboats at the Conrad Industries shipyard in Orange, Tex. The vessels will feature double hulled fuel tanks and engine exhaust will be IMO and OSHA compliant. The engines will reduce fuel and lube oil consumption by 10%, according to Conoco. Another feature of the vessel is the use of five bladed propellers to reduce hull vibration by 50%. That will translate into a smoother ride and more comfortable living conditions for the crew. "We have raised the bar for tow boat design, machinery and marine systems by building these four ABS-classed vessels," said Karen Stacy, director of Conoco Domestic Marine. Living conditions for the crew have become a major concern for many tow boat companies and this is reflected in the onboard livability standards built into recent deliveries.

Onboard Livability

Last year, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La. delivered the Bootsie B to the Riverway Company of Minneapolis, Minn and livability standards were a major design consideration. The 188-foot line haul towboat has the entire superstructure mounted on vibration isolators to dampen noise from the two EMD-16-710G diesel engines. "This resulted not only in less noise but in much less vibration for crew comfort," said Robert Socha, marketing manager for Bollinger.

"Maintain and retain is the key," Socha added. "Riverway wanted to create a very livable and positive atmosphere on the vessel which translates first and foremost into a safer vessel that also produces better morale and increased productivity," Socha said. 'The crew quarters are one of the first things you notice on the vessel," said Mike Lindgren, VP of operations for Riverway. More like staterooms on a cruise ship rather than crew quarters, the spaces feature two twin beds, full baths and individually controlled air conditioning units. The galley is another major amenity with a large food prep area and seating for the entire crew of 11. Construction of high hp line-haul towboats is a rarity. Only a handful has been built since the mid 1990's and the Bootsie B. is the only one to be built in 2001 and beyond. The consensus among designers is that the big vessels seem to last almost forever and a repowering seems to give the vessel another 20 years of life at a cost less than half that of the $8 million Bootsie B. No one seems to expect a major up tick in the construction of line haul vessels. . Big Business in Smaller Towboats But the building of smaller 1,500- 2,400 hp towboats is a bright spot in the workboat construction market where fuel efficiency and meeting government regulations seems to be the key.

A pushboat is really all about power and lots of it, up to 1,500 hp per diesel engine. "The trick is to get that power with fuel efficiency and meeting IMO emission standards," said Warren Berthelot, sales manager for Reagan Equipment Company in Plaquemine, La. Reagan has long been a distributor of John Deere engines but has also taken on Spanish-made Guascor engines. "These engines are ideal for pushboats," Reagan said. "We put three 600-hp Guascor engines in a push boat and it only consumes about 20 gallons of fuel per hour with the throttles wide open," Reagan explained. Guascor can offer four engines sized to 1,570 hp, all turbocharged.

Kody Marine on the Harvey Canal in New Orleans probably builds more pushboats than any other shipyard in the country…more than a dozen in three years. Most of their vessels are 72-95-ft. long and are powered by twin Cummins or Caterpillar engines developing between 1,500 and 2,400 hp. One of the more unique vessels delivered by Kody was to Blessey Marine Services, Harahan, La. Called the Charles E. Martin, this 95-ft. twin-screw vessel is powered by a pair of Cummins KTA38M2 12-cylinder engines developing 1,200 hp each. A pair of Cummins 6BT5.9G powered gensets provides 75 KW of electrical power each. This vessel has a retractable pilothouse permitting excellent visibility over the tow and still enables the boat to pass under overhead obstructions such as utility lines, bridges, etc. With the pilothouse retracted, the boat's highest fixed point is only 18 ft. above the waterline. Blessey Marine Services is a major towboat operator with 37 vessels and 80 barges. The barges are all tank units, 40 of them heated to transport black oil and asphalt. The other barges haul clean petroleum products. Blessey's barges vary from 10,000 to 30,000 barrel capacity. Blessey is also building three other pushboats at three different shipyards. At Verret Shipyard in Plaquemine, La., the 2,000 hp 85-ft. Mary Kate McIntosh is heading for a November 2002 delivery. Over in Texas at the John Bludworth Shipyard, a 110-ft. by 32-ft. towboat with 3,200 hp will be done in August, named the Walter E. Blessey, Jr. Kody Marine is building a sister ship to the Charles E. Martin for Blessey, named the Capt. Roger Adams for September delivery. It will also feature a retractable pilothouse. The newbuilds are state-of-the-art all the way. In addition to fuel-efficient and cleaner burning Cummins KT-38's or KT-50's, the vessels feature a lot of sound and vibration treatment. "We use mineral wool instead of fiberglass for engine room insulation and we use a foam product in sub flooring if it is over a noisy area," said Steve Proehl, executive vice president of Blessey. Repower-Instant High Tech Repower and renovation is also a part of the push for high tech advancements on pushboats. Often owners opt to extend the service life of their vessels, rather than purchase a new vessel. When owners buy new equipment, the new technology comes with the purchase. Allied Shipyard, Inc., with facilities in Larose and Golden Meadow, La., does a lot of this work. "We repower a lot of these vessels using more fuel efficient engines that are also IMO compliant," said Gavin Callais, owner of the yards. "The vessel owner gets a technologically superior engine, identical to those being put on brand new vessels," Callais added. Callais also does hull modifications on tow vessels to increase their safety, stability and speed. Sometimes modernizing a boat is a necessity. Take the 68-ft. towboat Robert P. Frazier, owned by Frazier Inland Marine of Galliano, La. The vessel sunk up to the main deck with only the 02 deck and the pilothouse above the waterline. Allied Shipyard hauled the boat out and began the task of replacing the main engines, gensets, wiring, pumps and other systems that were submerged. The main deck was "stripped to the bare walls," according to Danny Toups, production manager at Allied. Flooring, walls, light fixtures, bunks, trim and a lot more was replaced in this total rebuild. After blasting and painting, the vessel looked as good as new and with her new Detroit Diesel V16 engines; the pushboat was more fuel-efficient as well.

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