The Pier 8 Shuffle

My employer has a large fleet of barges for bunker work here in New York, and when those barges are waiting for a job they often need a place to lay up. We have several piers and docks, as well as a mooring buoy that we are often bringing light barges to and from. What also happens more often than not is the barge that needs to head off to work is on the inside of a pile of barges, and it requires some shuffling of barges and a boat or two to get the job done in a timely manner.

For a tug that is just doing some re-arranging, or moving one barge out of the way for another boat, we refer to the job as a “hold out”. As in we are holding one barge out for another. Generally this is a pretty simple quick job, however when the puzzle pieces don’t come together as planned it can take some team work and a bit of quarter backing to do things safely.

Roughly a week ago on the midnight watch dispatch handed us what was supposed to be an easy hold out job that quickly became slightly more complicated, and for one of the boats a bit more difficult. Initially the plan was for us to hold one barge out at the inboard end of the pier, so another tug could get the barge inboard and take it off to load. We would then put our barge pier side, and another third tug would bring yet another barge in and place it alongside our barge on the pier. However when we arrived at the pier, the third tug had already arrived with their barge, and was laying outboard the barge farthest out on the pier. Between their barge, and a Bouchard barge laying on the opposite pier, the space to maneuver had disappeared quickly. Now if all that sounded confusing, I made a series of sketches to help clear it up! IMG_5469

The entire series of events starts at the top, labeled A, and continues down the sheet in sketches B, C, and D. Tugboat 1 represents my tug, 2 is the tug taking the barge to load, 3 is the tug that arrived early with a barge to lay up at the pier, and 4 is a light tug tied up on pier 7 waiting for a job. In sketch A there is an arrow showing the current in the channel outside of the piers.

Between the three vessels we all picked a common radio channel to discuss our best course of action to get the dock side barge at the inboard end of the pier out, and then place my barge alongside the pier, so tug 3 could place their barge alongside ours. All while avoiding damage and minimizing risk to our crews.

In a perfect world, one absent of strong currents, it would have been easiest for tug 3 and myself to take our barges outside of the slip and give tug 2 the entire slip to work with. However the most difficult part of the evolution, and the one with the greatest risk of damage to vessels and the pier, is entering and exiting the slip during a period of high current. So our first goal is to figure out how to do this so that only tug 2 is exiting the slip, and cutting down on the amount of times that evolution is made.

After some discussion it was decided that I would make up to our barge, and pivot it out by the working stern to give tug 2 access to their barge and allow them to get made up along side. In sketch B you can see this. Part of the reason for holding my working bow against the other barge is control. By twisting my bow against that barge and holding a single line on the corner I have far more control over the barge allowing me to make sure the wind can’t get a hold of us and slam us into tug 2 while they are getting made up to their barge.

As we move to sketch C we have twisted our working bow away and backed up slightly giving tug 2 the room to twist the bow of their barge out and drive out around the barge in front of them on the pier. The key for me being to nearly do a tug side landing on Pier 7 while keeping my barge just off the docked tugboat and Bouchard barge. At this point the Mate on tug 2 did a really fantastic job of some surgical boat and barge handling. He moved slowly and precisely and did touch a thing, often at times just a few feet off of barges on either end and side.

The last step is sketch D where tug 2 puts the pedal to the metal and drives out of the slip around tug 3, as I walk our barge across the slip and slide into the spot excited by tug 2. As tug 2 cleared the slip, tug 3 started to slide ahead in preparation for taking its place alongside our barge.

Not bad for an early mornings work!


Holding a light one out at Court St. to allow another barge to be placed pier side for maintenance.


About newenglandwaterman

1600 Master Near Coastal, Master of Towing Vessels, and a whole binder full of other pieces of paper. You can find me at the controls, hooked up and hard over, when I'm not at home playing with the dogs
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