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What is a Towboat?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A towboat is a powerful boat with a shallow draft which is designed to pull or push watercraft which are much larger and heavier than it is. Towboats are related to tugboats, which perform a similar function, although a boat designed for long haul trips is often called a towboat rather than a tugboat. Tugboats also tend to be somewhat smaller, and they also have rounded bows, rather than square ones. In some regions of the world, the boats are called pushboats or pushers. The snub nose of a towboat may not be terribly attractive to look at, but the muscular boats play an important role in global shipping.

The design of a towboat makes it very maneuverable, making it versatile in compact spaces. A towboat is also extremely strong for its small size, and the shallow draft enables a towboat to travel in shallow waters. A towboat can be used to tow disabled ships, move big ships around in a small port, or to pull barges. This last use is one of the most common uses for towboats, which ply the inland waterways of many nations, sometimes pulling very long strings of barges.

A very basic towboat has a simple wheelhouse from which to steer, and a small crew to handle the towboat and the watercraft it may be attached to. Towboats which are used on extended trips also have crew quarters, and are built with more comfort in mind. These towboats also have more extensive navigation and communications equipment. The crew members take turns on shift to navigate the boat, watch out for hazards, and deliver the products that the towboat carries.

A specially designed towboat can also be used to retrieve boats in need of a tow from the open ocean. In some cases, multiple boats may be dispatched, if the disabled boat is extremely large or potentially difficult to handle. When multiple towboats are involved, immense coordination skills are required between the boats and their crews to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Many motive enthusiasts collect pictures and models of towboats. The sturdy boats are excellent examples of efficiency, since they generate a large amount of power for their size. Their wide distribution around the world also makes it easy to collect towboat images from various nations, to compare towboat styles and decorations. Particularly dedicated towboat enthusiasts sometimes take trips along famous bodies of water to examine the sites and the towboats which supply civilization along the river.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon7635 — On Jan 30, 2008

If you really want to know - What A Towboat is, or isn't .... Why not search "Old River Bill's R/C Towboats?"

you'll find it, and once there, just close your subject = real or replica and find out the vast differences between Tugs & Towboats!

They're both classed a workboats- Yes! .... But the similarities = End There!

True! ... They do build "Hybrid Towboats", which are called "Cajun Workboats" that do carry characteristics of both Tug & Towboat.

But these boats differ from vessels built further inland and north of Greeneville Miss, where they're boats are called = Delta Boats.

Above greeneville you will find the common term - towboat is used with most all - River Rats, as folks who work inland waters are called by steamboat traditions.

And Please! .... Never call a Tug, a towboat! ... Or a Towboat - A tug!! Because it's considered an insult to both vessels and their crews. "One more thing I might add here", this article on this website was likely written by a writer from a newspaper or magazine - I think. So check the facts yourself to see if I'm full of prunes, or tell'n the truth!

Education is a great thing, but doesn't or shouldn't allow mistakes to be made. But some sure abuse the rules and ethics and you need to check the facts - Yourself! So go ask a river rat about tows and river work boats ..... They'll Learn Ya = right!!!!

Old River Bill Zumwalt

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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