Workboats & Tugs


The workboat sector covers a wide variety of vessel types from tugs and harbour launches to larger multicats and the fast crew transfer vessels often seen going in and out of many of our ports today.  These vessels usually work with small crews of 2 – 6 persons, who cover a wide variety of duties as they work with a range of contractors on port construction and infrastructure projects or supporting the offshore energy industries, constructing and operating offshore wind farms.  The work tends to be quite varied allowing crew to quickly gain a wide range of experiences.

The vessel Master will be supported by multipurpose workboat crew members who may have gained experience in other marine sectors or have come straight into the industry through a Workboat apprenticeship. Large crew will have a ‘Mate’ or Officer of the Watch assisting the Master with watchkeeping duties.  UK operated Workboats are currently working all over Europe and in many other parts of the world e.g. The Middle East, South America, the Caribbean and West Africa, so this is an excellent way to make a career at sea and travel to many parts of the world. A workboat apprenticeship is currently available as when as further training leading to Restricted Masters Certificates of competency in a relatively quick timescale. The workboat sector continues to grow and expand into new areas giving further opportunities to crew members.

Apprentices are paid around £12,000pa during training and once qualified they can expect to earn £20,000 as a workboat crewmember, rising towards £30,000 with experience. Those who qualify as Masters can expect a starting salary of £38-40,000, with the most experienced, specialist workboat Masters earning £60,000 or more. A keen workboat crew member who studies hard and gains experience might well gain their Master’s qualification 5-7 years after finishing their apprenticeship, so could well be earning £40,000 by their late 20s.


Harbour tugs provide an essential service within our ports and coastal areas, assisting larger vessels to manoeuvre in confined water and berth safely. Tugs may be small, but powerful for their size and their complex propulsion systems are designed for a high degree of manoeuvrability. The assisted ship may be pushed to help it into position or towed by means of a tow line and winch. Tugs may also be used to tow barges or vessels, at sea, where they don’t have their own means of propulsion.

Typically, the crew of a tug will be a master, who is in command and will drive the tug, a chief officer or ‘first mate’ who would be the second in command and act as an officer of the watch, a chief engineer who will operate and look after the machinery, and a deck hand, who will assist with towage operations. They may have transferred to the towage industry from elsewhere in the Merchant Navy and may already be sufficiently qualified. In this case they would need to be inducted to ensure they were familiar with the differences on board a tug. Alternatively, companies may recruit directly, sponsoring trainees through one of a number of training schemes.