Workboats & Tugs

Workboats, Tugs and Small Commercial Vessels

There’s a wide variety of Small Commercial Vessels playing vital roles in port operations and construction projects, in supporting the offshore energy industries including construction and operation of offshore wind farms, in aquaculture, and in assisting ships to manoeuvre safely in harbours and ports.

They range from small inflatable craft to large deep-sea towage vessels, from powerful ship-assist tugs and harbour launches, from highly versatile multicats used in construction projects, from sophisticated survey boats to fast crew transfer vessels that support offshore energy and construction projects.

Though the vessels may be small they are often very powerful, designed for a high degree of manoeuvrability, and use complex technical equipment on board – cranes, diggers, winches, tow lines, dive systems, motion-compensation gimbles, AI cameras, satellite technology, rescue systems, drones, power generation and bunkering.

All that means a good deal of variety in the work and the chance to pick up a wide range of experience and expertise.  

These vessels usually have a small crew of two to six who cover a range of duties on board.

Each has a Master or Captain, who will be supported by crew members who may have gained experience in other marine sectors or have come straight into the industry through an approved training programme such as an apprenticeship. Larger vessels, especially tugs, will have another officer working with the Master and an engineer looking after the vessel’s technical systems.

Small vessels often offer a better work-life balance in comparison with other sea-going roles. In the towage sector for instance many operations are structured so crew can return home every day, making for a more family-friendly working life.

And as UK-owned small commercial vessels are working all over Europe and in many other parts of the world this sector also offers great opportunities for travel.

The British Tugowners Association is the trade association for the harbour towage industry:

The Workboat Association is the trade association for the small commercial vessel industry:

Reviewed June 2023