All ships rely on tugboats at one point or another, making tugs one of the busiest vessels in the maritime industry. Unfortunately, pulling or pushing vessels and oil rigs carries inherent dangers that place tugboats and their crews at risk of serious injuries.

How Tugboat Workers Are Injured at Sea

Tugboat Traveling at SeaTugboats tow oil rigs, barges, and other non-propelled structures to move them from place to place on the water. They can be used to bring in disabled ships from the middle of the ocean, break up ice near shipping lanes, and guide vessels safely through harbors.

This demanding work places seamen at daily risk of:

  • Sinking. If a tugboat is towing a vessel taking on water, the compromised ship may sink, taking the tug with it. Tugboats that flood after an accident may capsize, leading to drowning incidents.
  • Struck-by accidents. Heavy cargo combined with slippery decks make ship conditions perilous—even before bad weather sets in. Workers can suffer broken bones, head injuries, or even fatal trauma from contact with equipment that hasn’t been adequately secured.
  • Allisions. River tugboats move larger vessels through the narrow channels in rivers and ports. If not operated carefully, a tugboat could crash into bridges, run aground, or be “pushed” into docks by the towed vessel.
  • Hawser accidents. Most tugboats have at least one hawser, a thick metal cable used to tow ships and heavy loads. Metal hawser lines are incredibly strong, but they can still snap if they’re worn down by overuse. A seaman caught by an unsecured or recoiling hawser line can suffer amputation or death from the recoil.
  • Fires. Tugboats are powerful vessels that are often called into dangerous situations such as firefighting. A fire on a cruise ship, oil rig, or wind turbine can cause seamen to suffer smoke inhalation and burn injuries.
  • Mechanical breakdowns. Lost power, defective winches and cables, and other mechanical failures on tugboats can cause accidents and injuries.
  • Vessel collisions. Tugboats may be powerful, but they’re also much smaller than other vessels. Larger ships may not see the tugboat in time to avoid a collision, especially in a dark, crowded harbor.
  • Benzene exposure. Workers who spend long hours towing barges may be exposed to benzene-containing chemicals such as xylene or jet fuel, increasing their risk of leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and some blood and bladder cancers.

Tugboat Crews May Be Owed More Than Maintenance and Cure

Maritime workers have a right to collect maintenance and cure after an injury to cover their medical bills and lost income. However, these benefits often fall far short of an employee’s actual losses. You may be able to collect additional compensation by filing a maritime injury lawsuit against:

  • Your employer. The Jones Act allows workers to sue an employer if the employer’s negligence played a role in causing the injury. For example, proper navigation is vital to piloting a tugboat and ensuring the mission is completed without incident. The employer could be negligent for failing to train the crew or allowing unqualified persons on the bridge.
  • Shipowners. Vessel owners may attempt to cut costs by installing second-hand towing equipment, using cheap or untested cables, or failing to maintain ladders and safety equipment.
  • Third parties. Seamen may have a claim against negligent third parties, such as manufacturers of defective equipment, mechanics, or the owner of another vessel.

Let Us Advise You After a Maritime Accident

When defending against injury claims, the maritime industry has tenacious lawyers and deep pockets. They may blame the victim (or someone else) for the accident or offer settlements far lower than the employee deserves.

The maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer have spent their lives getting fair payment for the nation’s hardest workers. Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form today for your no-obligation consultation. We also invite you to learn more about these types of claims in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.