When it comes to barges and tugboats, what makes for quality deck equipment? What are the attributes and features that make some types of winches, lines and affiliated equipment, as well as deck cranes, stand out? pacific maritime magazine asked these questions, and others, to seven tug and barge operators in the Pacific Northwest and California, and all had definite opinions regarding the subject. For most, quality equipment is defined as machines that are both durable and reliable. And although there were numerous manufacturers cited by representatives of the various operators, a few were mentioned over and again as standing out, particularly when it comes to deck winches.
“We have all different kinds of brands (of winches) on our boats, most recently we’ve been using a lot of Markey winches on our new-built construction, but we certainly have Intercon (Marine) winches, we have Almon Johnson, we’ve got a wide assortment of deck machinery on board our vessels,” said Scott Merritt, the vice president of Harbor services for Foss Maritime, with more than 80 boats in its fleet. “Most recently, there’s probably been a little bit of an emphasis, a move toward Markey because the design and application of the winches just fit with the new construction that we were doing at the time. They’re very knowledgeable about their product and they’re continually innovating, and with the advent of the variable frequency drives, we’ve really gone from a lot of hydraulics of our boats to the electric drive winches.”
Merritt said the company doesn’t have any cranes on its vessels that are used for serving ships or large operations, and that a lot of Foss’ Harbor service boats have a single winch, depending on the vessel’s application. The definition of a quality winch, he said, depends on what it’s used for.
“You really look for a piece of gear that first can perform in the application you desire, that meets your mission specifications,” he said. “And then from there, we look at quality of the machine, does it meet the needs? Is it going to stand up to the rigors of the environment? Is it designed to work in the environment we want?”
“And we want it to be cost competitive; we want to give our customers a quality product at a price they can afford,” he explained. “Part of that is looking for the most cost effective piece of equipment. But that value has to be there; you just can’t go with the cheapest, you gotta look for the piece of machinery that’s going to last and be low maintenance; you want something that’s going to hold up to the rigors of the job.”
Ric Shrewsbury, co-owner of Seattle-based Western Towboat said his company is now starting to build its own tow winches, and has been building headline winches for quite a while. The company, which doesn’t use any hydraulic cranes, has three Canadian winches, plus five or six Rapp Hydema winches and two that were built by Western Towboat itself. But the majority of its deck equipment was made by Nordic Machine, which went out of business several years ago.
“We were happy with what Nordic Machine was building and we were also happy with Rapp Hydema,” Shrewsbury said. “I think the biggest issue that we run into is when these things spend their entire life bathed in saltwater, you have to relax some of the tolerances, just because of the abuse they take being out in the weather all the time. The tolerances were just so tight that once they spend two or three years out in saltwater, things started getting pretty tight from corrosion and that kind of stuff.”
Shrewsbury said that over the years, his company has increasingly done its own manufacturing.
“We have specific requirements that we work around, and it was just easier to just do it ourselves here,” he said. “We’ve seen enough built and we know what we want, and we have the facilities here to do it, so we’ve just kind of taken that on with everything else we do. We get exactly what we want that way.”
Fred Harding, a port captain with Portland-based Shaver Transportation said his company has a total of 12 tugs company-wide and at least four winches per boat, for a total of close to 50 winches onboard, including Markey Manufacturing and Burrard Iron Works devices for ship assist work, and deck winches by Patterson Manufacturing, DB Marine and Wintech Winches.
“The Markey winches have been very good,” he said. “Mainly it’s the durability. It’s necessary to have winches work well for us all the time, and with the deck winches, they seem to work very well. Most of our winches, even the ship winches, are electric, rather than hydraulic. We have a couple that are hydraulic, but most crews don’t enjoy using the hydraulic ones, they’re not as strong, they don’t put out as much torque as the electric ones, especially if they’re deck winches.”
Scott Manley, a marine operations director for Harley Marine Services says his company, which has 60 boats, uses various brands of deck equipment, including Markey and Almon Johnson.
“The various winches that we have, normally that’s what came with the boat when we bought it,” he explained. “The boats that we’ve built, we’ve put on Markey winches. Markey is the big one; they’re standard for us at this time.”
“They make a solid product, they have a good name and they have very good customer service, they stand behind their products,” Manley said. “They make a lot of different models that fit our needs.”
He also said his company has three deck cranes, which aren’t used much.
“Two boats came with them when we bought them, the other boat we put it on for service up in Alaska, it’s just a convenience,” he explained.
Gordon Taylor, a vice president and operations manager with Dunlap Towing said that out of the company’s 26 tugs, there’s just one deck crane, which is on a rescue boat, and all but the small in-Harbor assist boats have a variety of winches.
“I’ve got quite a few of the Markey machines, single drum and double drum machines; we’ve got probably six or seven of the Intercons, we’ve got a few even of the Almon Johnson winches that have been refurbished on some of our older vessels,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a couple Canadian ones on our small boats from Burrard, out of Canada. They make a good little machine, too.”
When asked what makes for a good winch, Taylor said durability and capacity of wire.
“On a lot of our bigger horsepower tugs, we’re using two-and-a-quarter inch diameter wire and trying to get as much footage, around 3,000 feet of wire on the main drum,” he said. “Most of our larger horsepower vessels, above 3,000 horsepower, we try to do a double drum-style fill machine.”
“On some of our new vessels, we’re using line handling winches now from Markey,” he said. “The quality’s there. It’s probably the Cadillac of the winch industry, is the Markey, at least in our part of the world here, on the Pacific Ocean.”
Willy Brown, a port engineer with Brusco Tug & Barge’s operation at Port Hueneme in Southern California, said his company operates two ship assist tugs and one standby tug, a line haul boat, for emergencies. None of the vessels have deck cranes, but both the ship assist tugs have Markey electric winches on them.
He said a number of factors go into the making of a good winch.
“You have the design of the winch, barrel width and line capability, as far as how much line you can actually store on the drum (and) the structure of the winch,” he said. “The Markey winches are extremely well built, they use real heavy steel when they build them, there’s nothing light duty on them at all. And the redundancy in the systems that they design and put in there, it’s almost fail-proof.”
Johan Sperling, Vice President, Crowley Maritime subsidiary Jensen Maritime, a naval architecture firm, said that since Crowley is such a large company and has so many different variations of tugboats, a substantial variety of deck equipment – including winches, lines and deck cranes -- is used on the company’s vessels.
“We have two winches on most of our tugs. It’s as important as the engines, as important as being able to float, it’s really the key to the boat when you do towing, is a good tow winch,” he said.
“Some tugs will have larger cranes, some will have a very small crane. And yes, the lines, depending on what exact type of operation the vessel does, it’s different. If you do line towing, it’s a certain type of line, if you do escort or ship assist, it’s a different type of line.”
Just about every tugboat in the Crowley fleet has some sort of crane, Sperling said, whether it’s a small articulated crane that moves around the lifeboat, or a larger crane onboard the bigger vessels.
“It totally depends on the purpose of the vessel, how big it is, where it’s operating and all those things,” he explained. “We don’t have a lot of large cranes on our type of vessels because we don’t have too many supply boat-type of tugboats or anchor-handling type of vessels.”
Sperling said the company uses equipment from various manufacturers and some manufacturers’ products tend to stand apart.
“I think we do have opinions about who we like better than others; I think we keep them to ourself to be honest,” he said. “We tend to have our preferences, but we wouldn’t want to put it in public. Especially when you’re constantly negotiating with them, you don’t want to tell them they’re the best.”