Tugboat Accident: Dealing with the Ship Owner After the Incident

Maritime employees on a tug face danger associated with their job, putting them at risk for a tugboat accident. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), maritime fatal injuries have a five-time higher incidence rate compared to other occupations. Port and offshore incidents remain a concern for any seafaring worker.

It’s common to see a tug boat in rivers and the open sea, serving as a towing vessel for oil rigs, ships, and carriers. When a tug employee meets an accident, there are always some questions to ponder: is the ship owner liable for it? How can the injured worker get compensation?

This guide can help you get an idea of how to deal with a tug owner. If you or a loved one gets hurt on the job, O’Bryan maritime injury lawyers can help you.

tugboat accident

Overview of tugboats

Before going in-depth with the necessary steps to take in cases of a tug accident, here is a brief introduction about tugboats.

A tugboat pulls or pushes another vessel across the sea or river to transport goods or passengers. In some cases, this ship can play a part in emergency response and rescue missions. There is no doubt that this type of vessel is essential in the maritime industry.

Generally, tugboats are generally powerful despite their smaller frame. This design is necessary since these ships need to haul larger vessels and must navigate difficult and congested waterways. As a result, a tugboat worker’s job is never easy and heightens their risk for maritime-related injuries.

What are some common tugboat accidents?

There are several types of accidents a tug can meet while ferrying other ships and barges.


As mentioned, tugboats often need to go through congested waterways while tugging a bigger vessel. That means this ship will come in contact with other vessels, increasing the likelihood of a collision. The tug can sustain damage due to the incident, consequently harming the workers present.

Heavy line or shackle accidents

This type of vessel equips shackles or heavy lines to transport larger ships. Improper installation, damaged or a worn-out line can snap at any time without any warning signs. Once it does, the tugboat employee caught in the snap-back zone can get seriously injured.

Mechanical accidents

As a transportation vehicle, a tug usually carries heavy machinery, such as its engine. A tugboat accident can arise from mechanical failure happening on any component of the ship. This catastrophic incident can cause fires and amputations, depending on severity.


Any type of boat is in danger of capsizing, especially when navigating through harsh weather and congested waterways. This incident can lead to serious incidents like fatal wounds, especially if it takes place on the open sea.


The typical tugboat is small, and therefore has less floor space for workers to move about. The cramped area can cause people to trip, slip, or fall after losing their balance. Additionally, wet surfaces can trigger these situations. A fall can injure the maritime employee and result in an overboard accident.

Tugboat accident

Accidents on a tugboat happen from time to time and make the news. For instance, a 2013 capsizing accident in Winona County, Minnesota, leaving two workers injured and one crewmember trapped inside. Unfortunately, the latter passed away.

Another incident involving a deckhand took place in 2010 while a tugboat was working in the United Kingdom. The hawser suddenly snapped and killed the worker struck by the line. This type of mishap can happen in tugs, especially if the hawser is weak or the employee is near the snap-back zone.

A tugboat-related accident has several consequences that can affect the crewmembers physically, mentally, and emotionally. Minor injuries are the best-case scenario, but there is always a risk of serious wounds and fatalities when working on this vessel.

No one can predict a tugboat accident, but some factors can increase the probability of encountering a dangerous situation. Negligence is a huge reason that can lead to trouble. Take the Delaware River tugboat incident, for example. A tug collided with a duck boat, which killed tourists onboard. Investigations revealed that the pilot was on his phone when it occurred.

Dealing with the ship owner

Knowing your rights as a victim of an accident is crucial to ensure that you receive just compensation. If you are a tugboat worker suffering an injury, you can rely on the protection of maritime laws. Incidents that occur due to negligence or some unseaworthy conditions may entitle you to some benefits. It may also enable you to file a lawsuit against the ship owner.

The owner is responsible for ensuring that no harm or injury comes to any passenger aboard. They must safeguard all hazardous equipment and remove obstacles that endanger workers and tourists alike. Also, the owner should equip the ship with safety gear such as protective jackets.

Typically, the vessel owner is also your employer. In cases of maritime injury or sickness, the shipowner is required to provide adequate and prompt medical attention. As stipulated under maritime laws, the owner has a duty of care to any person onboard the ship.

If the owner breaches their duty of care and other applicable maritime laws, the injured can seek damages for injuries. You can file a claim against the vessel owner under the Law of Unseaworthiness. An ‘unseaworthy’ vessel is not fit for the intended use and has an unsafe environment for work. It is also lacking in safety gear and equipment and does not have enough trained crew members.

What to do when injured on a tugboat accident

You have the right to get compensated for any injury you sustain while working aboard a tugboat. You can seek damages from the owner due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel and apply for worker’s compensation as well.

If you have been injured while doing your duty, the first step to take is to seek medical treatment. You or a colleague should report the incident as soon as possible, keeping it straightforward and short. The employer should understand that your injury will likely affect your ability to work.

To protect yourself from any legal implications, it’s best not to talk about the incident until you speak with your attorney. A tugboat injury lawyer can help you with your case and prepare you for any legal battle that may occur. They can handle your claims filing so you can focus your energy on getting better.

Talk to our expert tugboat injury lawyer

O’Bryan Law is home to some of the industry’s most successful maritime accident lawyers. Our competent attorneys have helped countless workers get fair compensation for tugboat injuries. With several favorable verdicts in our portfolio, we have the experience and expertise to effectively pursue damages for your claim.

If you or a loved one sustained an injury due to a tugboat accident, let our team handle your case. We can take the confusion out of maritime law and ensure that your rights remain protected throughout the ordeal.

Our professionals are ready to fight by your side and ensure that the ship owner gives you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation!