Defective winch brake on tug


A captain reports a disconcerting discovery while approaching the berth.

What the reporter told us:

My vessel was arriving at a regularly visited port at which we take a pilot and two tugs for manoeuvring when berthing in a cargo basin with a narrow entrance channel. My ship was proceeding at less than 2kts past a ferry pontoon when the pilot ordered 25% power from the tug secured aft to stop the vessel. The tug master called back to the pilot that his tug’s forward winch brake was not holding, and we heard banging noises from the aft tug and could see the winch rendering the tow line. My ship was not slowing, and the pilot ordered the main engine to ‘slow astern’. As the aft tug was still not towing, I ordered the telegraph to full astern and advised the pilot of my actions. He acknowledged, and my ship was stopped close to the berth before very cautiously going alongside. Once alongside the pilot spoke to the tug master who said his company knew about the issue and he was hoping the company would soon fix the problem.

For me there was no problem since my ship did not suffer any damage, but the next time I arrived at this port, some weeks later, we took the same tug on my ships bow. I asked the pilot if the tug’s winch was repaired and we talked about the previous arrival. The pilot said he would be gentle with orders for the tug and not too much towing power would be used. I asked if it was possible not to use this tug and I would call the local agent to get another tug. The pilot said this was not possible as there were only two tugs on station. We berthed safely, and during our time alongside I spoke to the tug master and chief engineer. The tug captain apologised but also told me that the company were saying that the winch is fine and will be repaired at a later date. The tug captain said he had tightened the winch brake up to the limits and it now only slipped at about 50% power.

Further dialogue:

CHIRP engaged with the reporter and  also contacted the Harbour Master’s office to corroborate the vessel name and port arrival dates, which were verified.

CHIRP wrote to the ISM managers for the tug; the fleet manager responded and was given the details of the report. Following their internal investigation CHIRP was advised that “The tug had conducted an intermediate dry-docking for 5 days and during this period planned maintenance had been undertaken, including overhaul of the winch and replacement of the brake bands”.

CHIRP comment:

With the pilot on board and tugs fast fore and aft what can go wrong? Be prepared for any eventuality and react positively to any unexpected event, but keep the pilot informed.

The pilots at this port were obviously aware of the situation regarding the tug’s defective winch. Switching the tugs around so the suspect tug was at the passive end made sense. However, was this a formalised arrangement and had a risk assessment been carried out? The obvious solution was to take the tug out of service to rectify the issue with the winch brake, but it would appear there was a lack of redundancy. If a formal risk assessment had been carried out, CHIRP fails to see how the reduction in towing capability could have been mitigated. Was this a case of commercial considerations overriding safety and common sense?

One point that should be highlighted, – CHIRP occasionally reports on ship’s captain’s failing to make full disclosure during the Master / Pilot information exchange upon pilot boarding. But this is a two-way street and pilots are also obliged to notify the captain of all relevant facts that could affect a successful pilotage.

Finally, the tug management’s engagement with CHIRP and their final update regarding the tug’s winch is recognised and welcomed.



Report ends………………………………