Towboat and Barge Maritime Injury & Accidents
A Towboat or Motor Vessel is a diesel-powered boat designed to move groups of barges that are lashed together by pushing them from behind. The group of barges is referred to as a “tow” or “flotilla.” Barges are large, flat-bottomed vessels unable to quickly alter course and can be powered (self-propelled) or unpowered (dumb barge). If powered, a barge will have its own crew. If unpowered, barges are towed or pushed by a Towboat. Towboats typically operate on the inland waters of the United States such as the Mississippi, Ohio, Monongahela, Alabama, Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Big Sandy, Delaware, Sabine, Kanawha and Tennessee Rivers.
Despite their small size, towboats are very powerful since they must navigate and push large tows of barges through challenging river regions. Towboats and self-propelled barges are manned by a crew generally consisting of a captain, pilot, mates, engineers, cooks and deckhands. A deckhand or mate is an ordinary seaman responsible for manually lifting/carrying rigging, handling lines, steel cables and ropes used to lash barges together or wire the towboat to the tow. They also assist in transiting through a lock and dam and operating equipment such as a winch or capstan. Deckhands perform other functions such as checking barges for leaks, performing minor repairs on leaking barges and pumping water from leaking barges.
Deckhands, seamen and other crew members can be injured doing these jobs on a Barge or Towboat where an unsafe condition exists. The most frequent maritime injury and accidents include:
Line Handling Injuries
- Hand injuries when crushed by a line, steel cable (also known as a pinch-point).
- Amputation and other serious injuries when a barge line or rope is placed under too much strain and snaps striking a deckhand or crewmember.
- Over-exertion injuries to the low back from lifting/carrying too much weight (often due to insufficient crew or improper instructions by captain).
Slip and Fall Accidents
- Foreign objects or substances (accumulations of coal, sand, oil, etc.) on the barge gunnels and other walking surfaces.
- Lack of non-skid paint or material on gunnels and decks.
- Defective or mismatched hatch covers on the gunnels.
- Winch malfunctions
- Capstan improperly engaged or malfunctions
- Defective lines and ropes
- Kinked and frayed steel cables on barges and winches
Most, if not all maritime injury and accidents on barges and towboats are preventable. Unfortunately, safety standards and regulations are not always adhered to which makes the risk of injury much greater. In other instances, the captain is under pressure to “hurry up” to the next destination, and takes shortcuts or doesn’t maintain good communication with the crew.
If you have been injured in a barge or towboat accident, contact our experienced barge and towboat injury lawyers at The Moschetta Law Firm, P.C. to learn your rights.