Emergency towing procedures

Written by rachel levy sarfin
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Emergency towing procedures
Large ships must have emergency towing procedures in place. (The ship image by Andrey Zagaynov from Fotolia.com)

When a large boat gets stuck in the water, its crew cannot simply call roadside assistance to help. For that reason, emergency towing procedures were developed to free vessels that have got stuck in the water. Emergency towing procedures not only save large, expensive ships--they can also save lives. Without emergency towing, ships stuck in the water could be vulnerable to both man-made and natural disasters.

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The International Maritime Organization has instituted emergency towing procedures on a global basis. These regulations are part of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty, which the international merchant ship community regards as the most important treaty concerning ship safety. SOLAS regulations were amended in May 2008 to include guidelines for owners and operators to prepare emergency towing procedures. This amendment went into effect in January 2010.

Different Towing Procedures

The towing procedure the crew members use depends on the kind of ship. Ships can use one of several towing patterns to free themselves. All of the patterns involve towing the ship from either its bow (front) or its stern (rear).

Towing lines are connected in one of three patterns. The first pattern uses one wire rope and the second pattern requires more than one rope. Another pattern of towing calls for using the boat's hawsers, which are heavy ropes used to moor the boat.


Ship owners and operators must ensure that an emergency towing booklet (ETB) is created and distributed to relevant crew members. Every ship needs to have an ETB that is specific to that type of vessel. The ETB must include a reference guide that shows readers which emergency situations require towing, an explanation of procedures and the division of labour of the necessary tasks, a communication plan for contacting the salvage or towing ship, and any other relevant tasks and information.

Emergency Preparedness

SOLAS guidelines stress the importance of being prepared for an emergency. Crew members must receive proper training in emergency towing procedures, and they must be ready in case the ship needs to be towed. In addition, crew members need to know where the required equipment is located. During an emergency the power supply might be low, so the crew should be aware of how much electricity is needed to tow and possibly light the ship.

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