Tug designs from Canada to the world

Dec 8, 2019

By Robert G. Allan, P. Eng., FRINA, FSNAME, Robert Allan Ltd. executive chairman

One hundred years ago, my grandfather, Robert Allan, emigrated to Canada with his wife, Caroline, and toddler son, Robert F. Allan. He was a university-educated naval architect – a rarity in the day – with the added qualification of having served his drawing office apprenticeship at the Clydeside Fairfield’s shipyard. He came to Wallace Shipyards in North Vancouver to design the Princess Louise, the first CP coastal steamship built in Canada.

Going solo as a consultant in 1930, he endured several lean years. However, commissions gradually arrived. His first tug design was the towboat Weaver Lake, built in 1934.

Only a few tug designs were created throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. The late 1950s, however, marked the beginning of a transformation in the B.C. towing industry, with a shipbuilding subsidy providing incentive to replace aging wooden fleets with new steel tonnage. By this time R.F. (Bob) Allan was leading the business. The Lorne Yorke (1959) was billed as “the first modern twin-screw tug in B.C.” The Ocean Master (1961) was built in Holland for Great West Towing and Salvage. New tug and barge developments were commissioned throughout the 1960s, and Robert Allan Ltd. (incorporated in 1962) was at the forefront.

The first exchanges between Robert Allan Ltd. and C.H. Cates & Sons began in 1969 – a relationship of lasting benefit to our firm.

In the 1970s, although numerous coastal tugs were designed, business focus shifted north, with many shallow-draft vessels built for the Mackenzie River and ice-class vessels for the Beaufort Sea.

The early 1980s were dominated by the design of Ikaluk and Miscaroo, built to support Beaufort Sea oil exploration. These were the highest ice-class OSVs in the world at the time.

Those heady days of 1981 to 1982 were followed by the doldrums of the balance of that decade. Notable bright spots, however, were the first Z-drive tugs for Cates, which in turn generated overseas interest.

The era of the Z-drive tug in North America developed in earnest in the 1990s, (having begun 20 years earlier in Europe). A successful 50-tonne BP ASD tug design led to good connections with major European operators, in turn leading to several highly innovative tug designs for the emerging tanker escort market. The business for new tugs was on a tear, and Robert Allan Ltd. was well-placed to serve this burgeoning market.

In 1995, a connection to shipyards and tug operators in Turkey initiated a period of significant growth. Sanmar Shipyards has, to date, built more than 170 tugs to our designs, while, in the process, establishing themselves as probably the premiere tug-building shipyard in the world. Today, 40 to 50 of our tugs are built annually in Turkey.

The development of ever-larger container ships, major LNG terminals, expanding bulk carrier ports and the rapid evolution of tanker escort technology throughout the past two decades has demanded new specialized, high-performance tugboats.  More than 900 tugs have been built to our designs worldwide since 2000. The total number delivered surpassed 1,000 in late 2017 and at the end of 2018 stood at 1,175.

The 1,000th tug honour went to the Dux, the first of three ultra-high performance dual fuel escort tugs built for Østensjø Rederi of Norway. Dux and her sisters were the first dual-fuel escort tugs in the world. Another example of the international network we enjoy today is the recent arrival in B.C. of the RAstar 3200 Class escort tugs, SST Grizzly and SST Orca.

As a 100-per cent Canadian, employee-owned consultancy, Robert Allan Ltd. is extremely proud of our record and worldwide reputation in this very specialized field of ship design.