Big Rigs, Small Margins

Signet - Tug

Big Rigs, Small Margins

Here’s your challenge: Tow a 66,600 ton, 30-story high oil drilling and production rig to sea through a gap with just several feet of clearance on either side – and only six feet below! Oh and by the way, the rig is worth billions of dollars… This is a regular day’s work for the skippers and crew of SIGNET POLARIS. How is that for a challenge, huh?

“We do a lot of work with the bigger rigs,” says Captain Ryan Watson. “And it’s not a walk in the park.”
That sort of understatement is typical of the Captains and crews of the motor tug SIGNET POLARIS that works the Gulf of Mexico from its South Texas base in Ingleside, Texas. Signet Maritime Corporation has been offering barge and rig towing services to its oil and gas customers for the past four decades. And they’re always there; ready to assist, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Signet Polaris is one of the tugs working the Gulf of Mexico for Signet Maritime Corporation. Her specialty is towing big rigs and big cargo, a welcomed service for many oil and gas customers.

Caterpillar Marine - Signet - Tug - Big Rigs, Small Margins


Work for the SIGNET POLARIS is split between inshore and offshore – creating very different challenges for the Captains and crews onboard. As Captain Watson explains: “This boat is a fairly big, fairly heavy tug, which makes working in and around oil rigs and barges in the harbor somewhat of a challenge. You’ve got to think ahead and plan to get the boat slowed down or moving in the opposite direction before you come close to anything. It’s tough - even if you hit something lightly with these tugs it’s going to cause some kind of damage somewhere.” This high level of concern is something Signet takes very seriously, and through proactive procedures, the company has achieved 16 years with no marine accident insurance claims.


Moving rigs the size of these farther away from shore is better for both Captains as they have more water and more room to maneuver. But out there in the Gulf, the challenge is the environment. “5-day jobs can turn into 30-day jobs real quick depending on the weather, seas and current,” says Captain Ryan McRee. Captain Watson agrees: “If you’re working in a 10-foot sea, it’s constraining with what you can do with the tug and how close you can get to things before something happens. We always keep everything safe. We don’t want to get into positions where there’s any risk. We just stop and wait for better conditions.”


Being safe and avoiding risk in potentially dangerous waters is a code by which the Signet crews live. And it’s also an approach that is valued by their customers, all of whom entrust Signet with equipment worth millions and even billions of dollars. Several customers have dispatched Signet to Trinidad because the local tugs and crews couldn’t guarantee the same standards of safety and performance. “Our safety record brings us wherever they need us,” says Captain Watson with more than a hint of pride.


Their superior standards mean Signet is the obvious choice when the biggest rigs worth billions of dollars are towed into and out of port. BIG FOOT isn’t just a monster in name – it’s a 66,600 ton, 30-story high beast that’s the largest piece of a $5.1-billion project. It’s also 334-feet wide and needs to go through the 350-feet wide La Quinta channel in Ingleside, Texas. Captain McRee takes a deep breath as he remembers that day: “It was a tight, tight squeeze. And only a couple of feet underneath in places. ” The size of the rig and the difficulty of the job meant six tugs instead of the usual four. Communication with colleagues and the other tugs was vital. As was the confidence in each other’s abilities and trust in the equipment. “When you need the power and the maneuverability you want it instantly. But I don’t second-guess. I know it’s always there."


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