The American Civil War was raging when Captain James “Whiskers” McAllister launched his company in 1864 with a single vessel. One hundred and fifty-six years later, McAllister Towing and Transportation found itself in the midst of another battle — the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 30, 2020, four McAllister tugboats, all powered by Cat® engines, escorted the USNS Comfort hospital ship into New York Harbor. It wasn’t the first time the New York-based, family-owned company had turned to Cat engines for a critical maneuver. McAllister has relied on Cat power since the 1960s, and several of its 50-plus vessels are still powered by Cat marine engines that date back to that decade.
Responsiveness and power matter
Tugboats, which help larger ships maneuver in tight spaces and make small, precise turns to dock safely, need engines that can react quickly to changes in conditions.
“If we’re docking a ship and it starts to move in the wrong direction, we can’t wait 30 seconds or a minute for the engine to power up,” says Marty Costa, McAllister’s engineering manager. “Cat engines have the power and responsiveness we need. In fact, the first time the pilots on the Capt. Brian A. McAllister told us to give it full power, they weren’t prepared for how much the engines had and told us, ‘Whoa, not that much power!’”
One of the company’s newest vessels, the Capt. Brian A. McAllister is among five McAllister tugboats powered by Cat engines that meet U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final emission standards. These Cat engines use a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) aftertreatment system and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to reduce NOx emissions to extremely low levels. Other engine manufacturers chose a different path to meet Tier 4 Final regulations, but Costa is pleased with the Caterpillar solution.
“The engines we’ve seen without SCR are very heavy, very big and very slow,” he says. “We haven’t had any trouble with the Cat engines or with DEF supply. They’re cleaner and they get better fuel economy. Any issues we had at the beginning, Caterpillar and the dealer were quick to fix.”
Dealer support makes the difference
That type of responsiveness from McAllister’s primary Cat dealer, Foley Inc., and the rest of the Cat dealer network is a big reason the company continues to choose Cat engines.
“We have boats up and down the East Coast, and no matter where we are, we can get service,” Costa says. “If there’s a problem, they can have a technician out whenever we need them. We don’t have extra boats sitting on the back burner — if we have two boats in a port, they both have to be working.”
Proactive maintenance is key to keeping McAllister’s tugs on the water and operating reliably. The company handles service for older tugs itself and relies on the Cat dealer network for new vessel maintenance, engine rebuilds and the flexibility to tailor service around its tugboats’ specific needs.
“Caterpillar normally uses hours as the criteria for service intervals, but our tugs spend a lot of time operating at low RPMs, burning lots of fuel,” Costa says.