More powerful tugboats coming to Auxiliary Fleet

A painting of tugboat CFAV Firebrand by Victoria artist Christina Morrison. Firebrand will transition out of service following the arrival of two new Large Naval Tugs. The painting is part of an ambitious art project launched by Morrison to paint the tugboats on the West Coast of British Columbia. Credit:

Peter Mallett 
Staff Writer

With new warships on the horizon comes new service tugs to maneuver them around the harbour.

Four Naval Large Tugs are currently being built by Ocean Industries Inc. of Isle-aux-Coudres, Quebec, under the National Shipbuilding Strategy.  Two tugboats are destined for CFB Esquimalt, and two will be sent to CFB Halifax to join their Auxiliary Fleet.

“Serving on both coasts, this new fleet of tugs will support the Royal Canadian Navy’s future fleet, including the two Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships we’ve already received and four more to come, two Joint Support Ships, and 15 Canadian Surface Combatants,” said Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, Commander Royal Canadian Navy.

The West Coast Auxiliary fleet will receive their tugs via sea lift in the fall. The east coast can expect theirs in July 2024.

In December the tugs received their names: Haro, Barkerville (West Coast), Canso, and Stella Maris (East Coast), all a nod to Canada’s rich history.

Creating a buzz

Anticipation is mounting for the tugs arrival, says Captain Brian Whittaker, Pilot 1 and Mooring Training Officer for CFB Esquimalt’s Queen’s Harbour Master and Port Operations and Emergency Services Branch.

The Naval Large Tugs will replace his unit’s two existing Glen-class tugs, Glendyne (YTB 640) and Glendale (YTB 641), along with the fire and rescue boat Firebrand (YTR 562). These tugs were brought into service in the mid-1970s and their vintage is outdated for the ships of today’s navy. They will be eventually be transitioned out of service and likely sold as crown assets.

About Naval Large Tugs

There is little comparison between the old and the new tugs. Glen-class tugs have a bollard pull of about18 tonnes of force and 850 horse power on each side. The Naval Large Tugs out power them with 60 tonnes of force that will enable them to pull and move much larger, heavier vessels, even in heavy winds and strong currents.   

Another key difference is the Azimuth Stern Drive propulsion that will provide the new tugs more power at 4988 horse power per side.

Add to this greater manoeuvrability with steering turns of close to 360 degrees.

Whittaker and the other tug boat crew members will undergo ASD conversion training over the coming months to prepare for the new tugs.

The arrival of two new tug boats also comes with a tinge of sadness, says Whittaker, as he and his shipmates have grown attached to their current boats over the years. 

“Yes, it’s also a sad moment for us because after 45 years these tugs have had a lot of crews, memories, and stories and they also hearken back to a different time and era for the Royal Canadian Navy and Esquimalt,” he says.

The cost of the four Naval Large Tugs is pegged at $121 million. The shipbuilding project has created about 140 jobs for Ocean Industries and their contractors.

The first of four Naval Large Tugs currently being built under the National Shipbuilding Strategy by Ocean Industries, Inc. of Isle-aux-Coudres, Que. Two of the four tugs tugs, The Haro and The Barkerville, are expected to be delivered to Esquimalt via Sealift later this year. Photo credit: DND


Naval Large Tug #1 Haro

This name is taken from the Haro Strait, which connects the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca in British Columbia, and is frequently transited by Royal Canadian Navy vessels proceeding north from Esquimalt, the home of our Pacific Fleet. 

Naval Large Tug #2 Barkerville

This name is taken from the Second World War-era Ville-class tug of the same name, which capsized and sank at the entrance of Bedwell Harbour, British Columbia, on Dec. 17, 1945, while towing His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Hespeler to its mooring. 

Naval Large Tug #3 Canso

This name is taken from the Canso Strait separating Nova Scotia from Cape Breton Island. This is a region that figures prominently in Canada’s formative history. It also reflects the Royal Canadian Navy’s past with HMCS Canso, a minesweeper that served in the Pacific and Atlantic during the Second World War, and was on hand at D-Day.

Naval Large Tug #4 Stella Maris

This name was selected in recognition of the valiant actions of the crew of the tug that came to the assistance of the French munitions ship, SS Mont-Blanc on Dec. 6, 1917, in Halifax Harbour. The tug crew tried to fight a fire on board Mont-Blanc, and recognizing they had insufficient water to quench the fire, selflessly attempted to tow the burning vessel away from shore. The tug was severely damaged and 19 personnel on board perished when Mont-Blanc then erupted in the disaster known as the Halifax Explosion.  

Artist’s rendering of the Naval Large Tugs.

Artist’s rendering of the Naval Large Tugs.

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