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How different was launching automation in 1974 compared to today?

Coverage of remote-controlled ‘bow boat’ launch shows just how far we’ve come

The Breit Bow Boat was remote controlled and launched in 1974. (Photo: American Shipper)

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FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

In this edition, from the June 1974 issue of American Shipper, FreightWaves looks back at a new invention on the seas, showing the stark differences between automation today and 49 years ago while also exhibiting similarities.

Remote-controlled ‘bow boat’ fills versatile role with barge fleets

A full-utilization bow boat that can function entirely independent of a tow boat and provide propulsive thrust in any direction has been developed by Breit Engineering Inc., a naval architectural and marine engineering firm.

While previously developed bow steering devices assisted towboat operators in controlling barge tows, many operators could not economically justify the use of these devices because the cost of the equipment outweighed the performance. The utilization of these devices was limited to a very small percentage of the time that the tow was underway.


H. E. Breit Jr., president of Breit Engineering, said the “Breit Bow Boat” has completed full testing under operating conditions by Dixie Carriers Inc., a major inland operator and subsidiary of Kirby Industries Inc.

A patent is now pending on the “Breit Bow Boat,” which is equipped with a 455-horsepower diesel engine mounted in a 52′ x 28′ x 9′-6″ hull.

Breit said the new bow boat performs the primary functions of assisting the tow boat operator in steering, maneuvering the tow in swift currents, curves and bends, high winds and heavy waterborne traffic, thereby resulting in fewer accidents and reduced insurance rates.

“But the Breit Bow Boat can also function entirely independent of the tow boat,” says Breit, “which means it can provide propulsive thrust in any direction even when disengaged from the tow.

“Because of this added capability,” says Breit, “the bow boat can assist before the tow departs, during the entire time the tow is underway, and upon arrival at its destination.”

The vessel can be completely controlled as a manned separate and independent vessel or as an integrated component of the tow, remotely controlled from the console of the towboat. As a result, the Breit Bow Boat can be used to assist makeup and breakup of tows at fleets and terminals, particularly when resident switch boats are not available.

Click here to read the entire June 1974 issue.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

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