Foss Maritime

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Foss Maritime
Genre Tug, barge, and towing
Founded 1889[1]
Founder Thea Foss, Andrew Foss
Headquarters United States
Owner Saltchuk

Foss Maritime (formerly Foss Launch and Tug Company) is an American shipping company. The company was founded in 1889 by Thea Foss (1857–1927) and her husband Andrew Foss. The company is now the largest tug and towing concern on the west coast of the United States.

July 2, 2013, Foss Marine Holdings announced that (effective at that date) it merges all of its operations and resources under a single name: 'Foss Maritime Company'.[2]

Founding and early years[edit]

Foss was founded in 1889 by Thea Foss in Tacoma, Washington, where Thea started out buying a single rowboat for five dollars and painting it white with green trim. She sold and rented out boats to appealing crowds of fishermen for 50 cents a day. Thea tripled her profit and then sold it for fifteen dollars. Her easy profit boosted her business confidence to begin a full round tugboat company. Her signature styling of a tugboat was having white coating with a green trim around the skirt. This gave the Foss family the finances they needed to propel into a functioning business. During this point of time, they used many of their rowboats for ferrying purposes. In 1904, their family owned firm was transformed into the Foss Launch and Tow Co., which would go on to become one of the top maritime companies known on the West Coast.

The Foss concern began with a single rowboat which Thea Foss rented to crews of vessels in Tacoma.[3] Under the management of Thea Foss, and the Foss family, the company then branched out into sailboats, naptha launches, gasoline-engined vessels, and scows and barges. When Thea Foss died in 1927, the company owned 27 gasoline, diesel, and steam powered vessels, and numerous unpowered barges.

Arthur Foss; built 1889, retired 1968, now owned by Northwest Seaport

In 1916 Foss Launch and Tug Company bought Captain O.G. Olson's Tacoma towing business, including the steam tugs Echo, Elf, and Olympian.

Later years[edit]

Foss tug dieselised their fleet c.1930. In this way, they were in a better position to weather the Depression. Their small competition either went under or were bought out.

During the Second World War, Foss tugs were seconded to the US Navy to fight in the Pacific. Tugs were needed to help the Navy in the South Pacific; in the North Pacific with the Aleutian Campaign; in Alaska with the Alaska Highway. More tugs were built in the emergency program and these became available after the war.

Foss tug would buy and sell used tugboats and name them with a member of the family. Many famous tugs from the Seattle area have been renamed for a Foss. The condition of the vessel and the number of work contracts at the time dictated ownership. Foss owned several Miki-class tugs.

In the post war years, large pulp mills were built around Puget Sound, as were large bridges. These provided work for the tugs. Cement, chemicals, pulp, aircraft, fish, and the Cold War, with the DEW line in Alaska, provided work .

The North Slope oil boom continued the work for tugs after 1968. By this time Foss had expanded to deep sea work and had become harbor tugs in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Foss Maritime has 90 tugs and an equal number of barges.

Company history[edit]

When the Foss Co. actually transformed from a family rowboat business to a tug boat business their possibilities became endless. In the early 20th century the Foss Company had numerous people renting out their boats for certain types of jobs. Recreationally, Foss's rowboats became the top choice for the people of Washington who wanted to go fishing or hunting. Since the logging business was one of the top jobs in Tacoma's plush area, Foss got in contract with many logging companies. Since the beginning, Foss Co. had been suiting to the people's needs. When Foss got into the logging business they constructed a tug that towed logs down rivers such as the Puyallup River. In 1914, during the First World War Foss was called into service by the United States to assist and aid distressed vessels in and out of port. Foss Co. serviced many battleships by towing them out into the sea from port. After the war, Foss financially took interest in a tugging company in Washington and became more popular than they already had.[4] The Foss family continued to run and develop the family business after Thea's death in 1927. In 1987, the company Saltchuk Resources Inc. bought Foss maritime.[5] The family owned company is still an independent firm but it is owned and run by Saltchuk. The meaning of Saltchuk is "a language developed by traders in the Pacific Northwest".[6] Saltchuk manages and operates in the Pacific Rim, Europe, South America, Latin America, Alaska, the Russian Far East, The United States, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast ports, and Colombia and Snake river systems. Since Saltchuk bought Foss Maritime, the company has switched from a little business to an internationally operated business[7]

Early vessels[edit]

Foss Maritime started out only with rowboats with their signature white and green trim paint. Sooner than later Foss started expanding their venue of work. They saw what the people of Washington wanted, so they expanded to developing towing tugs. Some of their first powered vessels were built by the hands of the Foss family itself. Her first power vessel was the St. Patrick, a steamer that operated in the Commencement Bay. The steamer ran aground, and was fully rebuilt by Thea's carpenter husband. The boat was then sold for another steamer. Their second powered vessel was Lizzie A. This was one of the worst boats the Foss family ever owned and quickly sold the unreliable vessel for $500.

One of the most important ships this is still seen today in the Puget Sound area is the vessel called Hope. This was a naphtha-fueled vessel that solely operated rafting giant Douglas Fir logs in the sound area.[8]

Bay Area[edit]

On September 1, 1993, it was decided that Foss Maritime would be providing tug services in the San Francisco Bay Area. The agreement with the Bay Area and Foss Maritime was that they would have to maintain a pool of vessels and barges at ready for Tug/Barge escort, docking, and assist services. Foss Maritime in the Bay Area have the name Foss-SeaRiver, providing future tanker support. Today Foss provides three large conventional SeaRiver tugs and one Foss cyclodial tractor tug. The Foss SeaRiver Tug office is located at 150A West Industrial Way, Benicia, CA 94510-1016.[9]


Thea was not alone in her business. Foss became a family-run business when Thea's three sons, Arthur, Weddell, and Henry Foss, assisted her with the production and process of becoming a fully equipped business.[8]

Current officers[edit]

  • John Parrott, President and CEO

Hybrid Technology[edit]

In recent times, Foss Maritime has been working on lowering their NOx and carbon dioxide emissions. Foss constructed a hybrid tug, Caroline Dorothy, to reduce atmospheric pollution. Their hybrid craft cuts down as much as 44% of harmful emissions dispersed into the atmosphere.[10] The boat idles only 7% of the time. The hybrid tugboat uses diesel power when under sail, and recharges the hybrid batteries when anchored, reducing fuel consumption. During other times, the hybrid tug is battery-powered. The boat has both hybrid and diesel power working on the same drive shaft. This hybrid craft operates on two different fuel systems. When the tug needs power, it switches to diesel. While it is using diesel, the power generated by the propeller charges the craft's hybrid system.[citation needed] In July 2013, Foss announced to retrofit a third tug.

Other new developments[edit]

Foss Maritime developed and built an ASD Z-Drive and Voith Schneider Propulsion cyclodial tractor tugs.[7] These tugs can control the world's largest tankers and freighters known today.


In 2008, the United States Coast Guard awarded Foss Maritime its most prestigious environmental honor for developing the low-emission, hybrid tugboat Green Dolphin. The award was the William M. Benkert 'gold' award for their impact on the environment. Earlier, in June 2008, Foss won the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Excellence Award, also for their green tug. Foss also received a Commendation-Environmental Award from BP Shipping and an honorable mention for the 2008 Port of Seattle Environmental Business of the Year award.[11] Foss has maintained their green technology. Recently, the company has been working on bringing a sister ship hybrid tug into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.[12]


Thea Foss, the founder of Foss Maritime, was the inspiration for the 1933 feature-length movie called Tugboat Annie, and also a TV show with the same title.


  1. ^ Foss Maritime Career
  2. ^ "Foss Unifies All Operations Under Single Name" (pdf). Foss Maritime Company (Press release). 2 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Newell, Gordon R, ed. (1966). H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Superior Publishing Co. p. 392. 
  4. ^ "Company History". Foss Maritime Company. Retrieved April 17, 2012. [not in citation given]
  5. ^ "Saltchuk home page". Saltchuk Resources Inc. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  6. ^ "Saltchuk Resources Inc". Hoover Company Records. Retrieved April 23, 2012. (Subscription required (help)). 
  7. ^ a b Jaeger, Stephanie. "Foss Maritime Company: 1889 rowboat investment keeps growing". Alaska Business Monthly. Retrieved April 23, 2012. (Subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Sacco, Sam. "Foss Maritime and SeaRiver Maritime Inc. to provide Bay Area tug services". Business Wire. Retrieved April 23, 2012. (Subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ "Foss will Convert Tractor Tug to Hybrid Power" (PDF). Tow Bitts. 23 (3): 3. September 2010. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2016-03-04. 
  10. ^ "Foss Maritime Company; Foss Maritime Receives Highest Honor for Environmental Stewardship". Anonymous. Resource Week. Retrieved April 23, 2012. (Subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ "Arctic Oil & Gas Directory: Foss Maritime hybrid tug on way to California". Petroleum News. 17 (14). April 1, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Fowler, Chuck and Freeman, Mark, Tugboats on Puget Sound, Arcadia Press (2009) ISBN 0-7385-5972-5
  • Newell, Gordon R., Pacific Tugboats, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA (1957)
  • Newell, Gordon R., Ships of the Inland Sea, Superior Publishing Co., Seattle, WA (2nd Ed. 1960)
  • Skalley, Michael, Foss: Ninety Years of Towboating, Superior Publishing, Seattle WA (1981) ISBN 0-87564-224-1

External links[edit]