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Bob Hill, Naval Architect and ATB Pioneer, Passes at 69

vt halter
The Costwise-class tug OSG Horizon, a Bob Hill design, lines up with the notch of her tug (VT Halter file image)

Published Aug 3, 2022 3:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

Naval architect and ATB pioneer Bob Hill has passed away at the age of 69. Hill played a significant role in the development of articulated tug/barge design, and he helped shepherd through the U.S. Coast Guard's decision to treat the purpose-built ATB tug as a tugboat for regulatory purposes. This opened the door for cost savings, and Hill described it as the "single most important and influential event in the continued development and deployment of the AT/B in America."

Hill was born in Troy, New York. As a naval architect, he joined the firm of John W. Gilbert Associates in 1974 and stayed for the first 20 years of his career. In 1994, he set out to found Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering in Milford, Massachusetts. His firm became the leader in American ATB design, and it has worked on the majority of ATB units in service in the United States today. For Hill's lifetime of service to the industry, he was named a distinguished fellow of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) in 2015.

Hill believed that a well-designed ATB could do anything a ship can do, and at lower cost. Relative to a ship of the same deadweight, an AT/B has a smaller mandated crew size, reduced cost of construction, lighter draft, and lower port fees. Maintenance costs are lower because of reduced machinery requirements, and smaller shipyards can be used for drydocking the tug and the barge. 

Over the course of his career, Hill worked with all of the commercially-available ATB barge coupling systems and the leading ATB operators. He designed some of the most iconic units in the ATB trade, like the OSG "Costwise" series, a set of three HFO-fueled, 12,000 horsepower ATB tug/barge combinations built specifically for lightering on the Delaware River. They were the largest in America at the time of construction. In 2017, his firm helped design what could be the world's largest ATB units, if built: a series of 750-foot-long compressed natural gas carriers for SeaOne Caribbean.

The Costwise-class OSG Vision in the notch (OSG)