CASE STUDY Commercial Marine

mtu power improves performance of Shaver Transportation tugboats

Posted on November 28, 2016

Shaver Transportation’s tugboats have been crisscrossing the Columbia-Snake River System, the largest grain export gateway in the U.S., for more than a hundred years. Along with modern towing demands comes the need for the most modern and efficient engines. As their original equipment becomes dated, Shaver has begun a strategic cadence of tug repowers with mtu Series 4000 marine propulsion engines to ensure their fleet is both reliable and efficient. These engines meet the demands of their unique tugs that, unlike most, excel in both hauling and ship assist.


Shaver Transportation


mtu 12V 4000 M60, 12V 4000 M63 marine propulsion engines


Dramatic improvements in lifespan, reliability, durability and fuel efficiency


Portland, Oregon, USA

The ability of the mtu engines to maintain maximum output under the heaviest loads certainly makes a difference for our operators.

Steve Shaver - president, Shaver Transportation
Shaver Transportation is one of the oldest, most established inland water freight operations in the Pacific Northwest, and has led river-borne transportation on the Columbia-Snake River System since its inception. Founded in 1880 by George W. Shaver as a steamboat company, Shaver Transportation remains family owned and managed more than a century later. Today, the company focuses on harbor services, and inland bulk commodity barging from the farming communities in eastern Washington and Idaho for international export.
For five generations, the Shaver family has prided itself on having the most modern and powerful fleet of ship assist tugs on the Columbia River. As their once top-of-the-line vessels began to spend more time in maintenance and less time on the river, Shaver Transportation looked to Pacific Power Products and mtu for engine repower options. The first candidate for repower was the Deschutes, a 91-by-36-foot 3,540 horsepower towboat, which was built in 1997.
The Deschutes repower marked the beginning of Shaver Transportation’s practice of repowering viable vessels with mtu’s Series 4000 marine propulsion engines to improve durability and to lower fuel consumption. The Deschutes was repowered when the Series 4000 marine propulsion was first available in the early 2000s, replacing two dated Detroit Diesel Series 149 engines.
“We needed engines that were not only capable of being efficient and high performing in a short haul scenario, but we also needed dependability, reliability and fuel efficiency for long haul work,” said Steve Shaver, president of Shaver Transportation.
The caliber of Shaver Transportation’s fleet has remained cutting-edge by working closely with its mtu distributor, Pacific Power Products. With strategic mtu repower recommendations as engines reach the end of their lives, the Shaver fleet has made dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency, durability, reliability, noise and vibration.

The mtu engines are reliable. We don’t have the concern of running them hard with heavy tows and heavy winds that we did with the engines they replaced.

Rob Rich - vice president of marine sales, Shaver Transportation

Proven durability

Principally powered by mtu engines, Shaver Transportation boasts the largest, most modern and most powerful ship assist tugs on the scenic but treacherous Columbia River, and some of the cleanest, most reliable and fuel-efficient fleets in the industry. Each of its upriver line tugs can push up to four barges. At their maximum load of 15,000 tons of cargo, their hauls measure about 650 feet long and 84 feet wide, which is comparable to the length of two football fields. A tug’s sail, or the height of its air draft, is nearly 30 feet high—the height of a three-story building. Enormous in scale, each of these mammoth hauls can face wind gusts up to 80 miles per hour created by atmospheric pressure differentials that cause a wind tunnel effect in the Columbia River Gorge. The Shaver fleet faces these violent winds while carefully maneuvering the heavy flow and steep gradient that occurs in the Columbia River Basin, which is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains to the east and north, the Cascade Range on the west, and the Great Basin to the south.
Measuring 1,243 miles long, the Columbia River is the fourth largest river in the United States by volume, and it has the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. At its mouth, the river’s strong currents and shifting sandbar between the river and the Pacific Ocean make it one of the most hazardous stretches of water to navigate in the world, earning it the nickname “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
“The mtu engines are reliable. We don’t have the concern of running them hard with heavy tows and heavy winds that we did with the engines they replaced,” said Rob Rich, vice president of marine services.
With more than 100 years’ experience navigating waters that have wrecked scores of vessels, Shaver Transportation has established itself as a family institution of naval expertise in the Pacific Northwest, and in the industry.
The Shaver family members serve as their own naval architects and consultants. Case in point: President Steve Shaver didn’t just inherit his position; he started as a deckhand and worked his way to the presidency and his status today as a master mariner. Guided by Steve Shaver’s onthe— job expertise and boardroom perspective, Shaver’s barge fleet has a combined capacity of nearly 55,000 tons and is capable of moving any freight by barge on the powerful, steep flow of the Columbia-Snake river system.
“It’s impressive—I don’t know how they do it. The fleet navigates locks and tight bends in the river while the wind is blowing violently. If something were to go wrong, you could lose the tow. It says a lot to have the confidence and the power to do these demanding jobs,” said David Dombrowski, marine sales engineer for Pacific Power Products Company.

Unique breed

These multipurpose tugboats have a varied job description. Shaver’s vessels are unique in the industry in that they are purpose-built to excel in both ship docking and line-haul barge towing. These two tasks are mutually exclusive for most tugs.
“These vessels aren’t built for a single purpose. Depending on the job, our vessels could be on very short cab-like trip, or on week-long haul,” said Steve Shaver. “The ability of the mtu engines to maintain maximum output under the heaviest loads certainly makes a difference for our operators.”

A family affair

All of Shaver Transportation’s repowers are determined by justifiable returns on investment. For each repower, the ultimate cost of the vessel in operation, the state of the existing equipment, the cost of the repower, and the ultimate improvements in uptime and fuel and oil savings are examined closely to ensure Shaver Transportation’s profit is maximized.
Taking the leap to transition to mtu with the initial repower of the  Deschutes  was a risk for Shaver. Estimating a five percent fuel savings, the company weighed the upfront cost of the repower with the potential long-term savings. After introducing the first pair of mtu Series 4000 engines to their fleet, Shaver has experienced 32 percent fuel savings in addition to an enormous 90 percent decrease in lube oil consumption, with comparable horsepower over the engine that was removed. With the original engines, the  Deschutes  used upwards of 300 gallons of lubrication oil on a seven-day trip, and with the new mtu engines, the tow only uses 12 to 15 gallons maximum. Nothing in the tow but the engines changed. The propulsor ( Z-drive), and propellers stayed the same, and the tug was tasked with the same work, on the same route.
The project’s success led to the repower of the  Deschutes  sister ship the  Willamette, and subsequently led to the repower of a number of older vessels that were powered with medium speed engines: The  Portland, the  Clearwater  and the  Cascades. The repower program will continue with the  Umatilla  and the  Vancouver. Shaver Transportation is also opting for mtu power in their new vessel builds, such as the recently constructed  Summer S.

Trusted allies

mtu’s Series 4000 marine engines offer Shaver Transportation less downtime due to less frequent repair intervals. The original engines required intensive maintenance to components such as the cylinder heads, turbo chargers and injector replacements to keep the vessels in operable condition. Wanting to extend maintenance intervals, Shaver and Pacific Power worked side-by-side to customize a maintenance schedule that would help decrease vessel downtime without compromised performance. As a result, the  Deschutes  and  Willamette  have reached 30,000 operating hours before engine overhaul, surpassing the predicted 24,000 hours by a large margin. The  Portland,  Clearwater,  Cascades  and  Summer S  are also well on their way to similar performance.
“Pacific has done a great job supporting Shaver. As we like to say, sales sells the first engine and service sells the rest,” said Jeff Sherman, mtu marine sales manager. “Shaver is a family business and we like to treat them as family at mtu, and support them in any way they need it. Pacific is complementary in working with customers in that respect.”