Have Z-drives finally arrived on the river?

On Friday, I was on the Mississippi River in New Orleans for a rare event — a towboat christening. What, you say, since when is a new towboat christening a rare event? Companies such as Blessey, AEP and others seem to hold towboat christenings every month. 
But this one was different. The christening was for a new Z-drive towboat.
As we reported in our October story on Z-drives by Mike Crowley (“Power Brokers”), towboat operators have been one of the most noticeable laggards when it comes to the adoption of Z-drives. Basically, they have been waiting for someone else to try it first. They also have what many say is a misguided concern about thruster damage from logs or debris. 
Southern Towing in Memphis, Tenn., made the leap a few years ago when it installed HRP (now ZF) drives on four new 3,200-hp inland towboats. But since then, nobody else had dared to take the leap.
Well that all changed on Friday with the delivery of the 1,500-hp Brooke Banta to Chem Carriers. The Sunshine, La.-based tank-barge operator had been looking at Z-drives for several years and finally took the plunge. President and owner Frank Banta Jr. said he loves the new boat and is thinking about building a couple of more Z-drive towboats. His only regret is that he didn’t go with a bigger and more powerful pair of ZF Marine Z-drives. On the next ones he will.
At the post-christening festivities, I chatted with a couple of representatives from ZF. They felt confident that Banta would give to go-ahead on new Z-drive towboats and said that another inland barge company was going to announce soon that it, too, would be taking the Z-drive plunge with ZF units.
Several years ago, tug operators on the Mississippi River overcame their fears and started adding Z-drive units to their fleets. Many thought towboats would soon follow. Well, it took awhile, but looks like towboat operators have finally realized the benefits of Z-drives, such as fuel efficiency, are too good to pass up. And, as ZF and other Z-drive manufacturers point out, if repair work is needed, a Z-drive towboat doesn’t have to be pulled out of the water. Just tie it up to the dock, unbolt the unit and lift it out of the boat.

About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.

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