There is still plenty of bad news in the workboat world, mainly from the ongoing depressed offshore energy sector. But in our April issue we are able to report on several positive trends.

Our cover story on the inland waterways suggests that business is looking up. Despite the industry’s less-than-lukewarm reception to the president’s long-awaited infrastructure proposal and recent weather-related navigation woes, several companies are optimistic and say business is improving.

Kirby reported stronger financial results at the end of 2017 than the previous year, buoyed by strong utilization and demand in its inland market. The “inland business should begin to improve in 2018 as the industry right sizes and consolidates,” Joe Pyne, Kirby’s chairman, said in the tank barge operator’s January earnings call.

Dry cargo officials are bullish too.

“Every piece of equipment we have that’s workable is working, and we’ve seen an increase in just about all commodities, especially in export coal,” Mark Knoy, president and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line told WorkBoat. “It feels so different than it did four months ago, in a good way.”

Knoy said that ACBL probably won’t quite be where it wants to be at the end of the year, “but we’ll be pointed in the right direction going into 2019.”

Another sector that keeps plugging along is the tug market. Ship assist and escort work has been good, and tug designers and builders have been responding. They have been delivering a new generation of powerful tugs with cleaner burning engine technology to handle new 1,200' containerships.

As Kirk Moore reported in his tug market report, immense forces and safety margins needed for handling escort and assist jobs are driving tug designs where hulls, propulsion and steering, and deck equipment are reimagined. Also, more new Z-drive tugs continue to be built, part of a growing trend toward using more Z-drives on the Mississippi River and elsewhere.

The strong demand for new tugs was reflected in our annual Construction Survey, with 83 new tugs listed this year compared to 68 last year. Despite the sluggish offshore, shipyards continue to build tugs, passenger vessels, patrol boats and other vessels.

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.