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Bollard pull

Bollard pull is a value that allows the comparison of the pulling power of watercraft, particularly tugboats.


Unlike in ground vehicles, the statement of installed horsepower is not sufficient to understand how strong a tug is - this is because other factors, like transmission losses, propulsion type, propulsion system efficiency, have an influence as well.

Bollard pull values are stated in tons. They are an indication of the maximum pulling force that a ship can exert on another ship or an object.

How to determine

Values for bollard pull can be determined in two ways:

Practical trial

This method is useful for one-off ship designs and smaller shipyards. It is limited in precision - a number of boundary conditions need to be observed to obtain relatively reliable results. Summarizing the below requirements, practical bollard pull trials need to be conducted in a deep water seaport, ideally not at the mouth of a river, on a calm day with hardly any traffic.

  • The ship needs to be in undisturbed water. Currents or strong winds would falsify the measurement.
  • The static force that intends to move the ship forward must only be generated by the friction between the propeller discharge race and the surrounding water. If the ship were too close to a wall, the measurement would be falsified.
  • The ship must be in deep water. If there were any ground effect, the measurement would be falsified. The same holds true for Propeller walk.
  • Water salinity must have a well-defined value, as it influences the specific weight of the water and thereby the mass moved by the propeller per time.
  • The geometry of the towing line must have a well-defined value. Ideally, one would expect it to be exactly horizontal and straight. This is impossible in reality, because
    • the line is forced into a hyperbolic cosine shape by its weight;
    • the two fixed points of the line, being the bollard on shore and the ship's towing hook or cleat, will hardly have the same height above water.
  • Conditions must be static. The engine power, the heading of the ship, the conditions of the propeller discharge race and the tension in the towing line must have settled to a constant or near-constant value for a reliable measurement.
  • One condition to watch out for is the formation of a short circuit in propeller discharge race. If part of the discharge race is sucked back into the propeller, efficiency decreases sharply. This could occur due to a trial that is performed in too shallow water, too close to a wall.

See Figure 2 for an illustration of error influences in a practical bollard pull trial. Note the difference in elevation of the ends of the line (the port bollard is higher than the ship's towing hook). Furthermore, there is the partial short circuit in propeller discharge current, the uneven trim of the ship and the short length of the tow line. All of these factors contribute to measurement error.


This method eliminates much of the uncertainties of the practical trial. However, any numerical simulation also has an error margin. Furthermore, simulation tools and computer systems capable of determining bollard pull for a ship design are costly. Hence, this method makes sense for larger shipyards and for the design of a series of ships.

Both methods can be combined. For example, practical trials can be used to validate the result of numerical simulation.

Human Powered Vehicles

Practical bollard pull tests under simplified conditions are conducted for human powered vehicles. There, bollard pull is often a category in competitions and gives an indication of the power train efficiency. Although conditions for such measurements are inaccurate in absolute terms, they are the same for all competitors. Hence, they can still be valid for comparing several craft.

See also


Further reading

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