Shawn Styles climbs aboard the Harbor Commander tugboat - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Shawn Styles climbs aboard the Harbor Commander tugboat

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Tugboats have been working on San Diego bay for decades but how many people get to go along for the ride?

CBS News 8’s Shawn Styles climbed aboard the Harbor Commander tug recently as it guided a San Diego research vessel to dock.

“We're out here at three in the morning,” said Capt. Eric Blocker. “There’s lot going on around the bay when everybody's sleeping.”

It's an early call for the crew of the Harbor Commander, part of the Pacific Tugboat Service fleet on San Diego Bay.

“It has 800 horsepower and it's very maneuverable,” said Blocker.

“We assist a lot of the Navy vessels in and out of the shipyards and they're not on any power of their own at all,” Blocker said.

On this day, we're headed out to meet a Scripps research vessel called the FLIP.

The floating instrument platform ship is being towed back to San Diego from the open ocean. Our sister ship, the Harbor Mate, will help us bring the FLIP to dock.

The vessel is towed in the open ocean by larger tugboats. Once it arrives in the bay it is handed off to smaller harbor tugs.

A harbor pilot climbs aboard the FLIP and directs the two harbor tugs over the radio all the way back to the dock.

“The pilot gives the commands coming in but the captain's responsible for whatever happens no matter what,” said Blocker.

It's a pretty tight squeeze for a 350 foot vessel at the dock but the tug boat team makes it look easy.

San Diego Bay is one of the nation's top 30 container ship ports. It brings in 3 million tons of cargo and a quarter million passengers annually.

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