Our History

The roots of Hughes Marine Firms go back to Michael Hughes, a “boatman”, who arrived in New York from Ireland in 1843, and relocated to New Brunswick, NJ in 1862. His sons, James Hughes and John Hughes, were also boatmen and worked in their father’s shipyard. When Michael died around 1900, he owned a New Brunswick shipyard along with a fleet of tugs and hopper barges, which moved coal from Pennsylvania to New York, via the Delaware and Raritan Canal. In 1908, with the barge and tug fleet growing, and business on the canal declining, James Hughes opened an office in New York City and began to operate coastwise hopper barges in New England and the mid-Atlantic. John operated the shipyard until it closed in 1914.

James Hughes of Hughes Marinehughes muel and barge

James Hughes, Jr. joined the business in 1894. James Jr. had a talent for bringing together buyers and sellers of marine equipment. He began a chartering and sales brokerage operation under the slogan “Clearing House for Marine Difficulties”. That slogan continues to be the motto of the company today. James Hughes, Inc. was incorporated in 1934 as the transportation arm of the firm. Deck and hopper barges were used to move bulk, and oversized cargos on inland and coastwise routes (and still are!). James Jr.’s three sons, Bob, Bill, and Jim, joined the firm in the 1930s. During WWII they supervised the loading of numerous boilers, tanks, and other cargos for transfer between naval bases all along the East Coast of the US.

A Hughes tug and barge

The end of WWII brought with it a need for new bridges, roads, piers, and tunnels. Specialized vessels were needed to support the construction boom. The Hughes boys saw, and met, this need by incorporating Hughes Bros., Inc. in 1945 to provide deck barges to the aggregate and marine construction industries. The Hughes organization continued to expand, operating and renting their fleet of barges, transporting oversize objects by tug and barge, and selling, as brokers, all types of floating equipment through their sales department. The family formed a new entity, Hughes Maritime, in 1992, to purchase, with Reinauer Transportation, an 86-acre pier and warehouse facility, in Brooklyn, New York, known as Erie Basin Bargeport. The Hughes family manages this marine industrial park on behalf of the partnership. The following year, Hughes relocated its corporate office to central New Jersey, after almost a century at 17 Battery Place, NYC.

Bob Hughes Sr.was widely known throughout the industry, having served as Chairman of the national tug and barge trade association, the American Waterways Operators. Bill Hughes Sr. was long active in the Moles and the Whitehall Club, of which he was President. The fifth generation family members, Bill Hughes, Jr., Bob Hughes, Jr., and Joe Hughes, came aboard in the 1970s and now collectively manage the business. They rotate the presidency of the corporations in a tradition which they inherited from their fathers. Through their efforts, Hughes Bros. commenced a barge building program and acquired a number of smaller barge companies, which doubled the size of the fleet over the past ten years. Today, Hughes owns one of the largest deck and hopper barge fleets on the East Coast. After almost 100 years, they have recently reentered the shipyard business with the purchase of a floating drydock, and the addition of skilled shipyard staff at their Erie Basin facility.

Hughes Marine Firms has excelled in many aspects of the marine business over the decades. The current owners stand on the shoulders of the generations before them, whose strength has been their ability to embrace change. Hughes has evolved from shipyard, to canal tugs and hopper barges, to coastwise hopper barges, to brokerage, to deck barges, to real estate, to inland hopper barges, and back to a shipyard in 150 years. The Hughes family has survived because it has recognized declines and opportunities in the marketplace and adapted to them. The family business has prospered due to the diligence and adaptability of its generations of owners, the understanding and love of their spouses and children, and principally, the loyalty and hard work of its many dedicated employees. The sixth generation of Hughes boatmen, Tim and Brian Hughes, look to build upon the firm business foundation established by their forefathers.

We hope you will allow us to bring nearly 150 years of experience to bear in solving your “Marine Difficulties”.