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What Is a Barge?

Put into its most basic terms, a barge is a boat (usually with a flat bottom) that is primarily used to transport goods through rivers and canals. While these boats can sometimes be self-propelled and move on their own, barges are almost always pulled by a tow or a tugboat. During the beginning stages of the industrial revolution, barges were even pulled by draft animals who moved parallel to the water on a towpath.

While animals are no longer involved, these flat-bottomed boats are commonly used in modern shipping transportation, primarily because hauling by barge is easy and cost-effective. These vessels are an especially attractive option in cases where the cargo is heavy and/or bulky, as a barge, which is usually around 195 by 35 feet, can carry up to 1,500 tons. This means that a barge can carry anything from oil products to sand and soil to a 565-ton catalytic cracking unit reactor, as occurred in 2006 when barges transported it from Oklahoma to Mississippi.

What are the different types of barges?

While there are many types of barges, some of the most common include:

  • Crane Barge: Often referred to as a crane vessel or crane ship, these vessels are commonly used in offshore construction. These are ships with cranes that can help with heavy lifting.

  • Dry Bulk Cargo Barge: These barges are typically used to carry dry goods, ranging from coal, grain, and sand to finished steel. These ships have covers to protect weather-sensitive cargo.

  • Hopper Barge: This type of barge cannot move by itself, but is typically used to carry rocks, sand, and soil for dumping into the ocean as a part of land reclamation efforts.

  • Jack-Up Barge: More commonly known as a jack-up rig, these vessels typically self-elevate and are used as either exploratory drilling platforms or to service other ships involved in offshore activity.

  • Liquid Cargo Barges: These are barges used to carry various different liquids, such as petrochemicals, liquid fertilizer, refined products, oil products, and more.

Information About Barge Operation

According to the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, there are currently more than 26,000 dry cargo barges, 3,000 tanker barges, and 1,200 towboats in operation today. Barges are exceptionally efficient, carrying more than 15 times the amount a rail car could carry and up to 60 times more than a single trailer truck can carry; however, they often do not work alone. In fact, barges are usually tied together—with up to 15 vessels being tied together at a time (sometimes called a "flotilla"), pulled along by a tug or towboat.

Common Barge Accidents

As with all offshore vessels, workplace accidents can occur on a barge. Barge accidents can be caused by slip and fall, defective vessel appurtenances, inadequate crew training, tow line incidents, line handling injuries, and other offshore incidents. If you are interested in learning more about some of the dangers offshore injury workers face, please read our barge accidents page as soon as possible.

Barge Accidents

Have more questions? Contact the maritime accident attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today!

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