The Different Types and Uses of Barges

The Different Types and Uses of Barges

A barge is a kind of vessel that is used to transport cargo. It is not like any other kind of independent vessel but is generally tugged or towed along with other vessels. It is  like a raft, flat at the bottom. This shape lets the barge increase its cargo-carrying capacity. This means items can be transported in bulk. In the ship chartering business it is advisable to be familiar with barges.

Barges in detail

A barge is a kind of a vessel that is used for carrying cargo but cannot be used as an independent vessel. They can be used with other vessels by tugging or towing. Barges are generally used around smaller water bodies like lakes, canals or rivers. The use of barges has now increased at seaports. Barges have been used for a long time, since before the industrial revolution.

Before the industrial revolution, barges were used in Europe to move cargo within smaller water bodies. Later, after the invention of the steam engine, the use of barges for cargo-transportation was greatly reduced.

Still, they are useful for cargo-transportation. They have evolved and today marine barges are considered to be an important  tool in transportation.

The Types of barges

  • Dry bulk cargo barge: These barges are used to load and transport dry cargo, including minerals, grains, coal, ore and any other dry commodities. 
  • Barracks barge: Barracks barges are  houseboats. They are used for residential purposes.
  • Split Hopper Barge: These carry dredged materials. This type of barge is used in marine construction. This is because they can be used to unload material. This barge comes with a cylinder and hydraulic motor fitted to the barge which works as a self-propeller.
  • Liquid carrying barge: These barges are used to carry and move fertilizers and petrochemicals that are generally present in a liquid state. They are also used to transport important industrial liquid chemicals. 
  • Car-float barge: This kind of barge was used to ferry rail carts during the early 20th century. Rail carts were attached to the barges when moving from a location to another. Even today, some parts of America still use car-float barges.      
  • Power barge: This type of barge is a mobile power plant.

Uses of barges

Barges are used around the world to transport cargo. These flat-bottomed carriers come with some benefits:

  • The use of barges has declined but they are still used in marine transportation. A barge can cost-effectively transport commodities in bulk compared with other modes of transportation. Another reason why they are used  is their availability in different sizes. 
  • Self-propelled barges can travel upstream or downstream. These  barges can transport any cargo successfully.
  • Generally, a barge is designed for a specific water body. Where the barge has to be used in other situations, such as  an upstream route or where the flow rate is high it may be more difficult.
  • A barge can be used for interstate transportation of materials like coal and grain. When compared to other modes of transportation, they may be more economical.
  • When using a barge large quantities of cargo can be transported at a time as  more than one barge can be combined together to move cargo economically and efficiently. 

What makes a barge different from a ship?

Definition: Any watercraft which is large is called a vessel or ship. A barge is a kind of ship with a huge flat bottom and can be used to transport large quantities of goods on inland waterways.  

Manoeuvring: When compared with barges, ships are easy to move and manoeuver as they are self-propelling. Barges are tugged to ships. So they are not easy to manage in the same way the ship itself can be managed.

Route: Ships are large and it can move both in international and inland waters. On the other hand, barges can move in inland waters only. Barges are generally not seen in seas but in rivers, estuaries, creeks and  canals. Ships can be seen on any water body. 

Propelling: Barges use a tugboat which is towed to let it propel while ships have systems that are self-propelling.

Transport: Ships are used for transporting goods as well as people from a location to another while barges are just used for moving cargo.

Usage: Barges are used to transport goods to the port ships or to ferryboats. Ships on the other hand can be used for national and international trades.   


The role of barges in the current maritime shipping industry may not be as vital as they were. However, they still have a role to play and  ship charterers should  know about the areas that can  be explored, with regard to the transportation of  cargo.