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Many often ask: “What is the difference between a barge and a vessel?”.
Our reply: “There’s a short answer and a long one.”
A barge and a vessel are two common terms in the shipping industry that are often used interchangeably.
However, even though they are used interchangeably, they have their differences in terms of structure and usage.
So let’s dive in!
What is a Barge?
A barge is a long, flat-bottom, spacious boat used to transport goods and sometimes people on inland waterways such as rivers and canals.
Typically, barges don’t have a self-propelling engine and don’t move independently. Instead, they move with the help of a towboat or a tugboat.
Self-propelled barges are sometimes used when traveling in the flow of the river (downstream) or opposite the flow of the river (upstream) through placid water.
When traveling upstream in faster waters, they are operated as unpowered barges, with the assistance of a tugboat. Sometimes several barges can be held together using a rig and towed by a single tugboat. This is called a tow.
Before the European Industrial Revolution, shipping barges were used as the main source of transporting ferry cargo across places connected by small water bodies.
But with the invention of the steam engine and trains during the post-industrial revolution, the demand for barges as cargo transporters started to reduce due to their speed constraints.
What is a Vessel?
Vessel refers to any watercraft – any floating object used for the transportation of people or goods. Thus, Vessel is a generic term for all types of craft designed for transportation on water, such as ships, boats, or submarines.
What is the difference between a Barge and a Vessel?
Like it was stated above, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, even though they differ in some ways.
The key difference between a shipping barge and a vessel is their route: vessels can move in both inland waterways and international waters, while sipping barges are only seen/move-in inland waterways.
Other differences based on different criteria are
Barges transport bulky goods.
Vessels transport both people and goods.
Barges are towed by a tugboat.
Vessels are often self-propelled.
Now that we’ve clearly stated the difference between a shipping barge and a vessel, let’s dive into some of the uses of a barge
What are Barges used for?
To understand the uses of a barge, we will look at its usefulness based on the type of barge as each type of barge has its unique function/usage
Dry Bulk Cargo Barges: used to haul and ferry dry cargo such as sand, food grains, coal, and minerals like aggregates and other dry commodities that can be transferred through the system of barges.
Barracks Barge: Also known as a houseboat. Barracks barges are common in places like Canada, Australia, North India (Kashmir), Laos, and Cambodia. These types of barges are mainly used for residential purposes and look eye-catching while floating or as stationary objects in lakes and rivers.
Car-float Barges: This type of ship barge was used during the early 20th century to ferry rail carts. it can be said that these rail carts attached to the barges were like portable rail sets that were ferried from one location to another.
Liquid Carrying Cargo Barges: Just as the name implies, these barges are complete opposite the dry bulk cargo barges.
These barges are useful in carrying fertilizers and petrochemicals that are mainly liquid and other necessary industrial liquid chemicals.
Split Hopper Barge: These barges are used for carrying dredged material as they are fitted with proper and unique unloading tools for easy unloading of dredging materials. It is widely used for marine construction purposes because of the ease of unloading materials (Dredged material, Soil, sand, etc.) at the site.