Barges are used to transport cargo and for general utility purposes. Typically a flat-bed vessel, a barge is towed or pushed by another vessel through a waterway. Barge hulls are either box-shaped (vertical) or angled (raked). The major difference among most barge types is the type of cargo carried.
Hopper barges are designed to deliver material to open-water disposal sites; they are the most commonly used barge for transporting dredge material. Bottom-dump hoppers are manufactured with doors on the bottom that open for dumping cargo, such as dredge material or garbage, and for dumping material such as coal or stone along piers. Hoppers may be fitted with watertight hatch covers on top to protect the cargo being carried. All hopper barges will leak, so hull seams in hopper barges are typically stabilized with sand bags, hay bales or plastic liners to minimize the leakage.
Deck barges are flat-topped, pontoon-design vessels used to transport vehicles and heavy equipment. They also may be used as floating work platforms for derricks, moorings, offices or service shops. Some deck barges are fitted with coamings -- shed structures of wood or iron around a hatchway, skylight, or other opening in the deck -- to transport cargo such as scrap metal or to enclose work areas. In cleaning up sediment, a deck barge can be used as a platform for a bucket dredge. Dumpsters sit atop the barge and are filled with dredge sediment. When the barge is brought ashore, the dumpsters are removed to flatbed trucks and taken to a disposal site.
Tank barges carry liquids, such as petroleum, and can be specialized in design and in their handling systems for different cargoes. These barges may carry hazardous cargo, such as pressurized gas; they are most often used to haul petroleum, coal, agricultural material, iron, steel or chemicals. The compartments, which are divided, are built to provide stability to the hull and to distribute cargo evenly. This prevents shifting during towing. Each section on a tank barge may carry a different type of cargo.
A float barge is the smallest type of barge -- less than 20 feet across and 30 feet long. Small boats use float barges for repair work. Typically used around locks and dams, some float barges may be powered by small outboard engines.
A barracks barge, or houseboat, is used primarily for living quarters. In areas such as Cambodia, Australia and northern India, barracks barges are a common sight on many waterways. Kept almost stationary, they provide floating homes on rivers and lakes.