What is a Barge?
Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains laws for shipping activities in the United States, including definitions for types of vessels used for shipping. As defined by 46 CFR §170.055, a barge is “a vessel not equipped with a means of self-propulsion.” Without self-propulsion, a barge needs to be pushed by towboats or towed by tugboats. They are large boats with flat bottoms and open decks commonly used for transport of cargo. Having to be towed or pushed means they are slower moving vessels. Barges have been further classified based on what they carry whether passengers (including prisoners and recreational vehicles) or freight. There are specific ones for carrying oil, gas, gaseous materials or hazardous materials knows as “tank barges.” There are also “seagoing barges,” defined by their tonnage (at least 100 gross tons) when they sail beyond a statutorily defined boundary. Those boundary lines may be found at 47 CFR Part 7. There are “Great Lakes barges” which must be at least 3,500 gross tons and only sail on the Great Lakes. Offshore oil and gas facilities also use barges with cranes aboard for construction and repair as well as “jackup” barges that carry rigs which can elevate themselves away from the hull. These rigs allow for a more stable platform in rough waters.
Marine companies also have combination tugboats and barges that are in compliance with the Jones Act known as “tug and barge units.” These tug and barge units are not classified as barges. An integrated tug and barge (ITB) is a vessel where the tugboat and barge are locked together in a very unyielding way. They do no function well when not attached, so must stay together at all times. As a result, ITBs are classified as ships rather than barges. They must meet the staffing standards and navigation light requirements for ships. Articulated tug and barge (ATB) vessels have a hinged system for connection and are treated like tugboats and have their requirements for crewmembers and navigational lights.