Here are answers to a few common questions about Louisiana’s waterways and waterway operators.
Q: Why is a towboat called a towboat when it pushes the barges?
The word “tow” comes from the canal age when a draft animal walking along the bank of the canal pulled a barge. As rivermen gained experience with moving barges, they found that, by lashing barges together and pushing them, they could control the barges better and move more of them. The control was especially helpful when navigating the smaller rivers and tight bends in a river. The boats which pushed these barge “tows” was referred to as a “Towboat”.
A Tug boat is typically a boat designed to pull their loads rather than push them. Many of the “Tugs” seen in the Louisiana waterways have been adapted to either push or pull barges, while others have been adapted to assist in ship docking services.
Q: What is the size of a barge?
The standard dry cargo barge is 195 feet long, 35 feet wide, and can be used to a 9-foot draft. Its capacity is 1500 tons. Some of the newer barges today are 290 feet by 50 feet, double the capacity of earlier barges. Tank barges range from 195 feet long by 35 feet wide and hold 10,000 bbls, to those 297 feet long and 54 ft wide holding 30,000 bbls of liquid.
Q: What is the size of a towboat?
Towboats along the Louisiana waterways range in physical size from about 26 feet long by 15 feet wide to more than 200 feet long and 45 feet wide. They draft anywhere from 6.5 feet to 9.0 feet. The boat’s diesel engine can produce power from a few hundred horsepower to 10,000 horsepower. A few are in excess of that, but not many. The larger boats operated on the Lower Mississippi where the water is free flowing and wide. The average towboat on the GIWW would be about 80 ft long and 1500 HP.
Q: How many barges are there in a tow?
The average tow on the upper river is 15 barges, but flotillas on the Mississippi River can go over 40 barges. Smaller tributaries, such as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway which runs across South Louisiana, can support only a five or six-barge tow because of the meandering nature of the Intracoastal Canal and width of the channel itself. In addition, the locks and bridges along the GIWW limit the size of the barge tows that can move through the system.
Q: How many locks are operated by the Corps of Engineers?
The US Army Corps of Engineers operates 275 lock chambers. These locks are generally 110 feet wide, and either 600 feet or 1200 feet long, but in Louisiana, we navigate through smaller locks which have various sizes from 56 feet wide and 760 feet long, 75 ft wide and 640 feet long, to 84 ft wide and 1200 feet long. The Corps operates 18 Lock structures in Louisiana.