barge, large boat, generally flat-bottomed, used for transporting goods. Most barges on inland waterways are towed, but some river barges are self-propelled. There are also sailing barges. On the Great Lakes and in the American coastal trade, huge steel barges are used for transporting bulk cargoes such as coal. Large flat-bottomed barges called lighters are used for transporting cargo to or from a vessel that cannot be berthed at a pier or dock; LASH (for lighter-aboard ship) vessels are equipped to receive and unload lighters on board and thus reduce the time spent in port. Barge towing, done in the past by men or by horses or mules, is now accomplished mostly by steam or motor tugboat or by other, self-propelled barges. In use since the dawn of history, barges were common on the Nile in ancient Egypt. Some were highly decorated and used for carrying royalty; use of such state barges persisted in Europe until modern times.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.