Did you Know?
Deep-water ships cannot sail the Mississippi River. The river is
frequently too shallow, and its strong currents would play havoc
with ships designed to navigate oceans. At its headwaters, the
Mississippi is less than three feet deep. Nor could we imagine a
ship the size of the ill-fated Titanic managing to make the
numerous turn of the Mississippi River.
However, the barges and their accompanying towboats that
travel the Mississippi today are actually larger than the Titanic.
The Titanic was 880 feet long and 92 feet wide. A typical
middle-Mississippi River tow with towboats and barges averages
1,200 feet long and 200 feet wide. Imagine steering that!
Elsewhere in the world, towboats are called pushboats, because
they push rather than tow their barges. Along the Mississippi
River, barges were originally tied to the sides of steamboats and
towed. The name eventually stuck. As more barges were
pushed rather than towed, stern-wheel "paddle wheelers"
replaced side-wheel boats. All paddle wheeler were eventually
replaced by diesel-powered propellers in the 1930s. The diesel
engines can produce 10,000 horsepower. The Titanic's 29
boilers could produce 50,000 horsepower.
Each barge can carry 1,500 tons of cargo- about 60 times more
than a single tractor trailer. A towboat
with its typical load of
barges can carry as much as a line of tractor trailers 50 miles
The modern towboat is well-equipped for navigating the river.
Detailed river maps, computers, depth finders, color radar and
GPS systems make traveling the river safe and efficient.