A towboat is a boat designed for pushing barges. Towboats are characterized by a square bow with steel knees for pushing and powerful engines. They are most often seen on inland waterways and western rivers where they can push more than 50 large barges lashed together into a tow of varying shapes and sizes. Towboats that travel long distances (linehaul) include living quarters for the crew. Outside of the USA towboats are usually referred to as "push boats" or "pushers".
Towboats range in size from 600 horsepower up to over 10,000 horsepower. Most towboats can vary in length from 35 to 200 feet, and vary in width from 21 to 56 ft. wide. Smaller boats are used in harbors, fleeting areas and around locks while larger boats operate in "line-haul" operations and inter-city routes. Below St. Louis on the Lower Mississippi river, the river is open with no locks or impediments other than channel size & depth. So larger boats run this segment of the river with the maximum tow size of 35 barges southbound and 40+ northbound. A "box", so called due to the shape is 200'x35', a "rake", so called due to the raked bow end, is 195'x35'. so 40 barges would be over 1200 feet long and occupy over six acres of area.
Above St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi River and on other rivers such as the Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, Tennessee and Cumberland, boats can handle only up to 16 barges due the size of lock chambers. These boats tend to be limited to 5000 horsepower.
Towboats in line-haul service operate 24/7 and have the latest in navigational equipment, such as color radar, GPS systems, electronic river charts, and specialized radio communications.
Boats that traverse the Inter-Coastal Waterway ((ICW)) are commonly referred to as ditch boats, and river boats are just that, river boats. ICW tows usually consist of 1 to 4 barges ranging in size, usually "strung out" end to end or "doubled up" side by side.
Towboats always push the fleet of barges, which are lashed together with steel cables usually 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch in thickness. The term towboat arises from steamboat days, when steamboat fortunes began to decline and to survive steamboats began to "tow" wooden barges alongside to earn additional revenue. Eventually the railroad expansion following the Civil War ended the steamboat era.
Not to be confused with the historic boat type with the same name, also called horse-drawn boat.
towboat in German: Schubboot
towboat in Dutch: Duwboot
towboat in Polish: Pchacz
towboat in Portuguese: Rebocador
towboat in Russian: Буксир
towboat in Finnish: Työntöalus