Barges in operation by year built.

Waterways Journal Releases 2021 Barge Fleet Survey

The Waterways Journal is happy to present the results of the 2021 Mississippi River System Barge Fleet Survey. This study is constructed to provide an estimate as to the size and age of dry cargo (hopper) barges and liquid cargo (tank) barges in operation on the system that includes the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.   The 2022 survey was sent to barge operators and results are expected to be released by June 1, 2023, pending industry response and feedback.

Disclaimer: While every effort was made to confirm barge counts, this was not always possible. The values should be interpreted as sampled estimates and should not be used as the basis for precision calculations or further statistical derivations.  To provide historical context, 2021 data was compared to the 2020 Barge Fleet Profile, previously produced by IHS Markit.  The data was previously made available to press and the full report was purchased by The Waterways Journal.  Differences in methodology and respondents exist.  We do not guarantee accuracy.

Types of barges.
Types of barges.

We estimate that 2021 marked an overall decline in the size of the barge fleet. The documented number of standard-sized dry-cargo barges (those measuring 175 by 26 feet) shrank from 282 in 2020 to 51 in 2021. A similar reduction in stumbo-sized barges (those measuring 195 by 26 feet) occurred, with documented stumbos declining in count from 139 to 57. The liquid fleet demonstrates a similar trend—an increase in the number of semi-integrated tow barges aligns with a decline in the usage of both small and jumbo liquid barges. The semi-integrated tow barge fleet grew from 2,062 documented barges to 2,265. Meanwhile, the number of documented small and jumbo liquid barges shrunk from 64 to 37 and from 1,631 to 1,433, respectively.

The mean age of the barge fleet was roughly equivalent in 2021 compared to the previous year. For dry-cargo barges, the mean age increased from 16.23 to 16.26 years old, while for liquid-cargo barges, the mean age decreased from 15.22 to 14.57 years old. Jumbo open-top barges increased in average age from approximately 18.48 years old to 19.51 years old. Jumbo covered-top barges stayed nearly the same, decreasing in mean age from 14.92 years to 14.91 years. Standard dry-cargo barges decreased in average age, from 29.31 years old to 25.73 years old.

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Fleet by vessel size.
Fleet by vessel size.

In addition to counting the number of barges active in the inland waterways, The Waterways Journal asked general questions regarding the fleet.  One of the questions asks the respondent to provide an estimate of the value of a 10-year-old covered hopper barge. The estimate value was $572,125, a historically high value that may be due to rising replacement cost and scrap value. Another question asks about the average number of round trips up and down the Mississippi made by dry cargo barges. In 2021, the number of round trips made by a covered barge was on average 6.06, while open barges made an average of 11.8 round trips. 

For further information, or to request a copy of the 2021 Mississippi River System Barge Fleet Survey, please contact Zachary Jenkins at