A Dutch barge is a traditional flat-bottomed shoal-draught barge, originally used to carry cargo in the shallow Zuyder Zee and the waterways of Netherlands. There are very many types of Dutch barge, with characteristics determined by regional conditions and traditions.
Originally, Dutch barges were sailing craft with wooden hulls. Today, while few wooden examples remain, there are many steel barges that are 100 years old or more. Although most Dutch barges have been converted to motor-propulsion, schuyt sailing contests are still held on the IJsselmeer and on the Wadden Sea (Waddenzee). Dutch barges have become popular live-aboard leisure craft, and brand-new "Dutch-style" examples continue to be built.
A typical traditional Dutch barge would have gaff rig, a bluff bow and stern, a pair of leeboards and a large rudder. The leeboards and rudder would be raised by an arrangement of blocks and tackles. Schuyts engaged in eel fishing were said to have begun visiting London in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and were granted the use of a berth there, which continued in use until the 20th century. Schuyts vary greatly in size from 15-40 metres (50-130 feet) in length, and are generally built lighter than an equivalent Humber barge since they were not designed to take the ground in the same way. Originally made of wood and powered by sail, Dutch barges today are almost exclusively made of steel and powered by diesel engines. Nowadays, the "duck tail" transom, prop and rudder arrangement is better suited to diesel propulsion than the sail-optimised hulls of older types.
Many Dutch barges have now been converted for pleasure or residential use. Modern steel-hulled "Dutch barges" are built in other countries (such as the UK and Germany) as well as in the Netherlands. Dutch barges are often used as liveaboards in English cities, especially London and Bristol, where, provided they have a permanent mooring, they give affordable accommodation near the city centres. Provided they are less than 14 feet in beam, Dutch barges are able to use the UK's 14 foot locks, but cannot navigate the narrow canals of the English Midlands, where the 18th century locks which date from the Industrial Revolution are only 7 feet wide.
Jeffrey Casciani-Wood's "Glossary of Dutch Barge Terms" provides further details, as follows:
Since 1998 all new leisure boats and barges built in Europe between 2.5m and 24m LOA must comply with the EU's Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). The Directive establishes four categories that lay down the maximum allowable wind and wave conditions for vessels in each class: Any barges built since 1998 will have needed to comply with the RCD.