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A riverboat is a specialized watercraft (vessel) designed for operating on inland waterways. While a ferryboat is often used to cross a river, a riverboat is used to traverse it, while carrying passengers and/or cargo for revenue. ("Riverboat Casinos" are not considered here as they are essentially stationary).

Rivers present special hazards to vessels. They usually have varying water flows that alternately lead to high speed water flows or protruding rock hazards. Changing siltation patterns may cause the sudden appearance of shoal waters, and often floating or sunken logs and trees (called snags) can endanger the hulls and propulsion of riverboats. Riverboats are generally of shallow draft, being broad of beam and rather square in plan, with a low freeboard and high topsides. Riverboats can survive with this type of configuration as they do not have to survive the high winds or large waves that are seen on large lakes, seas or oceans.

In most nations, riverboats are tourist attractions. In a few countries, such as China, riverboats provide authentic passenger and cargo transport - something a traveler (as opposed to a tourist) would consider for transport.

The riverine cargo carrying tasks once assigned to riverboats are now largely handled by barges, tied together, and pushed by a towboat.

Early riverboats in China on the Yangtze river were hauled upstream by crews of towmen pulling ropes. In the shear canyons of the Three Gorges the towmen used paths carved into sheer cliffs or strugged through streambeds in places of low water.

The most famous early riverboats were on the rivers of the midwestern and central southern United States, on the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers in the early 19th century. It is these early steam driven river craft that typically come to mind when "steamboat" is mentioned, as these were powered by burning wood, with iron boilers drafted by a pair of tall smokestacks belching smoke and cinders, and twin double acting pistons driving a large paddlewheel at the stern churning foam. This type of propulsion was an advantage as a rear paddlewheel operates in an area clear of snags, is easily repaired, and is not likely to suffer damage in a grounding, while by burning wood, the boat could consume fuel provided by woodcutters along the shore of the river. These early boats would carry a brow (a short bridge) on the bow, so they could head in to an unimproved shore for transfer of cargo and passengers.

Modern riverboats are generally screw (propeller) driven, with pairs of diesel engines of several thousand horsepower.

See also

Last updated: 02-02-2005 05:00:57
Last updated: 02-20-2005 19:53:55