• Find a second-hand barge - either an historic ex-commercial already converted or a 'new', built-for-pleasure barge. 
  • Find an historic hull and get it converted to your own spec.
  • Have a new barge built to your specification or a stock-design with personal variations. 

Comments from Experienced Members

CG:   Buy an old one where it's all been done years ago, instant gratification, tons of character, lovely lines, big bollards, fascinating history, huge choice on sale, no waiting, lots of money spare to enjoy wine and cruising.!! We set out in 2006 to have a 24m Euroship built but quickly realised the budget would never be met, horror stories from those before us including many related to other builders in UK and NL and life was too short to endure the pain and months / years of strife. Esme was purchased within three months of deciding to go for a historic ship and we have never looked back.
In our search, we looked at 11 ships in three days in NL, several were nice hulls and could have been improved inside with additional work at the right price, xxx which we made an offer on needed a fair bit of upgrade once back in UK but the cost and time involved was considerably less than it would have been starting from scratch with a similar design.
SH:   I agree that it takes a very particular character to,really go,through the new build process - it is not for everyone, just as most people are better off buying an existing house than building a new one.  And i do think money is part of the equation - new builds are going to be more expensive, especially since almost everyone building new - in homes or boats - gets what me old Dad called the mizewells - mizewell add on this and mizewell add on that, and oh, sure let's have the more expensive one...
BF:   I think the question really is "are you a barge nut, or not?"  

If like some of my clients you simply want a no-nonsense cruising home for 6 months of the year, for a few years, to sample the French way of life, the food and the wine, and then sell it on after the sabbatical, then a new barge makes a lot of sense, but it has to be the right one. I am generalising here, so for those of my antipodean clients who are also barge nuts please ignore those comments.

Unfortunately there seems to be a significant proportion of "replica barge builders" who have never seen a proper Dutch barge, who have never sat on quaysides in historic havens in Holland and savoured and learnt from the lines and the functionalities of the real thing.

Equally, I believe that there are buyers who are simply not interested, or bothered, by these details, and I would not criticise them for that at all.  It would be perfectly possible to buy a "new" barge and never actually realise that the bollards are in the wrong places, the lines are pig-ugly and the underwater shape is like a bathtub, but then if your appreciations are fine food (Belgian of course), fine wines and lazy days under a parasol then the minutiae of barge design will quite rightly and justifiably pass you by, as do those other occupations pass me by, and you could enjoy your barge.

If however you are a barge enthusiast, and a bit of a grafter, then the fine lines, beautiful proportions and history of an old barge will be all pervading. Ample recompense indeed for the fact that they are harder to paint and need repairs from time to time.

The sad fact is that many of the smaller barges (meaning under 30 metres) have been out of trade for a long time, have been converted for a long time, have suffered the ravages of unchecked internal corrosion for a long time, and also the ravages of well meaning DIY'ers, so it is not always as simple as Chris seems to suggest to "work up" an old barge to presentable and modern standards, certainly if you have to pay somebody to do it.

I don't think there are particularly valid economic arguments either way. If you are practical, and competent, and prepared to work yourself then working up an old barge can be immensely fufilling. If you have to pay somebody else to do it then it is quite possible that a "new" barge will be the better bet, but then that depends upon whether you realise that the bollards need moving, or understand that you might be buying a bathtub of a barge.

The advantages of a new "new" barge are various. Perhaps one of the less obvious advantages is that you can mess just a little bit, surreptiously, with the dimensions to achieve headroom, or more beam in a shorter length, or whatever. What is a fact however is that there are very few highly competent, highly reputable and suitably financially sound barge builders out there, but, sadly, an uncomfortably significant proportion of inadequate, inexperienced or simply financially unsound so-called "builders." It can also be dangerous to rely on advice forums here, since one man's meat can be another man's poison, and sometimes the poison is sub judice so you don't hear it. Depends how much you relish solicitors' bills.

Equally, if you buy an old barge and need to pay somebody to work on it then that can be a very long piece of string. I was a professional boat builder, but after over 30 years with the same barge I am still trying to finally complete every aspect, in between struggling to keep it painted smartly and keep it updated. Perhaps, as I started my ramblings, you need to decide whether you have a suitable mission in life!
HE:   I'd like to add my experience to this topic. We were totally newbies, never owned a boat not even an inflatable swimming aid. Meaning, in reality, no idea what a barge should or not should have.  Well, when we started to think about barging in Europe, and I spare you about the motives, the first idea crossed my mind is buying an old barge and fitting it out myself. Soon I realised it probably takes me years to do this and since our idea was cruising and not spending years in a dirty looking boat yard we had to think about new vs old. New is always nice and beautiful, but after lots, but not years, of researching on the web, we realised we won't get what we want for the money we are prepared to spend. What I was aiming for was a barge we can life on and supporting us when away from cosy mooring places. What we found was Polaris a beautiful Dutch barge from 1927. Fitted out with everything you can think of. From a fully professional navigation console to high end generators, water maker and the list go on. All of this, for less than half the price of a new built - used of course but fully functional and with proper maintenance will still last for a long time. What it comes to, is what you want. If you are the energetic person who can endure the very long process of building new – go for it. Down the track someone like me will appreciate your good work and will buy your barge second hand and for half the price. I like to add; we have been extremely lucky with our purchase, came down to gut feelings and common sense but no knowledge - we still smiling and happy barging. Apology for my artless English: mother tongue is German!
DM:   Many old barges on the market need no restoration work and whether you like it or not mechanical problems are as likely to beset a new-build as an older ship - dare I say it, sometimes more.

There are loads of old barges with much stronger hulls than new-builds because the framing is so massive in comparison. Those with the Community Certificate meet more than good enough safety standards and I can vouch for the fact that most of us cruise our old barges for hundreds of kilometres every year with never a mechanical problem of any sort.

So simply put: there are just as many reliable ‘old’ barges in excellent condition out there as there are good new-builds and there as many badly designed and badly-built new-builds around as there are time-expired barges.

The trick is to sift through them until you find yours and not be swayed by the ignorant ‘all or nothing’ new versus old arguments.
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