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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte

The Guide to Workboats and Work Boat hire

So, you need to hire a workboat vessel but you are not quite sure where to start. With an array of large and small work boats available ranging from pontoons to commercial work boats, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re looking for.

Here at The Rothen Group, we provide a high quality, work boat rental service and rest assured, we have got you covered. Take a look at this guide to help steer you through the world of workboats.

So, what exactly is a workboat?

They can come in all designs and builds but essentially, it is any piece of construction plant/equipment that can float.

Why would I need a workboat?

If you are trying to carry out works on inland waterways, such as bank protection or dredging off the water, you are going to need a workboat. Workboats vessels are also required at construction sites with poor land-based access which run alongside the waterways.

In these situations, construction companies will turn to work boat manufacturers and work boat hire companies such as The Rothen Group to get materials and plant solutions, like diggers and cranes, to the site.

How many types of workboat are there?

In short, there are many types of workboat. However, we try to categorise them as follows:

Crane boats – an ideal vessel for piling, dredging, bank stabilisation works and getting materials to awkward access sites, a crane boat is a workboat with a mounted crane. Available from The Rothen Group in 40ft, 50ft and 70ft varieties. These can be narrow beam or wide beam to fit the different inland waterways throughout the country.

Pontoons – the Swiss army knife of boats! A pontoon is effectively a floating platform on which a range of plant solutions can sit. The Rothen Group offer a variety of pontoons depending on the solution in question, including narrow and wide beam digger pontoons, narrow and wide beam crane pontoons, and survey pontoons.

· Digger boats – a specialist machine transporter and/or operating platform, generally powered. This vessel is capable of transporting machines to awkward access sites or the machine can operate from the boat itself. Available from The Rothen Group to cater for lighter or heavier machinery. There is also the option to hire a powered pontoon.

Pusher tugs - a highly powerful and manoeuvrable boat, and the ideal workhorse for moving boats up and down the waterways. Can be paired with material hoppers or pontoons to assist with dredging, piling or transporting materials to site. There are specially-designed pusher tugs for working in very shallow waters where you still need the power to push.

Powered carrying boatsa really versatile powered boat which removes the need for a pusher tug. Can be used for vegetation clearance, piling, dredging, soft bank protection and storage. Ramps enable you to track the machinery off onto the towpath/bank but you can also work on machinery from the front as well as the sides, which is useful when dredging or piling. This boat is available in lengths from 35ft to 55ft.

Hoppers – designed to carry large amounts of material, but cannot move around by itself. The Rothen Group offer different sizes to suit your needs, including shallow drafted and wide beam.

Punts – shallow drafted boats suitable for laying brickwork on top of piling and inspection works weighing approximately 1.5 tonnes.

Reed harvesters – a self-propelled reed and weed harvester that not only cuts and self-loads, but can also store reeds until they can be discharged onto another boat or onto the bank for disposal.

Reed cutters – these remove reeds from canals, river and lakes. Reed cutting boats are available from The Rothen Group complete with a cutting head attachment on the side arm to cut vegetation from along banks, and a trailer for easy offloading.

What attachments can be fitted onto different types of workboat, and why would you fit these attachments?

Workboats can be adjusted to suit your particular needs. Sometimes this addition is necessary, such as when adding a pusher tug to move non-powered boats, or it can be used to optimise overall vessel effectiveness. Here are a few possible attachments that you may need to consider:

Ramps – can be attached onto a powered or pontoon work boat to enable diggers/plant to be tracked on and off the bank.

Floating tanks – Adding these can create further ‘deck’ space on the pontoon or more buoyancy if carrying a larger plant.

Pusher tugs – depending upon what type of boat/hopper you need to push, there are different sized pusher tugs to help manoeuvre your workboat.

Cranes/diggers – a whole range of specific attachments can be added to your crane/digger depending on your needs, ranging from clamshell grabs to piling hammers and post drivers.

Can some workboats be used for the same job?

Yes. Most workboats can be used for multiple applications, although there are some that just cater to one specific job, like a reed harvester. A pontoon, however, can be used for piling, bank protection or dredging either as a crane pontoon (narrow or wide) or as a digger pontoon (narrow and wide). Powered carrying workboats are also really versatile and can be used for a range of water-based jobs.

Ultimately, most workboat restrictions are governed by the size of the vessel and the waterway. With this in mind, we have a range of different options available and additions that can be made in order to make sure you are more than prepared for your job.

How do you operate a workboat and does this differ from boat to boat?

Each workboat is slightly different to the next, but we have made them as easy to use as possible. At a basic level, there is a forward and reverse lever, and a tiller with a wooden swan’s neck to steer. In terms of maintenance, daily checks, such as oil, diesel, bilge pumps need to be carried out.

You only really need one person to operate the workboats. It can be helpful to have two when moving the hydraulic jack legs up and down, but it is not essential.

For your safety, it is essential that the hirer has a RYA Helmsman qualification and experience of operating boats. We then provide a full day of induction and awareness training on how to operate our workboats.

Do any workboats require other specific qualifications in order to operate them?

As mentioned before, the RYA Helmsman qualification is essential. From there, it depends on what the workboat is carrying and what machinery is being used. For example, a digger boat would require a digger ticket, and a crane boat would require a crane ticket.

If you have any further questions about workboats or would like to hire a vessel with The Rothen Group, contact us on 01827 215715, or email

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