The U.S. Navy has begun construction of six new berthing barges, to replace six older (over 70 years) ones that are way past their replacement date. The first three of these new barges will be in service by late 2020. The first two will cost $39 million each and that includes the cost of designing them. These ships will all have entered service by 2023 and ultimately the average cost per ships will be about $30 million each. The new 2,700 ton barges will have accommodations for 74 officers and 537 enlisted sailors. The new barges are built to accommodate mixed gender enlisted personnel. Each barge will have all the facilities found on their ships. This includes offices, classrooms, washrooms, laundry, medical treatment, barbershop and a fitness facility. There is a dining facility that can 228 enlisted and 56 officers per sitting. These six new berthing barges are the beginning of a program to replace many of the 70 berthings and messing (dining only) barges, many of them built over 40 years ago.
The navy is also building a larger version of the new berthing barge that can accommodate about a thousand personnel and feed 3,000 a day. The new barges reflect changes in the last fifty years, with ships getting more amenities and mixed-gender crews. More crew members have families and can often live at home during longer periods when the unmarried crew is on the berthing barges. The barges are currently used at eight bases or shipyards in the mainland United States, plus some in Hawaii, Guam and Japan.
The navy has long used berthing barges to house crews when their ships are undergoing repairs or refurbishment that makes it impossible for the crews to still live on the ship. Since World War II the navy has used berthing barges, rather than barracks ashore, for this task. The berthing barges spend most of their time tied up to a dock and connected to shore-based electricity, sanitation and water supplies. The main advantage of berthing barges is that when needed at another base or shipyard they can be disconnected from local utilities and towed to the other base, just like any other barge.
The new barges will have better-living accommodations for enlisted crew and, most importantly, be new, not half a century or more old. Moreover, the new barges are built to handle civilians if needed to support the navy assisting in disaster relief. This is a relatively new task but one that is much appreciated in U.S. and overseas locations where the navy shows up to provide supplies, electricity (from ships), communications and air (helicopters and surveillance) support. The new barges are built to last at least 40 years.