The Dutch at an early period cleared their canals of silt with a pole to which was attached a bag held open by a steel ring. The apparatus, operated from the side of a stationary barge, was dragged along the bottom and then emptied into the barge.
Modern dredging equipment may be divided into four main classes. The grab dredge is used where the amount of excavation is relatively small. It consists of one or more grab buckets, operated by cranes mounted on a vessel or barge or sometimes on the shore. Each bucket has jaws that are hinged together. The bucket is lowered to the bottom with its jaws open and pointing down. When it sinks into the material to be dredged, its jaws close. The material can then be lifted to the surface and discharged into a hopper for removal to a disposal area. The dipper dredge, also known as the boom-and-dipper assembly, is similar in appearance to a land power shovel. It is used extensively in canal construction and was employed in the cutting of the Panama Canal.
The ladder-bucket dredge, a more elaborate type, is generally mounted on a self-propelling vessel built with a longitudinal well in the center, open to the water beneath for a considerable length. Mounted and hinged over the well is a long steel frame, which may be raised or lowered at will; it is equipped with a long string of buckets passing over sprockets at each end. The buckets, operating through the well, scoop up material from the bottom and discharge it into a chute that projects over the vessel's side to a hopper barge moored alongside or into a receiving hopper in the dredge itself.
The suction dredge, or hydraulic dredge, an entirely different type, is used principally where material such as sand or mud is to be removed. It consists of a flexible pipe connected at one end to a powerful centrifugal pump. At the other, open end there is usually a device designed to break up the material to be dredged. The open end of the pipe is lowered to the bottom, where the material to be dredged is mixed with water, pumped up, and then discharged into hopper barges. There the heavy material settles, and the surplus water is allowed to overflow.
Material from these dredges is sometimes pumped through pipes for long distances and used to build up low-lying ground. Hopper barges made to carry away and sink the material brought up by dredges are of a special type. In the space where the material is carried are hinged doors, or flaps, held closed by chains and opening downward. Around the space are watertight compartments to give the barge buoyancy. When the dredge is above the disposal area, the bottom doors are released and the material discharged; the doors are then closed again by winches.
Dredging is an excavation activity or operation usually carried out at least partly underwater, in shallow seas or fresh water areas with the purpose of gathering up bottom sediments and disposing of them at a different location, mostly to keep waterways navigable. A dredge is a device for scraping or sucking the seabed, used for dredging. A dredger is a ship or boat equipped with a dredge (though in American usage, there is no added letter).
The process of dredging creates spoils (excess material), which are conveyed to a location different from the dredged area. Dredging can produce materials for land reclamation or other purposes (usually construction-related), and has also historically played a significant role in gold mining. Dredging can create disturbance in aquatic ecosystems, often with adverse impacts.
A grab dredger picks up seabed material with a clam shell grab, which hangs from an onboard crane or a crane ship, or is carried by a hydraulic arm, or is mounted like on a dragline. This technique is often used in excavation of bay mud. Most of these dredges are crane barges with spuds.Backhoe/dipper
A backhoe/dipper dredge has a backhoe like on some excavators. A crude but usable backhoe dredger can be made by mounting a land-type backhoe excavator on a pontoon. The three largest backhoe dredgers in the world were Tauracavor (Great Lakes), New York (Great Lakes) and Il Principe (Jan De Nul). They featured barge-mounted excavators. Small backhoe dredgers can be track-mounted and work from the bank of ditches. A backhoe dredger is equipped with a half-open shell. The shell is filled moving towards the machine. Usually dredges material is loaded in barges. This machine is mainly used in harbors and other shallow water.Water injection A water injection dredger uses a small jet to inject water under low pressure (to prevent the sediment from exploding into the surrounding waters) into the seabed to bring the sediment in suspension, which then becomes a turbidity current, which flows away down slope, is moved by a second burst of water from the WID or is carried away in natural currents. Water injection results in a lot of sediment in the water which makes measurement with most hydrographic equipment (for instance: singlebeam echosounders) difficult.Pneumatic These dredgers use a chamber with inlets, out of which the water is pumped with the inlets closed. It is usually suspended from a crane on land or from a small pontoon or barge. Its effectiveness depends on depth pressure. Bed leveler This is a bar or blade which is pulled over the seabed behind any suitable ship or boat. It has an effect similar to that of a bulldozer on land. Krabbelaar This is an early type of dredger which was formerly used in shallow water in the Netherlands. It was a flat-bottomed boat with spikes sticking out of its bottom. As tide current pulled the boat, the spikes scraped seabed material loose, and the tide current washed the material away, hopefully to deeper water. Krabbelaar is Dutch for "scratcher".
Some of these are land-type backhoe excavators whose wheels are on long hinged legs so it can drive into shallow water and keep its cab out of water. Some of these may not have a floatable hull and, if so, cannot work in deep water.
These are usually used to recover useful materials from the seabed. Many of them travel on caterpillar tracks.
This link describes a type intended to walk on legs on the seabed. It is a summary of the article "Concept of a mathematical model for prediction of major design parameters of a submersible dredger/miner" by Sritama Sarkar, Neil Bose, Mridul Sarkar, and Dan Walker, in "3rd Indian National Conference on Harbour and Ocean Engineering, National Institute of Oceanography", Dona Paula, Goa 403 004 India, 7 - 9 December 2004: see http://www.nio.org for more information about publisher etc.Fishing Scallop dredges are used for collecting scallops or oysters from the seabed. They have the form of a scoop made of chain mesh and are towed by a fishing boat. Careless scallop dredging can be destructive to the seabed, and can result in scallops containing grit. Nowadays scallop dredging is often replaced by scuba diving.Police drag In some police departments a small dredge (sometimes called a drag) is used to find and recover objects and bodies from underwater. The bodies may be murder victims, or people who committed suicide by drowning, or victims of accidents. It is sometimes pulled by men walking on the bank.
Some hopper dredges are designed so they can also be emptied from above using pumps if dump sites are unavailable or if the dredge material is contaminated. Sometimes the slurry of dredgings and water is pumped straight into pipes which deposit it on nearby land. Other times, it is pumped into barges (also called scows), which deposit it elsewhere while the dredge continues its work.
When contaminated (toxic) sediments are to be removed, or large volume inland disposal sites are unavailable, dredge slurries are reduced to dry solids via a process known as dewatering. Current dewatering techniques employ either centrifuges, large textile based filters or polymer flocculant/congealant based apparatus.
In many projects, slurry dewatering is performed in large inland settling pits, although this is becoming less and less common as mechanical dewatering techniques continue to improve.
Similarly, many groups (most notable in east Asia) are performing research towards utilizing dewatered sediments for the production of concretes and construction block, although the high organic content (in many cases) of this material is a hindrance toward such ends.
The activity of dredging can create the following principal impacts to the environment: