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"barge," late 15c., agent noun from light (adj.1), with a sense of lightening a load, or else from Dutch lichter, from lichten "to lighten, unload," on the same notion. They are used in loading or unloading ships that cannot approach a wharf.
"person who lights," 1550s, agent noun from light (v.2).
shallow-draft boat or barge, usually flat-bottomed, used in unloading (lightening) or loading ships offshore. Use of lighters requires extra handling and thus extra time and expense and is largely confined to ports without enough traffic to justify construction of piers or wharves. Lighters are also used in transporting freight for short distances, as around harbours. Lighters have been developed that can be loaded, cargo and all, on specially designed ships in a combination called LASH (lighter aboard ship).