The Art of Dredging

Dredging and shipping

Old dredging techniques - part 1: The "spuikom"


The cradle of dredging is definitely to be found in the Netherlands and North Belgium. These regions were sea, or frequently flooded creek area's, until their would-be inhabitants started to take charge, some eight centuries ago.


This map gives a fair idea of land gain achieved by the inhabitants of the "Low Countries", starting from this situation to the present day, never mind their primitive dredging tools.







 Original dredging methods were slow and tedious: every project was a shovel-and-wheelbarrow affair.

What humans missed in powered tools, they had to make up for with brainpower and patience; "Go with the flow.".



Nowadays dredgers can move massive volumes of material, and they are power hungry beasts, able to handle any kind of soil.






One of the older dredging methods, is the use of a "spuikom" to keep harbour entrances from silting up.

A "spuikom"  (*) is a basin of water, connected through sluices, with a seaport.

At high tide, the basin fills with water. At low tide, the sluices are opened again, with the bottled up water flushing through the port, removing sediment and taking it back to sea, according the diagram of Hjulstrom. Also read here.



(*) Like many original Dutch dredging terms, there is no good English translation for the word "spuikom".



The "spuikom" in Ostend, small harbour city in Belgium is such an artificial body of water, of about 80 hectare. It was constructed from 1900 onwards.

 In 1912, during trials, the generated currents were so strong, that quaywalls in the harbour were damaged, which stopped the use of this "spuikom".

Nowadays it is an artificial lake, used for boating, birdwatching, oysters cultures, fishing, etc...

Nowadays, dredging in Ostend port is done by hopperdredgers, and -as many Ostend folk remember- by a very noisy bucketdredger, until a few years ago.

TSHD "Galilei 2000", dredging Ostend port.


In Blankenberge, the original "spuikom", constructed at the end of the 19th century, is now a marina. It was used for its original purpose up to the end of the seventies.

 Blankenberge port and "spuikom" in 1970.

Another prime example of a "spuikom" can be found in Flushing ("Vlissingen"), The Netherlands, a major port at the delta of the Scheldt river.
Een luchtfoto uit 1974 van de Spuikom. De Spuikomweg moest toen nog worden aangelegd. foto Deltaphot/gemeentearchief Vlissingen
An areal photo of the Flushing "spuikom", dated 1974.

In the 13th century, the Westerscheldt river changed from an area with creeks and gullies, into a navigable waterway, launching the island of Walcheren into trade and commerce.

From 1304 onwards, the port of Flushing was constructed, as a tidal port. The port was kept at the desired depth with aid of a "spuikom". The system never functioned fully, and the odour of the backflowing water was ghastly.

Nowadays this body of water has lost its function, and all dredging in Flushing port is done mechanically.



Marc Van de Velde

February, 2013

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