Throughout my years exploring boating culture across America for Boat Trader, as part of our TV show Stomping Grounds, I’ve had the pleasure of driving, renting and reviewing numerous types of boats, including houseboats.
Today I want to walk you through a comprehensive guide to house-boating, highlighting a 59-foot houseboat built by Fun Country in Muncie, Indiana that our crew of seven lived aboard for four days. I piloted the boat 80 miles up into Lake Powell as we explored the many finger canyon and anchorages of the beautiful desert landscape near the Utah/Arizona border. Whether you’re planning for a houseboat trip or looking to purchase one, this article will provide you with some key features to consider on your houseboat journey.
- Bow Staging Area
- Boat Hull Material
- Helm Station & Gauges
- Power / Engines
- Main Salon & Galley
- Accommodations / Sleeping Capacity
- Number Of Heads
- Outdoor Grill
- Sound System & Bluetooth
- Upper Deck
- Entertainment Zones
- Water Toys
Above: Two women onboard a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat on Lake Powell along the Arizona-Utah border. Photo by Boat Trader.
Bow – The Staging Area
Starting off on the bow, many houseboats, like the 59-foot Fun Country houseboat we used to film our episode of Stomping Grounds in Arizona and Utah, are designed for beaching. This is a popular activity at Lake Powell. Many of the houseboats you can rent on Lake Powell will have a natural staging area up front, that is great for storing coolers, chairs, equipment and a barbecue grill. Ask yourself if you’ll need a ramp for wheeling heavy items on and off the beach. It adds to the convenience, especially when beached. It’s not necessarily a must-have, but it can certainly make life easier. A ladder makes it easy to board from the water as well.
Above: Ryan McVinney standing on the bow of a houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Hull Material – Fiberglass Vs Aluminum
When choosing between Fiberglass vs. Aluminum houseboats, consider the terrain you’ll be exploring. Aluminum tends to be a better choice for terrains with rocks and sand due to its durability. Scraping a houseboat along some rocks when you’re landing ashore isn’t such a huge deal, whereas with a fiberglass boat, you risk damaging the gelcoat which could lead to eventual water intrusion and further headaches down the road.
Above: A 59-foot Fun Country houseboat approaching the shore to anchor in a canyon on Lake Powell in Utah. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Helm Station – The Nerve Center
This is where the magic happens. Ensure your gauges, especially for water and fuel capacity, are working perfectly. On houseboats, knowing your fresh water and fuel status is vital for a comfortable stay. On this particular boat, the 400-gallon water capacity served us well for a group of six or seven for a few days. It is always wise to test all of these gauges are working properly before departing on an extended cruise, so you can be sure you have enough vital resources to last the duration of your trip.
Above: Ryan McVinney sitting at the helm station of a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat while piloting the vessel on Lake Powell during the filming of a Stomping Grounds episode. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Power – Twin Engines
The Fun Country houseboat we were aboard had a 265-gallon fuel tank. Combined with the twin Evinrude E-Tec 200 Outboards, this provides a reliable and efficient power source with a range big enough for our needs (we went about 60-80 miles up the lake and back). Keeping the engines below 3,000 RPM is wise for both fuel efficiency and wear-and-tear. Remember, the less train you put on the engines, the less chance you’ll have any mechanical issues.
Above: Ryan McVinney inspecting the two outboard engines onboard a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
I would recommend getting a houseboat with two engines rather than a single engine. The first reason is for redundancy (in case one fails, you have a back up – which actually happened to us during our trip, due to a spun prop that we were luckily able to repair). The second reason is for maneuverability and ease-of-operation. As anyone that has ever driven a twin-screw boat can attest, they are much easier to maneuver in tight spaces than single screw boats (i.e. boats with only one propeller). You can literally turn on a dime with twin engines, by simply putting one in forward and the other in reverse.
Main Salon & Galley
Above: Ryan McVinney showcasing the main salon area on a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Boat Trader.
This is the primary living and entertainment space. A good houseboat will feature comfortable seating, a TV setup, and an expansive galley equipped with all the modern amenities you’d have at home, like a full-size refrigerator, stove top burners, oven range and a microwave. For a houseboat that is being used to accommodate a big group, it can also offer additional sleeping quarters when everyone else has retired to their quarters.
Above: Preparing meals in the galley of a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Accommodations (Sleeping Berths)
Choose a houseboat that aligns with your comfort needs and the size of group you will be with. This particular houseboat model from Fun Country boasts a queen bed, a double bunk room, and an aft stateroom with another queen mattress. Additionally two or three adults or children could sleep under the roof on the aft deck, on a blow up mattress.
Above: Ryan McVinney shows viewers the sleeping berths aboard a 59-foot houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Heads (Onboard Bathrooms)
Depending on the number of people and your comfort needs, ensure your houseboat has adequate bathroom facilities. The model we explored had two heads but only one shower. We would virtually always recommend that any decent size houseboat that will be hosting more than 3 people, have two heads onboard. In case one fails, you’ll still have facilities, and 5+ people sharing a restroom on a floating home is less than ideal and is generally not very comfortable for extended stays.
Outdoor Grill – A Necessity!
Above: An outdoor barbecue grill is a must-have onboard any houseboat. Photo by Boat Trader.
At least one outdoor grill is a must-have for the houseboat lifestyle. A convenient propane setup makes grilling easy and enjoyable. Some boats even feature a secondary grill, whether it be up on the upper deck or back on the aft deck. But having at least one onboard that can fit enough food to feed your entire group is a no-brainer.
Sound System and Bluetooth
Since houseboats are primarily for entertainment, ensure there’s a good sound system with speakers throughout the boat, and easily accessible charging ports for everyone’s devices. You’ll want to test the bluetooth before you depart, and of course, decide who has the rights to control the playlist! A good DJ is key for everyone’s enjoyment. Houseboats with different entertainment zones are particularly useful for larger groups, where one group could have a dance party on the upper deck, while others sit down below in the air conditioning driving and preparing meals in a more quiet atmosphere. Another consideration is if the boat has speakers that can project out to the water or beach to enjoy while anchored.
Above: Model/actress Grace Sunderland with companion on a beach in a canyon on Lake Powell. Photo by Boat Trader.
If you’re into long-range cruising, consider getting a watermaker. It might just be a crucial addition for your extended trips. Typically we do not recommend drinking water from a houseboat’s onboard fresh water supply, due to potential contamination and harmful bacteria. A stand-alone, dedicated watermaker that can produce clean water for drinking can extend your journey and lower the amount of drinking water that you’ll need to pack, saving you space and freeing up room to store other provisions.
Upper Deck – Flybridge
Above: Model Grace Sunderland doing yoga on a houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Ryan McVinney for Boat Trader.
A space to relax, sunbathe, and even do yoga! The highlight for many? The waterslide! It provides endless fun, especially for families with kids. If you have a double decker or multi-deck houseboat, this is the favorite place to drive from and to hangout out during the day.
Above: A waterslide is a great, entertaining feature on any houseboat, but is ideal for the waters of Lake Powell. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Entertainment Zones And Summer Kitchens
Above: Ryan McVinney with crew and guests aboard a 59-foot houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
A houseboat isn’t complete without a killer entertainment zone (or two). A flybridge, or upper deck, can offer a mini-kitchen – also called a “summer kitchen” – setup with refrigeration, sink and cutting boards. This area usually provides 360-degree views of the surroundings and is a great place for the whole group to enjoy cocktails at sunset or breakfast, lunch or dinner. An upper helm station can also provide another driving vantage point, which is especially handy when beaching or docking during windy conditions.
Above: Model/actress Grace Sunderland on a 59-foot Fun Country houseboat on Lake Powell. Photo by Boat Trader.
Don’t Forget The Tender!
You’ll want to make sure your houseboat is either equipped to tow another vessel behind it as a tender, or comes equipped with a small tender onboard, such as a rugged inflatable dinghy or small RIB with an outboard engine. This is paramount for scouting anchorages in places like Lake Powell, and is also great for side excursions and fishing, where the whole group does not go together. And, in case of emergency, it is good to have another vessel.
Above: A houseboat towing a deck boat as its tender. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
Ideally, I’d recommend a 20 foot deck boat as a good tender for a 60-70 foot houseboat. Of course, if it is possible, a 24-foot wake boat would be even better, as it would provide hours of endless fun and water sports while the houseboat is anchored.
Above: A man and woman paddling a stand up paddle board on Lake Powell. Photo by Boat Trader.
Lastly, bring lots of water toys with you, and make sure you have enough room to store them. These can include sea bobs, water scooters, jet skis, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, floats, wake / surfboards, frisbees, balls and all types of games.
Above: Model/actress Grace Sunderland with her stand up paddle board on Lake Powell. Photo by Ryan McVinney for Boat Trader.
In summary, houseboats offer a unique blend of comfort and adventure, much like a motor home or recreational vehicle (RV). If you’re considering getting one, take into account the key features mentioned above to ensure you make a choice that aligns with your lifestyle and needs. Happy boating everyone!