Houseboats: A Complete Guide

Summer on the houseboat—sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Generations of families have fond memories aboard these vessels, favored for their extra living space, creature comforts, and deluxe amenities. Let’s take a look at the irrefutable draw and key features of the houseboat.

A Houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle WA
A Houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle, WA. Photo: Waqcku at English Wikipedia [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
  1. Defining Characteristics
  1. Houseboat Amenities
  1. Houseboat Design
  1. Houseboat Builders 
  1. Purchasing a Houseboat

Defining Characteristics

While many boats and larger yachts have features that can accommodate overnight stays, houseboats are intended to be functional homes on the water. One may also confuse the terms “floating house” and “houseboat.” These two differ in that a houseboat has an engine or a drive system that makes it a fully operational vessel, whereas a floating house qualifies as strictly lodging. 

House boat in Kollam
Houseboat in Kollam Backwater. Photo by Ayan Mukherjee licensed under Creative Commons.

Houseboat Amenities

Most houseboats have a full galley, decks, dining accommodations and sleeping quarters for four or more. Other popular amenities include water slides, granite countertops, wood-trimmed salons, grand staircases, ceiling fans, outdoor verandas, flybridges and luxurious berths. If you’re on the market for a houseboat, your options are limited only by your imagination.

Houseboat Design

Houseboats range in size from twenty feet to over ninety feet, usually with inboard or sterndrive motors. Outboard power is also common on smaller models. You will find that a houseboat’s hull designs and materials can vary widely. Common materials include steel, aluminum and fiberglass. Your houseboat may come with a V hull, catamaran, trimaran, pontoon, or flat bottom. Due to their weight, most houseboats are displacement hulls, though some models—usually trailerable—can be transported on a plane. 

Different Style Houseboats
Today’s houseboats run the gamut from large to small and everything in between.

Houseboat Builders

Luxury houseboats get the lion’s share of the attention, and for good reason. They’re glorious to look at and breathtaking to board. Houseboat manufacturers such as Bravada and Axiom build some of the most opulent houseboats you’ll ever see. Looking for trailerable or small pontoon-style houseboats? Check out offerings from Aqua Lodge, Catamaran Cruisers, Nomad, and Travelwave.

Cumberland HB 2010 Houseboat
A Houseboat on Lake Cumberland. Photo by Sealle from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons.

Purchasing A Houseboat

When it comes to cost, size tends to be the determining factor. On average, houseboat prices fall between $250,000 and $750,000. You can also find used houseboats priced anywhere from $5,000 to $1.5 million.

You will want to consider that the IRS sees houseboats as property that can be converted into liquidity as an asset. Suppose you have a conventional home on terra firma and the houseboat is financed. In that case, you can file a form 1098 with the IRS to deduct the interest you pay, because the boat qualifies as a second home, according to American Institute of CPAs. You are not required to pay property taxes on a houseboat unless you own a deeded slip, and this creates a tax break.

Additional expenses for a houseboat include slip rental fees and insurance, which can cost up to $200 a month. Slip rental fees often include a freshwater hookup. You will typically pay an additional cost for utilities like shore power, pump outs, cable and trash service. You will also want to consider haul-out and bottom-painting fees.

Location

When purchasing a houseboat, location is one of the most crucial decisions you will make. First, consider whether you prefer a freshwater or saltwater destination. While saltwater creates a harsher environment for your boat, it is also less likely to freeze than freshwater. In the United States, popular locations for houseboats include Union Lake in Seattle, Washington; Tomahawk Island in Portland, Oregon; Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri; and Chickamauga Lake in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

This 2002 Gibson 44 Houseboat includes one master stateroom with head and one lower cabin with two berth.
This 2002 Gibson 44 Houseboat includes one master stateroom with head and one lower cabin with two berth.
A 105' used 2008 Fantasy Houseboat for sale on Boat Trader with 4 staterooms and 2 master suites.
A 105′ used 2008 Fantasy Houseboat for sale on Boat Trader w/4 staterooms.

With an air of nostalgia and a healthy dose of adventure, houseboats are so much more than a home. Think the seafarer’s life is for you? View houseboats for sale on Boat Trader.

Written by: Brett Becker

Brett Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered
the marine industry for 15 years. In addition to covering the ski boat
and runabout markets for Boats.com, he regularly writes and shoots for
BoatTrader.com. Based in Ventura, Calif., Becker holds a bachelor’s
degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the
University of Central Florida in Orlando.

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