Before You Buy
By Gordon and Janet Groene
1) Water Levels: Does your water of choice have controlling heights or depths? Consider that in some places, water levels may vary enough to not be floatable all year.
2) Slip Availability: In some parts of the country, dockage isn’t available at any price and, in other areas it is priced out of sight. Make sure you know the whole story about the marina’s rules, costs and so on.
3) Horsepower Limits: Even if you choose the largest houseboat, you may have to settle for a small kicker.
4) Facilities: In some regions, you can’t find a diesel station or a holding tank pump-out for miles around. If you plan long periods of boondocking, plan the tankage you’ll need to supply fresh water for your family for a week or two, and blackwater and graywater tankage to match.
5) Storage: If you are buying a trailerable houseboat, know where you’ll keep it. Your homeowner association may not let you park it on your own property. If you’ll be using a storage lot, know the costs and rules, maximum height and width, etc.
6) Accommodations: Every brochure tells you how many a boat will sleep, but consider how many the boat will actually accommodate. People don’t just sleep. They use the bathroom, eat at the dining table, stow their gear and must find daytime storage for all the pillows and bed linen used on the dinette and sofa bed each night.
7) Your Better Halves: Make sure to have a heart-to-heart with your spouse and family so you are all on the same wavelength. The cook may see the houseboat as a great place to entertain, envisioning a grand kitchen, spacious deck and snazzy guest quarters while you picture it as a getaway where you’ll do nothing but fish or read. Or,your spouse may see the houseboat as an escape from household drudgery and docking at swank, waterfront restaurants for dinner each night. If you see yourself enjoying candlelight dinners on deck and breakfast in bed, and your spouse ends up working even harder on the boat than at home, you’ll soon be dead in the water…
8) This Price Tag: For better of worse, cost has to be addressed at some point. Call a lending agency and supply some ballpark figures to get an idea of what monthly payments would be for a houseboat priced at whatever you think your dreamboat will cost. Make discreet inquiries to learn if you can qualify for a loan of that size. Then call an insurance agency, describe your imaginary boat, and get a rough estimate of yearly costs. Really, it’s not as painful as it sounds.
9) Maintaining the Fun: Add in a monthly cushion for maintenance. Even if you’ll do all routine maintenance yourself, there will be yearly hauling, replacements, spares and the cost of work you’ll have to hire someone to work on specialty items such as engines and electronics. Don’t get in over your head with the boat payment alone. That is just part of the cost of boat ownership.
10) Warranties: Ah yes—the bugaboos of houseboat ownership. Early in the bargaining process, know exactly what guarantees you have, and who will honor them. It’s likely you’ll have a shipload of separate warranties for everything from the radios to the refrigerator in addition to the hull and superstructure, engines, head and so on.
Adapted from “10 Things You Absolutely, Positively Must Do or Know Before You Buy That New Houseboat,” by Gordon & Janet Groene, 2001. The Groenes are authors of Living Aboard, Creating Comfort Afloat, ABCs of Boat Camping and a dozen other books. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.