You heard your schoolteachers tell you all the time, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question, just the question that doesn’t get asked.” While there may be times your teachers wanted to retract that statement, and had to bite their tongues to the point of drawing blood in order to stand by that principle, most of the time they meant it. It’s especially true when the question isn’t asked by just one person, but is frequently asked by many. Then it’s a really good question. If you’re a newcomer to the houseboating world and are looking into renting a houseboat, questions are all that are on your mind.
Q: Where do I find fuel and how much will it cost?
A: Because of all of the environmental rules and guidelines marinas must abide by in order to provide fuel, fuel generally costs about a dollar more per gallon at lakeside pumps. Most rental houseboats only cruise at about 5 to 10 mph, but during that 5- to 10-mile stretch, it could be burning between 8 and 18 gallons.
Some rental houseboats come with dinghies—use them more to get around. The fuel you have to pay for to fill up the houseboat fuel tank will be less painful. The good news is, typically you can use just one tank until the boat is due.
Q: Will the houseboat have amenities for the disabled?
A: Some marinas do keep the disabled in mind, with amenities such as full-sized baths with a low threshold shower and grab bars, wide hallways, deck-level side gates and boarding ramps. For extra convenience, some include a wheelchair elevator.
Q: What are the requirements for driving a houseboat?
A: State laws vary when it comes to the required age for operating a houseboat—or more specifically, a watercraft in excess of 10hp—but most likely, you’ll need to be 18 years old to rent one, and if your 12-year-old son wants to steer for awhile, you’ll need to have a boating certificate for the youth endorsed by your state. As an adult driver, having a license is a good idea, but having a head on your shoulders and having good experience is even better.
If you know your limits, and those limits don’t entail safely navigating a large houseboat, then your local marina may provide you with a professional captain—at an additional cost or with no alternative—to do all the work while you do all the relaxing.
Q: How much will it cost to rent a houseboat?
You won’t get into a luxury suite at a high-priced hotel for the same bargain price you will for lodging at a Motel 6. Houseboat rentals are like that—they vary according to where you’re at, the length of the boat, how it’s furnished and whether it’s July 4 or Sept. 15. Rental houseboats that sleep six or eight may cost a few hundred dollars per day, while the daily rent for a typical 16-person houseboat is likely to run about $1,000, but it shouldn’t hurt too much if you divvy it up between every adult. If it is a problem, you need to find yourself a different circle of friends, or at least new extended family.
Q: What kind of a lease agreement should I expect?
A: The agreement will make you a temporary owner of the houseboat. Expect to pay a non-refundable deposit of around $1,000 or so, and expect a firm cancellation policy. You may get a full refund if you cancel, but most likely in the event someone else is waiting in line to rent the boat. Reminiscent of your days renting apartments, as soon as you walk in you may need to do a thorough walk-through, searching for anything defective and marking it on an inventory list. If you catch it before you depart, you won’t be liable for it when you come back in.
Once you’ve acknowledged the boat is seaworthy, prior to departure you’ll need to make sure you’ve been instructed in the safe use and navigation of the boat, with all necessary safety and life preserving equipment aboard for the safe operation of the vessel.
Because the houseboat belongs to someone else, stringent rules will be set forth, such as no navigating the boat after sunset and all garbage must be properly disposed of. And don’t attempt to repair anything yourself. Return to the marina and report to their mechanic.
Q: Is the boat insured?
A: You won’t need to worry about the boat itself and everything that goes with the boat being insured, but be aware that your crew and personal belongings will not be. You will need to get those covered through your own insurance agent.
Most marinas’ websites have FAQs specifically tailored to their circumstances—meaning where to park, if you can fish, how to get to the marina, pricing, acquiring fuel and groceries and more—so contact your local marina office or their website for more questions, and good luck!