Living Aboard

Outfitting Your Sail-Away-Ready Houseboat

Published online: Apr 28, 2012 Feature By Janet Groene
Viewed 1552 time(s)

You're taking delivery of a brand new houseboat. She was sail-away-ready at the boat show and priced to sell. The bad news is that you'll probably need tons of gear to make the boat truly ready. The good news is that it's very rewarding to add things that make the boat uniquely your own.

The first cruising days of spring are just around the corner, so take an inventory to see what else that houseboat needs before she's fully in sail-away condition.

For Safety's Sake

Even if the salesperson threw in basic USCG safety gear, the one-size-fits-all approach may not be enough. Count PFD's and add more if necessary. Don't forget special life vests sized for infants, children and the family dog. New LED lights and flashlights are a big improvement, giving more light for less juice. In the emergency kit it's also wise to have a supply of spark-proof chemical light sticks, but watch the expiration dates.  

The boat probably came with an alarm system but consider adding more bells and whistles, literally and figuratively. For example, it's good to have a strobe light on the roof hooked to a smoke alarm down below. If a fire starts, everyone in the marina immediately knows what boat is involved. Custom electronics for both security and convenience are doing things we never dreamed of only a few years ago.

It's always a plus to have additional smoke and CO sensors, perhaps a low-temperature warning for the refrigerator or freezer, bilge alarms in several spots and a fireproof safe for any valuables you'll have onboard.

If someone falls overboard accidentally, can he or she get back onboard unaided? It's tougher than you think, especially for women, children and people who are wet, perhaps fully clothed and/or injured from the fall. Do you need a different boarding ladder design, one that everyone including the dog can use? Speaking of pets, you can now find litter box-type facilities for dogs as well as cats.

The old saying, "One hand for myself and one for the ship," applies to houseboats too. Can you find places around the boat where extra hand grips would be an added safety feature? In the shower or bath? Around the galley? On the top deck? They're useful and also add a salty decorator touch.

When you fill your water tanks at the marina it's probably safe to drink, but it's different at every place. It may be hard water from a well, off-color, or smelly from chlorine or naturally-occurring chemicals. It's an added health plus to have filters on the ice-maker line and the cold water line to the galley sink and wet bar. It also assures consistent taste in brewed or reconstituted beverages.

Basic ropes, dock lines, chain and ground tackle may have come with the boat, but adding an extra anchor or two is an insurance policy. You may also need different style anchors for cruising a variety of sandy, rocky, grassy and mud bottoms. Make or buy chafe guards to keep ropes stronger longer.

Trash And Dirt

You can't have too many door mats to keep grit and slop out of living areas. Besides, it's fun to shop for decorator rugs and custom mats with the name of the boat. Shop for mats in all sizes and styles for indoor and outdoor use. Some hug the floor more securely. Some scrape off soil better; some are more absorbent.

A mat outside the entry door is good; mats both inside and outside are even better. Fatigue mats provide secure, comfortable footing for the cook and heated floor mats provide radiant heat at the desk or workbench. Find a huge selection at           

Nautical designers are masters at making the most of every inch of space, but it isn't until you move onboard that you find there isn't space for discards including laundry, garbage, trash and recyclables. Early in your outfitting, decide how you'll separate recyclables and where you'll put soiled clothes.

Many products are on the market to keep your boat cleaner, fresher, longer. All are best applied when the boat is new, before the first soap scum hits the shower or the first glass of lemonade spills on the sofa. They include stain-proofers for fabrics and carpeting, wood or plastic corner protectors for walls, and mildew-cides for use in paints, stains and other brush-on finishes.

Fiberglass finishes (wax, silicone) protect the shine on showers and tubs, and they also make cleaning easier. Your houseboat's owner's manual may give other suggestions about cleaning or protecting special surfaces such as tile, marble, granite, laminates, woods, floor coverings,  frosted glass, ceramic cook tops, plastics and so on.      


There's an old saying that the second happiest day of your life is when you get your new boat. The first happiest is the day you know she's fully tweaked out your way.

About the Authors

Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years. Their books include Living Aboard and Creating Comfort Afloat. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at

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