Know Before You Go

Frequently asked rental questions

Published online: Jul 26, 2012 Feature Charlie VanLeuven

Some vacationers go to crowded theme parks and campgrounds. They'll spend their hard-earned vacation time being stuck in lines, traffic and parking lots. Some of us truly want to get away from people. It's not that we're anti-social; it's just that the crush of other vacation-seekers adds anxiety and takes away from the experience.

Instead of being stuck on the shore with other vacationers, why not rent a houseboat and take your friends and family out to a secluded cove, or to a prime fishing location? You can choose what view you'd like the sunrise to break over when you wake up in the morning. You get to choose what kind of crowd, whether relaxing or rowdy, to associate with. And you can change your location everyday! It is by far the best way to explore the lakes, rivers and coastlines during your much-deserved vacation.

Whether you've made up your mind to rent, or are still researching the possibility, there are plenty of questions that newcomers to houseboats, as well as seasoned veterans, may have regarding the rental process. The decision to rent a houseboat might not be an easy one, but we're here to help alleviate some of your concerns.

 Q: How do I start the process?

A: As with any type of business transaction, research should be the priority once the decision is made to rent a houseboat. Many houseboat rental companies have websites, and the information you're looking for might be just a click away. If you're looking at a specific lake, there may be more than one rental company that could outfit your vacation. Research each company you're interested in. They differ in kinds of houseboats, rental rates, what amenities are offered at their marinas, even things like the types of restaurants nearby, and the sections of the lake that they are closest to.

Once you decide on a company, it is important to contact them as soon as possible. Most rental companies maintain a waiting list, and sometimes they book reservations from six months to as far out as a year in advance. So be sure that the date you want to book and the boat you'd like to rent are available. Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends are the most popular times to rent, so plan accordingly.

 Q: How hard it is to drive a houseboat?

A: About one-third of all houseboat renters are newcomers, so it's understandable that driving a houseboat would be a concern. Houseboats generally don't go over 10 miles per hour and are easy to navigate. Some companies offer driving lessons and tutorials. All companies have an age restriction on drivers, and require that the driver be at least 19 years old. If you're concerned about docking, most (if not all) rental marinas will gladly come aboard and help you dock the boat when you return.

 Q: How much should I expect to spend on a rental?

A: Although rates will vary, one should expect to spend $1000 to $3000 on a trip, and perhaps higher. Most marinas offer rates for weekends and for an entire week, and their prices will vary with the different houseboats offered. Their rates may also vary with the time of year, so research is again important. Great deals can be found if you're able to rent during "off peak" times or during the week versus over a weekend.

All houseboat rental companies will require that you pay the entire balance in advance, sometimes as many as 90 days before your arrival at the marina. Many of the rental companies' websites have the rates clearly posted in a section, and if you have questions beyond that, contact the company.

Rental companies also have age restrictions on renting, so if you're under 21 years old, or in some cases under 25, you're out of luck.

 Q: Are there any other "hidden" costs?

A: There are gasoline costs, taxes, fees and a deposit. The fuel tanks on the houseboats should be full when you rent them, and you will be required to fill them-or pay to have them filled-when you return. You most likely won't use the entire tank of gasoline, but keep in mind that the houseboat will also run a generator off your fuel supply.

Taxes depend heavily on the state or county in which you rent. Some states have amusement taxes, and the tax on gasoline also varies. Research the marina, or the state tax code, to be adequately prepared for the extra amount.

All houseboat rentals will require a deposit. The deposit is usually about $500, and will be returned to you in approximately 10 days after you return the houseboat in satisfactory condition. Because you will be responsible for the houseboat during your trip, it is recommended that you go over the houseboat prior to leaving the marina. You should check the entire boat for damage, much like a person would before signing a lease for an apartment, or renting a moving truck.

It is extremely important that you return the houseboat to the marina at the specified time. Late fees for a houseboat can run upwards of $100 per hour, so being tardy can really cost you.

You will also be charged for cleanup, so it is recommended that you keep the houseboat impeccably clean. Some marinas charge a septic tank pump fee as well.

 Q: What should we bring with us?

A: Think of a houseboat excursion much like a stay at a hotel, or a camping trip. Bring changes of clothes/swimwear, food, water, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, fishing supplies, entertainment, and although most houseboats come with bedding and linens, you should make sure that you have enough for each person who will be staying on the houseboat. Pets are not recommended, and most houseboat companies do not allow them on their boats (though there are some exceptions with a daily fee applied; again, research is important). Smoking is generally not allowed inside the houseboats.

You could cook on the houseboats, and many have kitchen areas for that, but it is suggested that any meals you plan on cooking should be easy to prepare and clean up.

If you have other watercraft, such as jet skis, that you'd like to take with you, most companies allow you to tow them, so that you're able to travel with your party in the houseboat.

 Q: What do we do if there's trouble with the boat or a medical emergency?

A: All boats have a radio system and a specific channel which is monitored in case of an emergency. Discuss emergency procedures with the company before you leave, as their protocols could differ. If there is a mechanical problem, do not exacerbate it by attempting a do-it-yourself repair. The marinas should have mechanics on-duty to go out to you and diagnose the problem. Cellular phone service may or may not be available depending on where you are on the body of water.

 Q: What if our friends are running late? Can they be taxied to our houseboat?

A: Generally people can be taxied out to your location, but always for a fee. If there is a possibility that the friends will be late for the boat launching, check with the marina to see if they offer the service. Sometimes only third party marine taxis are available and rates will, of course, vary.

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