A Closer Look At Floor Plans

Published in the March 2014 Issue March 2014 News Michael Duelley

Owning a houseboat is one way to capitalize on the phrase, “living the good life.” There is a vast spectrum of houseboat setups that fit a myriad of lifestyles. So that leaves the question of which floor plan and design is right for you? Some houseboats are built with space efficiency in mind, while others are built in a way that ensures maximum functionality of each room. As every owner will have different needs and desires for their custom houseboat, manufacturers build to suit those needs. Going into the blueprints and taking a closer look, it becomes clear that taking time to do a little homework before closing a sale on your next houseboat is a must.

Laying It All Out

Shelly Aff, interior design specialist at Stardust, had a wealth of knowledge on the subject of houseboat design that she was more than happy to share.

"There are two very important questions to ask," said Aff. "You must first ask how does a customer use the boat, and then, where do the family and guests gather the most?"

These two questions are imperative to houseboat manufacturers and engineers. Knowing the mind of a customer is a tricky business, but once enough information on the customer's intentions is gathered, the design engineers begin to create a layout that will fit the consumer’s desires. For Stardust, side hall designs have proven to be the most efficient use of space and ultimately, the most cost effective. One flaw they've found with this design, however, is that if it is used on the traditional Cortex sidewalls, it inevitably makes one side of the boat less appealing and uninteresting.

Z Formation

Another popular design is the Z-hall design plan, which remedies the problem of the side hall by allowing the boat to be fitted with long windows along both sides. Although the Z-hall makes the boat more appealing and aesthetically uses both sides of the houseboat, the design takes some of the useable space away from bedrooms and galley areas. Less area in these rooms creates a situation where space must be used more efficiently. While other designs allow the bedrooms to be comfortably larger, the Z-hall configuration takes up more space, making the bedrooms more of a sleep-only place and the galley can become quickly overcrowded.

Room For More

According to Aff, most clients that begin the process of building their houseboat use a four-stateroom, two-and-a-half-bath configuration and create a private master stateroom. The guest bathroom is generally open to the remaining staterooms to be shared, while the master stateroom is given its own private bath. While this design has been popular in the past, recently Aff has seen a trend where new owners have made the upper stateroom bath private. This has stemmed from onboard guests and family requiring a little more privacy.

Gary Smith, vice president of sales and marketing at SkipperLiner, has noticed a trend with three different floor plan designs with their houseboat customers. The first, which seems to be a trend throughout the industry, is the coveted reverse floor plan. As other manufacturers have found, the reverse floor plan allows consumers the opportunity to enjoy recreational personal water craft fun at the stern of the boat, while the bow remains docked on the shore. The second floor plan most sought-after is a traditional plan. The mentality of "why change a good thing" comes into play as this particular design covers all of the inherent needs and wants of the general customer base. The third and final design pertains to SkipperLiner's "extra deep hull" layout, which allows the lower cuddy staterooms to have more standing room, making it comfortable and natural for owners to walk around.

Dock Or Sandbar?

On the subject of how owners use their houseboat, one of the keys to understanding how the manufacturer should custom design some of the features onboard is based on whether the owners tend to stay docked, or spend the majority of their stay out on the water. If an owner doesn't intend on setting sail, certain "on the water" features won't be necessary and that room can be utilized for docked purposes. The reverse is true for owners who intend to spend their houseboat vacations moving through the water. Whatever the owner’s intentions, it's important to weigh each option carefully and design a houseboat more beneficial to the lifestyle of the individual. This same understanding is used to decide how to create the most efficient and desirable gathering area. If the owner feels the upper levels will be the perfect spot to party, naturally the manufacturer should keep that in mind when building the upper deck. De-cluttering the upper areas to open room for guests and designing the lower deck more elaborately can accommodate the owner's needs and solve space issues early on.

Hot Spots

Another incredibly important item that houseboat manufacturers have to consider is the level of comfort they're including in the design plan. Aff said that building comfortable seating in "hot" gathering spots is important. While some seating and resting areas are only gently used, other areas are frequently populated and manufacturers must pay close attention to these gathering points. When entertaining several guests, depending on the frequency of their visits, Aff has created a solution to optimize comfort without taking away from practicality and space.

"One way to add sleeping quarters for multiple guests without using up too much space is utilizing bunk beds,” said Aff. “This is a great idea for children and infrequent guests."

Having this information is imperative before making the sale. An owner has to be comfortable and satisfied with their choice in houseboat design and manufacturers carefully listen to fulfill the owner’s needs exactly. But this is only one understanding of houseboat design and there are still a few more things to take into account before making the big purchase.

Future Plans

Sheldon Graber, owner of Destination Yachts, has found that most owners do their homework long before they come in for the purchase.

"The majority of buyers, in my experience, have already created their own unique design by the time they call the builder," said Graber. "Many potential new houseboat customers have already owned a boat, so they know what they wanted from the last one and want to have it built into their new boat."

According to Graber, one of the frequent issues that new owners face involves the little details that sometimes get left out of the design plan, but later resurface as an issue after the boat is built.

"One of the issues we run into with some boat owners is whether their design is desirable or not. Some people have their design in mind, but seldom consider the repercussions of that particular design when it comes time to sell it to another person," said Graber.

Many of the issues include space management. People love a lot of cabinetry in the kitchen, but never consider placing in a garbage bin. Others with small families want a houseboat with more open space and less room for bedding or bathrooms. These are important subjects to consider when making a floor plan decision. Destination Yachts has created an assortment of general floor plans that gives new owners an idea of where to start with their boat, but ultimately the construction comes from the owners themselves.

For Closer Consideration

Graber stated that, when finishing a floor plan design, the owner should consider a few things.

"The owner should think about the possibility of selling it one day to upgrade and if so would he be able to sell this boat to someone else,” said Graber. "In my experience, houseboaters generally spend a few good years in their boat, then start looking for something better for themselves. Making sure their current boat is built for a resale is very important."

Two more things that Graber made sure to point out was whether or not the customer should go with a reverse floor plan and should they implement a side hall feature. There are pros and cons to having or foregoing both, but these are relative to future buyers and because these features could eventually affect the resale power, they should be carefully considered when creating the final design.

Graber has learned that being forward with customers during the design process is the best approach to ensure the consumer is getting exactly what he wants. He also understands that once the houseboat has been constructed, there's no going back, so getting everything perfect the first time is essential.

If you're choosing to go with one of the floor plans that manufacturers have created, the job of deciding what will be included and how it will be constructed is left in the hands of the company's master builders. For Bravada Yachts, their designs have been slowly changing to fit the new trends in houseboat design, so most customers that come in for a houseboat find all of their desires answered without creating a floor plan of their own. Dustin Duea of Compass North Industries, LLC., has noticed the Bravada GT 2275, with its center hall, reverse floor plan layout to be trending with many owners. Duea has discovered that whether an owner frequents the water or often spends time docked, the reverse floor plan is user-friendly and generally fits into any lifestyle.

Shawn Heinen, president of Thoroughbred Houseboats LLC., has noticed that consumers often come in with the same series of detailed requests. According to Heinen, many consumers have requested things such as a mid-cabin door that allows people access to the bedrooms and galley directly,  mid-cabin steps that allow the owners and their guests to move to the top deck under the protection of the canopy, bunk house in the hall and a rear half-bath with cross steps that allow customers a straight shot to the slide. These are just a few changes that have inspired ideas when it comes down to the floor plan and Heinen knows that keeping a close relationship with customers is vitally important as trends and desires often change.

Whether you find your way into a pre-designed floor plan or use creative latitude and design one from the ground up, checking the trends, designing a houseboat that retains value and taking the time to evaluate each decision in the designing phase of the houseboat build are essential. As stated before, once the houseboat is built there's no going back, so be sure to make the best informed decisions and ensure that every moment spent in your house on the lake is according to your perfect design. 

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