Over the years part of my focus has been to caution newbies on the pitfalls of purchasing old steel, and wood framed glass boats without having someone knowledgeable giving them guidance. As time goes by and the economy gets worse, there are more derelict houseboats advertised as "once in a lifetime bargains","fixer uppers", "project boat" or "distress sales". In truth many of these craft are beyond economical repair, and are really junkers that need disposal. Disposal is becoming expensive.
In many cases unscrupulous owners are trying to shed themselves of dockage and/or storage costs and avoid disposal charges. Boat yard and Marina owners go along with this because their business is rental and sales commissions. In some cases the owner is unaware of the poor condition of the craft.
Here are a few hints of what to look out for.
* Steel boats are where wood boats were 40 years ago. They are succumbing to the ravages of time. Most are over 30 years old. They are a hard sell and are rejected by some marinas. INSURANCE IS A REAL PROBLEM TO OBTAIN.
* Steel boats usually rust out from the inside and the areas of the hull that go bad first are the keels and engine compartment. Some boats have roofs that rot out extensively and are a chore to repair. RiverQueen's usually have better roofs.
* On the flip side steel boats are the easiest to repair, of any, if you have metal working and welding skills.
* IMHO I would not touch a steel boat due to the resale and insurance problems. However if you have to do it I would look for a Lazy Days or RiverQueen as they were far and away the best built steel houseboats, they could take a hit, and are more seaworthy than most.
* Fiberglass boats are the costliest and most time consuming to repair.
* Fiberglass boats are glass on the outside but most have significant amounts of wood on the inside in the form of roofs, decks, framing, transom reinforcement, hatch covers, etc. This is the Achilles heel of fiberglass houseboats. The rotting of the wood eventually will weaken the boat enough to make it worthless. Many of these boats will still look good but investigation will reveal damage beyond economical repair.
* Where to look - Soft roofs and decks indicate the supporting plywood is rotted and in need of replacement. This is within the capabilities of the average handyman with wood working and fiber glassing skills. Yard price $500 for a spot, $4000 up for extensive work. Stringer and transom rot requires removal of the machinery and advanced wood working and fiber glassing skills. This work is best left to a yard experienced in this kind of work. Vee drive boats $6,000 up. Out drive boats $7000 up.
* Aluminum boats are far and away the best value in rebuilding boats. It is possible that they may have electrolysis or stray current corrosion on the bottom but this is repairable almost as easily as a steel boat. (In 50+ years of boating I have only seen 2 aluminum boats requiring bottom repair.)
* No boat holds value better than an Aluminum boat. Kings Craft and Marinette are the predominant available brands. Pluckebaum is the best you can buy.
* Pre 1969 RiverQueen's, early Chris Crafts and a few other makes of houseboats had vinyl covered plywood cabins. I would strongly urge you not to consider these for rebuilding due to horrible deterioration.
* Many Nautalines, early Chris Crafts and some orphan brands exhibit a humping of the floor in the galley area. This is due to rotting and failure of the stringers and bulkheads and is usually not economically repairable. This is especially true if the condition is long term and the bottom of the hull is hogged.
* 57' Carl Craft hulls should be checked for deterioration carefully in the area directly aft of the cabin. Keel failure from poor maintenance is usually the cause.
* Burns Craft, Blue Water, Boatel, Whitcraft, and Harbor Master are premium boats and should get extra consideration.
* Boats kept in covered slips age at 1/5th the rate of boats stored outside.
* Check Holiday Mansion and Three Buoys upper rear cabin corners for extensive deterioration
* Wiring on many early houseboats was deficient by today's standards, especially the 120VAC, consider this when rebuilding.
* Vee drive boats are much more desirable than outdrive boats and usually are in better condition.
* MerCruiser (with the exception of Merctrans units which are problematic) and Volvo Penta using American V8s are the preferred power trains due to the availability of repair parts and service.
*Parts availability, especially manifolds, is a problem with the small Volvo built 4 cylinder engines.
* DANA outdrive units are some of the best ever made but repair expertice is scarce. (see forum post on DANA)
* OMC outdrive units were a minority player and service and parts are scarce.
* Plan on 1 to 3 years spare time for an extensive rebuild
* During the rebuild period you will have to pay yard or storage fees.
* You WILL have to have a survey to get insurance. If you are a newbie, Get a survey BEFORE you buy.
* On steel boats and boats OVER 30 years old - MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN INSURANCE SOURCE BEFORE YOU BUY THE BOAT.
* On steel boats make sure the marina you plan to use allows steel boats.
* Coal Tar Epoxy is the best bottom protection available for a metal boat.
* Many RV parts are applicable to houseboats. Get a catalog.
These thoughts are not meant as a discouragement to anyone looking to rebuild a houseboat. They are rather thoughts and cautions acquired during a 50+ year love affair working on, rebuilding, and living on boats.
Best of luck, Old Houseboater.
NOTE: there are a lot of replies in the OLD FORUM that make interesting reading.