Built-Ins For Houseboat Living

Published in the July 2013 Issue April 2019 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

When your houseboat is also your full-time home you have to squeeze every square foot until it sings. Everything for year-round living is onboard, from the artificial Christmas tree to off-season clothes. Built-ins save space, look more shipshape and keep things more secure underway. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Microwave/Oven

Install above the galley stove a combination microwave/convection oven. If your over-the-stove microwave doesn’t have overboard discharge, consider adding it. Note you may need to add ductwork and a vent to the outdoors. Hoods with a recirculating fan and filter catch spatters, but they don’t remove heat and moisture.

2. A Custom Closet

Bring in a closet hardware specialist but beware of gimmicky hangers and hardware that are rust-prone or awkward to use. Keep in mind too that air circulation is important on a boat, especially where clothes and shoes are stowed. Don’t over-crowd the closet or use unvented plastic storage bins.

3. A Recharge Station

Is there one space where all of your re-chargeables can be stowed out of sight and plugged in for re-charge? Among the most used re-chargeables are a drill motor for the work bench and a cordless vacuum cleaner. Countless other cordless tools are available. They’re safer to use around water and you can use them any time, even without shore power or a generator. Have a marine electrician equip the charging station for use with shore power, generator power, solar and/or inverter power depending on your liveaboard lifestyle.

4. A Recycling Center

Life will be simpler and greener if you can dedicate at least three spaces for recyclables. Depending on your marina’s recycling system, trash may be divided many ways: colored glass, clear glass, several types of plastics, aluminum cans, steel cans, newspaper, office paper, garbage and so on. Different communities have different categories, so stay flexible when cruising. 

5. Safekeeping For Valuables

You may want two safes, one that’s easily accessed for frequent cash needs and a computer or gun, and another safe for things you need rarely such as bonds, valuable jewelry and titles. In any case, install safes so they can’t simply be carried off or pried loose by a thief. Find concealed places where they can be anchored to a structural member.

Built-ins: The Down Side

  • If you’ve ever un-installed a houseboat built-in, you know it’s a cumbersome and costly job. Think twice before building in anything that will age, wear out or go out of style.         
  • When building in anything that holds water, such as a hot tub or large baitwell, consider weight, balance and the boat’s overall structural engineering. At 8 pounds per gallon, a 100-gallon Jacuzzi adds 800 pounds in water weight alone.
  • Built-in dividers and baffles will limit your stowing spaces. Yet we need them for neatness and to keep items, such as heavy tools or canned foods, from slamming around in a seaway. Keep your options open by fitting plastic bins tightly into drawers, cupboards and storage spaces.  Unlike permanent dividers, these bins are also easy to take on deck for a good hosing.
  • Built-ins can mask problems behind the scenes such as leaks, wood rot, weak spots in wiring or plumbing and roach farms. Inspect, clean and prepare any areas that will be covered by the built-in. Sprinkle heavily with 20 Mule Team Borax (a laundry product that is also a permanent roach killer) and use caulk and bedding compound to seal joints.

Lastly, Get Re-Integrated

Redundant systems are always a plus in boating, but the communications revolution has sped by so quickly you may have far too many wires, sensors and other gizmos in your houseboat. One tiny music storage system can go everywhere with you now to plug into whatever earphones or speakers you care to. Your smart phone can now control everything from your boat’s AC to the alarm system, whether or not you’re onboard. See an established marine electronics/ communications specialist to update and re-integrate your automation, communication, entertainment and security systems.


About the Authors

“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Their books include Living Aboard and Creating Comfort Afloat. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.

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