Advice From Those Who’ve Been There

July 2015 Feature

There’s one thing every houseboat owner has in common. They had to go through the process of buying their first boat. Whether you had it built or went with a pre-owned model, you had to make decisions and probably learned a thing or two along the way. Here are some of those stories.

Bill Mertzeis

Starting out, I was interested in houseboats, but did not have the cash to buy one. My wife said I had to get rid of my classic ‘71 Corvette before I could get one. It was a nice day so we took the ‘Vette for a ride around the Allegheny Reservoir. Stopping at the marina, we saw a man placing a for sale sign on a houseboat. We stopped and looked at it. I was interested, but didn't have the cash for it. So I made an offer of an even trade for my Corvette. Being floored with my offer, he told me he had to talk to his wife. A few weeks later he accepted and I was enjoying my houseboat more than I ever did my now-traded classic Corvette.

Alex Sweeney

Before you buy, investigate insurance. This was huge for us in Florida. It’s harder to find a company that wants to insure a boat of our size and age. Our boat is a 52-foot 1987 model. We did finally find a great policy, thanks to the aluminum hull.

Another thing is an out-of-water survey for a large boat. The liability insurance did not require it, but hull insurance did. You need to find a marina with a travel lift large enough to accommodate, and budget money for haul out, survey and then insurance.

If not for the fact that my husband is a handy and talented genius, the cost of updating our boat would have been too far out of reach. He has done the plumbing, including full install of a stackable washer/dryer and all the flooring and walls, plus almost all of the electrical work—not to mention the engine, generator, propeller and steering work.

We live aboard with a dog, two cats, and 17-year-old son. We have a storage unit for holiday items and such, but other than that we completely downsized from a greater than 2000-square-foot house.

Sandra Clark Soreano

Ask more questions about the practicality of living aboard. We love our boat, but should have purchased one with an insulation package as well as being able to walk around the beds to make them.

Zack & Brenda Webb

Hurricane Opal was threatening Destin, Fla., as well as many other towns in Florida and Georgia. We had decided to ride it out, but at the last moment decided to head back to Pine Mountain, Ga. 

Looking back at Sept. 22, 1995, it was a good thing we did. Destin was a disaster. Our condo was sandwiched in between the ground level and the sixth floor. It survived the storm surge and winds, but no others did. We were not allowed to return for weeks to even see the damage. Months later, Destin began that long cleanup process. While waiting to see what would become of our condo complex, we decided to sell it. After only two weeks, we were no longer proud condo owners yet still had a love for the coast, water, sun and sand. One Sunday afternoon, Zack's sister Hazel asked us to ride out to Highland Marina in LaGrange, Ga., to look at a houseboat that she was interested in buying. The houseboat was a sad, sad sight. A steel hull that needed so much work that we quickly decided this was not something she needed, but an idea was being born in my husband’s mind. He wanted to get into houseboating!

Several weeks later, we rode up to Lake Lanier Islands to buy a houseboat. He assured me we would buy a "turn key" boat. At that time, we had been married 30 plus years and I should have known! We saw so many nice boats, but he settled on a 1980 Stardust and, keep in mind, this was 1996! Oh my Heavens, this boat was in such bad shape, words could not describe it! I protested, protested some more and he BOUGHT IT! This was Feb. 1996. The name of that boat, believe it or not, was SPLIT DECISION! And it really was!

He had it transported back to LaGrange, Ga., and placed on jack stands for us to begin what seemed like a daunting task. For three months we worked like little boat Trojans. Family members came to clean, paint, carpet and renovate this wreck of a boat.

Memorial Day weekend, we splashed our "new to us" houseboat. It looked great! And it floated right off the trailer and onto the lake. We have moved on since this little 12- by 55-foot steel hull. We have had three boats since. We are true and long-lasting houseboaters. Come by see us at Southern Harbor Marina in Lanett, Ala.! Our marina is the best-kept secret in Georgia!

Kevin & Melissa Kadrmas

This past summer my wife Melissa, step-son Chandler and myself dove in and bought our first houseboat.

We looked at several located nearby and many of them online. We ultimately decided on a 1975 42-foot Gibson. The interior was in relatively good shape despite some water damage caused from a leaking roof. The exterior was in pretty bad shape. The roof on the lower half needed to be completely replaced. The engine hatch was waterlogged and rotten all the way through. We painted all the decks, catwalks and fly bridge. There was some minor engine work to do on the two 270 Crusader engines and in the Onan generator. We also replaced the water heater. The interior we left alone for now, but we may refurnish it as well.

When all the new fiberglass work and painting were finished, we were so excited to get it out on the river! We went out on a Labor Day cruise with some friends who have houseboats. The boat performed awesome! We had one slight hiccup. The water pump on the generator failed. All in all it was an amazing weekend and so much fun.

The following week, we took it out on a short day cruise with just the family. The starboard engine started to tick. By the time we found out what the noise was we had thrown a rod and blown the engine! After another $5000 bill and two weeks, we finally got our boat back—just in time to winterize in Wisconsin.

A few things we did right. We looked at a lot of boats! The one we ended up buying was not the first one on our list. But we did end up with the best boat for the money we spent. Look everywhere when buying a boat. Open every hatch, cover, door look at everything! We were fortunate that my father-in-law has been boating his whole life, has a captain’s license and his own yacht on Lake Michigan.

The thing we did wrong. Get a compression test on the engines. The problem we had might have been diagnosed before the failure if we had one done. In the end, we have a great boat. It came in right on budget and we couldn't be more proud of our boat.

Stephanie & Mike Forest

Since I was a baby I have spent summers on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.  My great grandparents lived just south of Burnside in Tateville; being so close to the lake made it a perfect vacation spot while visiting. My grandmother had a 1968 Glastron that we all learned how to water ski behind. The boat is still on Cumberland and still running.

We previously owned a cabin, but had friends who owned a houseboat. Our friend ended up passing away and his death was life-changing. The next time we went to the cabin I talked with my husband and told him, “Life is way too short. Why are we waiting for what we have always wanted? Let’s buy a houseboat.” To say the least, Mike was shocked. I’m not usually impulsive or spontaneous in making large decisions, but this felt like exactly what we needed to do.

Fortunately, my husband has grown to love the lake as much as I do. We bought our first houseboat, a ’99 Sunstar, and have learned so much. Mike can figure out how to fix most things. With the help of our neighbors and YouTube, we are getting things in shape. The boat wasn’t used much over the past three years so it was due for some maintenance.

We purchased this houseboat in May of 2013 and I was so amazed at what we learned, and what we had to learn, in a hurry. We began a blog to help newbies. I couldn't find much information on the basic repairs and issues for new houseboaters so we decided to share what we learned.  You can find our story regarding our first year at

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