Living Aboard Retrofitting

Published in the January 2016 Issue December 2016 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2016 issue

You found a great buy on a houseboat that was built to sleep eight on vacation, but you want to equip it for just the two of you to live onboard as a full-time home. Where can you start?

At the boat shows, look at many houseboats to get ideas on layout and furnishings suitable for your lifestyle. With your spouse, brainstorm ideas for must-haves, nice-to-haves, and “someday” features. Some changes involve custom carpentry and new wiring or plumbing, which gets expensive. It may be wise to live with the boat for a while before pouring a fortune into hardwood flooring or a marble hot tub.

Step two is to see everything at the show from consumer electronics to convertible furniture. You’ll want the best communications, entertainment electronics and space-efficient furniture.

Next is to leave the show with a list of things that weren’t available at the show, but can be found at home improvement stores, marine chandlers or RV suppliers.

Here’s just a sampling of things to look for at shows:

-Sleep Number mattresses with automatic controls have become so popular on the water they are now available in seven boat-friendly sizes including the space-saving Short Queen and three models that have rounded corners. Conversely, if your boat came with a Short Queen and you need a Full Queen, Camping World offers a bed extender for under $60.

-Dometic now makes a full-height, gravity flush toilet that is easily plumbed into most boats using existing hardware or a replacement flange. The new flush design eliminates burp-back of gases.  At the same time, see Thetford’s new Tecma Nano, said to be the smallest macerator toilet available. Its compact profile might allow you to add another bathroom in a small space.

-Suppliers of windows, batches and screens offer one-stop shopping for liveaboard needs such as double or triple insulation, rust-proof fiberglass screens and heavy-duty sliding door screens that can stand up to everyday use. Many come in standard sizes for easy retrofitting. Custom screen makers can offer such choices as a heavy-duty sliding door screen with a doggie door or wide kick plate.

-If the former owner’s cruising was limited, you may need more and different ground tackle and navaids. The boat show is the place to find the latest and greatest.

-Temperature control is a year-round necessity for liveaboards. Talk to experts at booths that offer new, high-tech heat and air equipment, especially those who can work with existing hatches or ducting. Upgrading your HVAC system also allows you to add high-tech filtration that benefits allergy sufferers.

-Talk to canvas and enclosure makers at the show. Add enclosures that allow you to utilize deck space, even when it’s rainy or chilly.

-Lighting is basic to year-round houseboat life. Thanks to the LED revolution you get more light with less energy but also a choice of stylish new light fixtures. Look for these exhibitors at the boat show.

-If the previous owner stayed dockside, the boat may be more dependent on shore power than you like. Visit booths where you can talk to experts in batteries, solar, generators and inverters. Plus, check out booths that sell propane and 12-volt appliances.

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