Living Aboard

Making Your Houseboat Your Home

Published in the September 2018 Issue September 2018 Feature Janet Groene

Customizing. Retrofitting. Personalizing. They’re part of making a houseboat a year-round home. Let’s translate household terms to the houseboat liveaboard life. 


A houseboat generator installation has to be securely bolted down and installed with a view to safety factors such as fumes, vibration, fueling/tankage and noise levels–not just for your own comfort but for the sake of your neighbors in a crowded marina. When comparing generator specs, look at decibel levels. Also consider heat build-up, which can linger for hours after shut-down. The generator compartment should be well-ventilated, isolated and insulated. 


Even the smallest bathroom or powder room can be turned into an extra shower stall if you plumb a drain in the floor and hook up a telephone shower. Do you really need a bathtub? With the popularity of showers, many houseboat remodelers are now removing bathtubs to free up bathroom space for, say, a Stairmaster or more cupboards.


In a liveaboard houseboat, likely spots for bonus spaces are unneeded bunks and the cuddy cabin. Bunks can be removed to make an office or sewing room. Use the cuddy for storage or as a cozy playroom for pint-size mariners. 


A central vacuum system can be built in, or Craftsman makes a powerful, wall-mounted garage vac with hoses and attachments that can reach every corner of the houseboat. The vac itself can be mounted in the engine room or a closet. At boating and RV suppliers, find space-saving cleaning “systems” that use one or two telescoping handles with a dozen attachments such as a mop head, brooms, squeegee and sponge.


In a house it’s called a mud room or just the “front hall.” It’s the place right inside the entry where everyone drops the umbrella, jacket, shoes and car keys. In a houseboat this area takes a beating from dripping raincoats, sandy sneakers and soggy beach towels. Simple solutions might include a water-hogging door mat, a boot tray, cup hooks on a bulkhead to catch keys and hats and a pretty basket or hamper for wet towels. Carve out a portion of the floor to re-surface in durable vinyl, tile or stone. If space allows, add a wet locker with drain for storm suits and boots.


A home entertainment center is another buzzword in home design. Where do you want to mount big screens, the satellite dish, indoor and outdoor speakers? Can you add one solar recharging station for all devices? 


Know all the entry/exit points in the houseboat, including overhead hatches. Add more if needed. Choose where you’ll keep the “ditch bag.” That’s the cache of vital documents you would grab if you must abandon ship quickly.


In addition to all the usual household choices of ways to heat and cool, houseboats run engines sometimes for hours each day. Your marine mechanic can install a heat exchange system that uses engine-heated water to warm the living quarters.


An easy way to add a shower on deck for post-swim rinses is to plumb in a simple sink sprayer.


Liveaboards use every inch of the houseboat’s deck in all seasons for sunning, entertaining, grilling and to mount the dinghy, water toys, davits and deck boxes that do double duty as storage boxes and seats. Thanks to retractable awnings, you can have sun or shade in any area.


Like Grandmother’s spring house, some lakes and rivers are cool enough for food storage. It’s common in some areas for boaters to set aside a place in the bilge for storing wine or food.


You’re now your own municipal waterworks, sanitation department, electric company and septic tank. Depending on how independent you plan to be for how long, you may want to add or reduce water and fuel tankage.


In the movies, the wall safe is between the studs behind the portrait of Uncle Angus. Your houseboat probably doesn’t have such spaces. A secure, fireproof safe for household valuables should be both hidden and bolted securely to a boat member.


About The Author

Janet Groene is a professional journalist and a member of Boating Writers International. She and her late husband, Gordon Groene, lived full-time on the go for ten years. “Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Janet’s newest book, The Survival Food Handbook (International Marine Books), is a guide to provisioning and cooking with common supermarket ingredients to carry in your pantry. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at

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