According to my third grade teacher, the only dumb question is the one you never ask. While I don’t recall exactly what else I learned back in those days, these few words of wisdom have stayed with me for whatever reason. A lot of the houseboat manufacturers are facing the same exact challenges today with similar highs and unfortunate lows. So based on the houseboat industry’s tight-knit community feel, you might guess that when we asked the manufacturers about current trends their answers would be similar, right?
Actually, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out my teacher was right once again and it was a good question to ask. While we did find some similar answers among those we talked with, it is clear that different manufacturers are seeing different trends.
According to Trifecta President Jason Stockton, the timeless classic designs remain popular for new buyers, especially with Sumerset Houseboats.
“Our clients will push the envelope with new cabinetry profiles and finishes, ceiling designs and details, and other modern twists but on classic looks,” explains Stockton. “Smaller floor plans utilizing every inch of space are trending with our new V-Series.”
Jimmy Hamilton, the general manager for SummerSun is seeing the same trend with smaller vessels.
“While owners of traditional style houseboats often get caught up with whose boat is a foot longer than the another, we have noticed a large segment of the market is desiring smaller vessels that make very efficient use of space,” says Hamilton. “Banking off some the hype and popularity of the Tiny Houseboat by Harbor Cottage Houseboats, SummerSun Houseboats will be offering a line of smaller vessels that have the traditional exteriors that many houseboaters are accustomed to.”
Destination Yachts owner Sheldon Graber is seeing the opposite as far as size and amenities, but had similar thoughts on keeping the layouts more traditional.
“We are seeing larger boats that are not filled with all the extras,” says Graber. “Our customers are getting back to the basics and just want a very well-built houseboat, but not wanting to go over-the-top with the extras.”
Another trend some manufacturers are seeing is the increase of those wanting to live on their houseboats full-time. According to the West Coast distributor for Overblue Yachts, the short supply of and the cost of housing in the California market has pushed more interest toward living on a yacht as a primary or secondary home.
“In this area any boat or houseboat must be self-powered to qualify for berthing in all of our marinas,” says Richard Boland. “The Overblue Yacht is a perfect fit with either inboard or outboard power.”
Eco-Sea Cottages also sees a trend of the more you can make the boat like a home, the better.
“Bathtubs in the heads, full-size appliances throughout the vessel, 6-foot electric fireplaces and 5-foot televisions are examples of what we’re seeing as trends moving forward,” says Eco-Sea’s manager and founder, Rod Gibbons.
Of course new features are always popular when trying to predict what could be the next big thing in the houseboat industry. Adonia Yachts and others have been hard at work designing a new look for the 2019 season. This year the manufacturer will be launching its new design with cleaner lines, more colors, and a host of new amenities that they believes will push houseboating to a new level.
“We have made our swim decks larger and more functional,” says Adonia owner Dave Taylor. “We have also gone to great lengths to blend the indoor and outdoor living areas to make the lake experience more enjoyable.”
Thoroughbred is also creating new looks for the upcoming year and it is set to continue the trend of its full glass walls and interiors loaded with amenities.
“An angular, frameless window is also being introduced with the V-Series while maintaining beautiful, yet budget-friendly interiors,” adds Stockton. “And we are introducing a new waterproof wall panel option for 2019.”
Another popular trend is the push for higher-end luxury according to Bravada Yachts.
“The luxury houseboating experience continues to evolve, following the trends of both the hospitality and residential industry with exciting new materials for construction and aesthetics, like composite panels versus drywall and Dekton and Quartz versus Granite,” explains Mia Gutierrez. “We believe you will see advances in technology on houseboats, from new and improved entertainment and audio systems, as well as automation.”
In 2017, Stardust launched one of its most custom houseboats to date and this is a trend this manufacturer hopes will continue.
“Stardust works with naval architects to create new vessels never seen before in the houseboat industry,” says Stockton. “We will also be building a new line of boats, the V-Series, with pre-designed floorplans and interiors that allow our clients an entry-level option.”
For Harbor Cottage Houseboats the trend seems to be different looks.
“While our ‘cottage style’ has attracted buyers from across the country, we have seen an uptick in demand for modern-looking vessels as well,” adds Hamilton. “We have found that the modern aesthetic seems to be a better and more popular fit in many coastal markets. Once we have built a few of these more modern-looking vessels we believe folks will begin to realize the sky is the limit in terms of design.”
As our industry continues to distance itself from the downturn in the economy just 10 years ago, some veteran manufacturers like Gibson are seeing more calls for restorations than new orders.
“There is a definite trend of refurbishment instead of buying new at this time,” says Kelly Cawthorne, owner of Gibson Boats. “We are going out to locations, picking up boats, bringing them back to the plant and performing $30K to $150K remodels and engine refits. And what is really trending is the change from I/O engines to outboard installs, which we’re doing quit a few of too.”
“I'm still seeing more used boats changing hands than new boats being built,” adds Sunstar President George Roberts. “The expense of a new boat is still causing people to not invest in a new boat and instead remodel an older one.”
From size variations to the debate over which is trending more right now, high-end features or entry-level layouts, one thing is clear: the industry as a whole is starting to trend in the right direction and move past the economy woes that first began to surface in 2008. It’s refreshing to see the excitement of new layouts, new materials and new features being released this year as we all wait to see what’s trending and try to predict the answer to the question, “What’s next?” for houseboaters.