Narrowing your options as you hunt

January 2020 Feature Colin Peterson

So, you’ve learned from your folks how awesome owning a houseboat boat is, and now you’ve decided you want to step up to the plate and invest in one yourself. That’s awesome! Owning your own houseboat gives you a lot of fun and freedom on the water. However, with that amazing fun and freedom also comes responsibility. You might picture the same responsibilities as owning a home. Well, yes, there is some truth to that, but there are many boating-specific areas to address as well. We threw around several questions and got ourselves a better idea of what new houseboaters should be looking for. Hopefully this list will help you make the best boat-buying decision as you move towards that unique lifestyle only possible through houseboating.

General

These questions should keep you to a good place for beginning your houseboat hunt. Take your time and really think about each question; you may find that your answers tell you you’re not ready for a new houseboat, so please be as truthful with yourself as possible.

Q#1: What kind of boat should I buy?

This one is simple and straightforward to understand, but it’s open-ended as you can go on and on in coming up with answers. If you’re interested in any new boat at all, you’re clearly interested in a houseboat if you’re reading this magazine, but this question addresses what segment of vessels you’re looking for: price-point, catamaran, high-end luxury, etc.

Q#2: What am I interested in?

This is the lifestyle question, as there are boats designed for specific walks of life. What kinds of things will you be using your houseboat to do? What will you be using it for most? Do you plan on having a lot of overnight guests? Would you dig something great for parties on the water? Do you have family or friends who want to enjoy a nice day out on the lake? Is your plan to live on the houseboat someday? Which vessel fits your character?

Q#3: How will I use this boat?

Take a real close, sincere look at yourself. As you dream of how you’ll use the boat, but do so [thoughtfully], you may find that your dream won’t work for the reality you live in. If that’s the case, you’ll need to make a compromise. That doesn’t mean surrendering your dreams of having something you can move around easily, but you simply need a vessel that makes more logical sense for your circumstances.

Q#4: Where will I be using it?

How close are you to the nearest houseboat marina? If you live near a lake or river, you will have lots of time to use your houseboat, but if not, you may need to make some more adjustments to your schedule. With that, you’ll also need to figure out where to keep it. If you plan on living aboard full-time, all you’ll need to do is figure out where to relocate.

Q#5: How often will I use it?

Knowing how often you’ll be able to use your boat is fundamental to knowing where you stand in possibly getting one. Factors to consider include the distance to the nearest marina (this goes with the question above), the local climate, and how often your family and/or friends will want to use it. Do you want to live aboard full-time or do you plan to only live on it at certain times of the year? Many of us have bought clothes we only end up wearing a couple of times during the year. You may end up making that same mistake on a much larger scale if you don’t think the boat usage question through.

Q#6: Where will I dock it?

Do you have a dock selected yet? Is there a local marina where you can moor it that’s close to where you live? Is a covered slip to protect it from the elements available?

Q#7: What should I expect it to cost?

At bare minimum, you’ll end up spending $200,000-$300,000 for a new vessel. For a used vessel, you’ll be at a minimum of roughly $50,000, but these are of course conservative estimates since when it comes to custom houseboats the price certainly varies for a new or a used one. Plus, you have ownership costs to endure, too. They include, but aren’t limited to mooring fees, fuel, insurance, and routine maintenance. However, these costs tend to be much less expensive than land homeownership costs, which is perfect if you plan on living aboard full-time. For example, if you acquire a 500-square-foot houseboat, you should expect your costs to run about $6,000 per year, which is much less than yearly mortgage payments.

Q#8: How much am I willing to pay?

This goes in tandem with the previous question. Once you have a ballpark idea of how much it will cost, you’ll need to set your budget and consequently adjust your prospects.

Outfitting

Now that you got the general stuff out of the way, you should have a clearer idea of what you want. Next, we’re on to the options to choose from.

Q#9: How much horsepower do I need?

This builds on the earlier question of how you plan to use the boat, along with the size of the boat you want. If you’re seeking a smaller houseboat, you might get away with a single 90hp outboard. If you’re looking for a long 96-footer, though, you may be looking for a lot more horses. However, not all boats are the same. Some can get going faster than others with the same engine power. It depends on the boats’ hull, so do some research and see if you really need higher-horsepower motors after all.

Q#10: How many engines should I get?

This goes with the previous question, and well, it depends. Some houseboats require one and others require twin engines. Some houseboats can be used with either/or. If you want more mobility, you might come to love two engines. Of course, though, adding an engine does drive up your investment. While outboards have gained in popularity lately, inboard engines are still the most popular for houseboats.

Q#11: How big should the boat be?

Again, you need to decide what you’ll use your boat for and plan accordingly. It’s understandable that you’d want a certain size, but just because you [can] get a giant houseboat it doesn’t mean you should. Some lakes have size restrictions so keep this in mind when custom building your houseboat. If you have a big family or a lot of friends to host onboard, then a 96-by-22-footer may be your best bet. But if it’s just you and your significant other, a 14-by-52 footer will be plenty for what you need. Larger boats are also tougher to maneuver. Answering this question will even help answer your question about where to keep your boat, so keep that in mind.

Buying Used

As with getting a home, sometimes a shiny new custom-built vessel fresh out of the factory just isn’t possible. We’ve always recommend using a houseboat broker when looking for a used boat because they can save you time as well as money and it’s always good to have an expert in your corner. Buying used saves you a lot of money upfront, but it can come with a price too, in a different form. Here are a few pointers that will save you trouble along the way.

Q#12: Is the manufacturer still around?

Check to see if the boat’s manufacturer still exists or if there’s are places where you could find extra parts if needed. This by no means is a deal breaker since there are a lot of well-built vintage houseboats built by manufacturers who are no longer building new boats. It’s just something to keep in mind when looking.

Q#13: Are there maintenance records?

When you’re buying used, you can’t not have this. You’ll want to know how well the vessel was taken care of before you lock it in, because there could be all kinds of issues you won’t notice before you do so.

Final Steps

Lastly, regardless of what model year you’re buying, you should without a doubt pay for a pre-purchase survey. When you’re buying a new vessel, it’s a very good idea to make sure everything works perfectly. It’s the same deal as buying a house on land. Think about it. Would you buy a home without a home inspection? The National Association of Marine Surveyors and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors have lists of people in your local area that can perform the inspection.

That’s all, folks! We’ve done our best to help you get moving on your houseboat hunt by arming you with our information. Now it’s your turn to make the decision you feel is right for you. We’re about to enter the prime time for boat hunting, so get out there and start exploring your options.

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