Weighty Matters

Living Aboard

February 2022 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, the Plimsoll Line marked on the hulls of commercial ships is a “reference mark that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed when loaded with cargo. This depth varies with a ship’s dimensions, type of cargo, time of year, and the water densities encountered in port and at sea.” 

On ships at sea, the captain determines the appropriate Plimsoll line needed for each voyage. It’s unlikely your houseboat has a Plimsoll mark, let alone the codes that go with it to indicate the type of water and season of the year. However, your ship does carry cargo and that’s where weight and balance come in. In any vessel, weight costs fuel dollars. Weight determines how well your anchor will hold, how efficiently your hull cuts through the waves and how your boot stripe looks in the water.

It’s only human nature that you, as a liveaboard, carry too much stuff onboard. At best, raising the boot stripe means changing the exterior design of your houseboat. At worst, overloading a boat or putting too much weight in any one area spells serious danger. How can you lighten the load?

  • Don’t make major changes without consulting a naval architect. You may find space for a piano or a seven-person hot tub, but that’s only a start. That weight must be supported by the deck, as well as the hull and superstructure. 
  • Electronics save space almost everywhere. Although some books are irreplaceable, you can have a larger library with less weight if you use electronic readers, charts, tide tables, guidebooks, bookkeeping, movies and almost every phase of your personal and business paperwork.
  • Cleaning tools. Marine chandlers offer space-saving, weight-saving mops, brooms and other cleaning equipment that uses one handle for multiple work heads. Vacuum cleaners are more efficient and lighter now too. You might also look into a built-in, central vacuum system. All you need to stow are the accessories.
  • Some galley appliances, such as a microwave and induction cooker, are heavy by nature.  Replacing an older refrigerator or roof-mounted air conditioner with a new model, however, usually means more energy-efficiency and less weight. At-source, water heaters make better use of weight and energy than a 40-gallon household unit. A cast-aluminum grill will work just as well on deck as the cast iron cooker you had in the backyard.
  • Washer and dryer. Weigh the advantage of a bulky, onboard washer and dryer against the convenience of using a coin laundry where you can do multiple loads all at once. One combination washer/dryer on a houseboat can weigh almost 200 pounds. Stackables weigh even more and have a higher center of gravity. Some new machines use less water, but are getting poor performance reviews.
  • Handicapping the race. Medical breakthroughs have skyrocketed in recent years. If you need an adaptive device, wheelchair, lift or other aids, see what today’s marketplace has to offer. New devices weigh less in the boat and make for easier handling both for physically challenged people and for their loved ones.
  • Workshop tools are important to most liveaboards and some make a living with them. Think about phasing out the older, heavier, single-job electric tools you brought from home and replace them with multi-purpose cordless and pneumatic tools. They’re also safer to use around water.
  • Water toys. There’s a large variation in the weight of canoes, jon boats, kayaks and other toys. When choosing toys to bring onboard, take a look at the weight including their motor and batteries and the davits needed to handle them. Even small items, from water skis to golf clubs, are available in high-tech materials that weigh less.

Which straw broke the camel’s back? Whether you’re replacing the houseboat’s engine(s) or are just considering replacing an old steel hammer with titanium, Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) had the right idea.


About the Authors

“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Their books include Living Aboard and Creating Comfort Afloat. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.

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