View Full Version : Inexperenced Newbies READ THIS WARNING

07-22-2012, 09:42 PM
Over the years part of my focus has been to caution newbies on the pitfalls of purchasing old steel, and wood framed glass boats without having someone knowledgeable giving them guidance. As time goes by and the economy gets worse, there are more derelict houseboats advertised as "once in a lifetime bargains","fixer uppers", "project boat" or "distress sales". In truth many of these craft are beyond economical repair, and are really junkers that need disposal. Disposal is becoming expensive.

In many cases unscrupulous owners are trying to shed themselves of dockage and/or storage costs and avoid disposal charges. Boat yard and Marina owners go along with this because their business is rental and sales commissions. In some cases the owner is unaware of the poor condition of the craft.

Here are a few hints of what to look out for.


* Steel boats are where wood boats were 40 years ago. They are succumbing to the ravages of time. Most are over 30 years old. They are a hard sell and are rejected by some marinas. INSURANCE IS A REAL PROBLEM TO OBTAIN.

* Steel boats usually rust out from the inside and the areas of the hull that go bad first are the keels and engine compartment. Some boats have roofs that rot out extensively and are a chore to repair. RiverQueen's usually have better roofs.

* On the flip side steel boats are the easiest to repair, of any, if you have metal working and welding skills.

* IMHO I would not touch a steel boat due to the resale and insurance problems. However if you have to do it I would look for a Lazy Days or RiverQueen as they were far and away the best built steel houseboats, they could take a hit, and are more seaworthy than most.


* Fiberglass boats are the costliest and most time consuming to repair.

* Fiberglass boats are glass on the outside but most have significant amounts of wood on the inside in the form of roofs, decks, framing, transom reinforcement, hatch covers, etc. This is the Achilles heel of fiberglass houseboats. The rotting of the wood eventually will weaken the boat enough to make it worthless. Many of these boats will still look good but investigation will reveal damage beyond economical repair.

* Where to look - Soft roofs and decks indicate the supporting plywood is rotted and in need of replacement. This is within the capabilities of the average handyman with wood working and fiber glassing skills. Yard price $500 for a spot, $4000 up for extensive work. Stringer and transom rot requires removal of the machinery and advanced wood working and fiber glassing skills. This work is best left to a yard experienced in this kind of work. Vee drive boats $6,000 up. Out drive boats $7000 up.


* Aluminum boats are far and away the best value in rebuilding boats. It is possible that they may have electrolysis or stray current corrosion on the bottom but this is repairable almost as easily as a steel boat. (In 50+ years of boating I have only seen 2 aluminum boats requiring bottom repair.)

* No boat holds value better than an Aluminum boat. Kings Craft and Marinette are the predominant available brands. Pluckebaum is the best you can buy.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

* Pre 1969 RiverQueen's, early Chris Crafts and a few other makes of houseboats had vinyl covered plywood cabins. I would strongly urge you not to consider these for rebuilding due to horrible deterioration.

* Many Nautalines, early Chris Crafts and some orphan brands exhibit a humping of the floor in the galley area. This is due to rotting and failure of the stringers and bulkheads and is usually not economically repairable. This is especially true if the condition is long term and the bottom of the hull is hogged.

* 57' Carl Craft hulls should be checked for deterioration carefully in the area directly aft of the cabin. Keel failure from poor maintenance is usually the cause.

* Burns Craft, Blue Water, Boatel, Whitcraft, and Harbor Master are premium boats and should get extra consideration.

* Boats kept in covered slips age at 1/5th the rate of boats stored outside.

* Check Holiday Mansion and Three Buoys upper rear cabin corners for extensive deterioration

* Wiring on many early houseboats was deficient by today's standards, especially the 120VAC, consider this when rebuilding.

* Vee drive boats are much more desirable than outdrive boats and usually are in better condition.

* MerCruiser (with the exception of Merctrans units which are problematic) and Volvo Penta using American V8s are the preferred power trains due to the availability of repair parts and service.

*Parts availability, especially manifolds, is a problem with the small Volvo built 4 cylinder engines.

* DANA outdrive units are some of the best ever made but repair expertice is scarce. (see forum post on DANA)

* OMC outdrive units were a minority player and service and parts are scarce.

* Plan on 1 to 3 years spare time for an extensive rebuild

* During the rebuild period you will have to pay yard or storage fees.

* You WILL have to have a survey to get insurance. If you are a newbie, Get a survey BEFORE you buy.


* On steel boats make sure the marina you plan to use allows steel boats.

* Coal Tar Epoxy is the best bottom protection available for a metal boat.

* Many RV parts are applicable to houseboats. Get a catalog.

These thoughts are not meant as a discouragement to anyone looking to rebuild a houseboat. They are rather thoughts and cautions acquired during a 50+ year love affair working on, rebuilding, and living on boats.

BEFORE YOU BUY ANYTHING BE SURE YOU CAN GET INSURANCE! Don't disregard this warning. Insurance is non existant. for old boats in a LOT of areas of the country.

Best of luck, Old Houseboater.

NOTE: there are a lot of replies in the OLD FORUM that make interesting reading.


08-06-2012, 06:42 PM
Very helpful information. We're newbies and have been looking at aluminum hull boats for a few weekends. I've got some questions for you and anyone who would like to chime in. A couple of the boats that we like have extremely low hours on them. One of them is 8 years old and hasn't been out of the slip since delivery! They start easy and seem to run fine. What special things should we watch for on boats that have been sitting so much of their lives? I'm guessing impellers could be a problem. Also, would a marine surveyor check out the mechanics enough to spot a problem with a "floater" boat? Would they come along on a test drive?

09-17-2012, 07:18 PM
Surveyor can spot a lot of problems. Having never been out of the water makes it imperative that an "OUT OF WATER SURVEY" be performed.

Don't move the boat until you suck the bottom of the fuel tanks. The tank pickup is about an inch off the bottom of the tank. If you move tthe boat there may be enough nasties in the bottom to slosh and be drawn into the intake contaminating the fuel system. The installed filter will be choked.
This is even more important if this is an injected engine. Mechanicals that set for extended periods may develop internal rusting on surfaces that are deprived of an oil film. Sometimes this can cause future problems sometimes not. You deal the cards and take what comes.

Keep us up to date.

09-19-2012, 07:31 AM
We selected a different boat that was used often on water and very well maintained. We are now owners and very happy. Thanks.

02-11-2015, 07:12 PM
Old Houseboater - While I would love to get into another aluminum hull boat, I'd like to get newer than the 71 Kingscraft we had to sell. While a couple of the boats on your preferred list show up in our area, we seem to have an abundance of Gibsons, many with quite attractive pricing. How do they stack up compared to some of the other makes? What areas might be of special concern?

Also, retirement is getting closer, and we're seriously considering a houseboat as a retirement home (assuming we can find a boat and marina that allows liveaboards in the price range we'll be able to afford. I see the advancing years making maintenance more of a chore, or big expense if I have to pay someone else to do it. Do any boats have better record for lower maintenance requirements? I realize that stuff like engine maintenance, winterizing, etc is going to be a given, but all the other repair stuff, what holds up the best?

02-13-2015, 09:08 AM
Charles, check out an aluminum pontoon houseboat. Manufacturers include Sailabration out of Powell, TN and Destination Yachts out of Indiana, I think.

02-13-2015, 05:46 PM
A move up in quality and durability in a glass boat would be a Harbor Master.

Look for a boat that was slipped under cover. Tennessee Kentucky Miississippi Alabama. An outside slipped boat ages at 5 times the rate of a boat in a covered slip.

Theres nothing wrong with a Gibson. There are more of them around than any other brand. for retirement you might look for an Executive Model. 1 level and lots of living space. Many had 454's but others had 350's, probably todays choice.

The choice of many retireies to day is Lake style boats. Lots of living space pontoon or single hulls available. DON'T buy a single engine unit unless it's going to sit dock side mos of the time. Don't be shy of outboard powered. 50 foot minimum.

Where are you planning on setteling? whats your budget?

Remember most houseboats were ment for week ending. Look for pantry space and hanging closet storage.

I looked at a 3 stateroom Lake Style and it had 2 huge heads and only 1 small hanging closet. STUPID. For a retired couple a 2 stateroom boat with 1 nice head makes a lot of sense.

We lived aboard 7 years, bes of my life.


02-13-2015, 08:25 PM
Our area has some Harbour Masters, and that is one we have considered. Most though are under 45 ft. There are a couple in our price range over 50 though. The Sailabration and Destination are nice, but out of our price range. I couldn't find "Lake Style" manufacturer or model, did you mean Lake View? The Executive model is what is making me interested in Gibson. I Really like the fact that most of the boat is single level so my wife (who has some trouble getting around) can have easier access, and we would have the more private cuddy cabin for guests (or for me to hide in, I mean even a 50+ footer can get a bit crowded if you can't get away from each other from time to time) or even extra storage.

My wife is a retired teacher, and I'm a chemist, and even though people seem to think chemist is a high dollar profession, she made more than me while she worked, and substantially more in retirement, so we need to watch the dollars both in the purchase and in the operating/maintenance budget. How much we spend depend on a couple things. We will have more money (~$90-100K) once we retire and sell the house and can turn equity into the boat, but on the other hand, getting something cheaper (~$20-50K) would give us a chance to use it now and hopefully get everything fixed up before we live in it.

Location is still under consideration too. I HATE winter, so definitely want to leave Missouri winters behind. My wife is leaning toward coastal areas, but I'm not sure about a houseboat in the ICW or even the bays, not only because I've been in storms there, but also the extra maintenance on the boat. I'm not terribly fond of rivers (the crap drifting down the river, the constant current you have to fight, and seasonal floods) so probably a lake. From there, it's a matter of where we can find a marina that welcomes liveaboards. The boat we pick might have an influence too. I've been told aluminum doesn't like salt water, so a coastal area would definitely be out if we live in an aluminum boat, and some boats do look like they would be better able to handle rough water than others.

02-14-2015, 01:38 PM
Check out Joe Wheeler Marina in Rogersville Alabama. Between Huntsville and Florence. We were there 13 years and lived aboard 7. God's country for Houseboating.

Take a couple of days and stay at the Lodge. One of Alabamas premier State Parks.

02-16-2015, 05:36 PM
Thanks. I'll check them out!

02-20-2015, 03:10 PM
I am a newbie looking at purchasing our first houseboat. We have our eyes on a 1995 52 foot Skipperliner which is constructed with a steel monohull. It appears to be in very good condition, however with the cautions against purchasing a steel hulled houseboat I am now thinking twice about it. Given that the boat is 20 years old does anyone have any thoughts or any experience with this type of boat?

02-20-2015, 03:42 PM
Skipperliners are beautiful boats. Earilier vintages have had rust issues in several areas. As well as the hull it self, check roof for soft spots, ceiling area and around windows for past water intrusion. Also check all deck joints. bottom of doors and hatch areas. Ladder areas going up to the sundeck. Steel boats are suspect even when sound.



If you do go for it: GET AN OUTSTANDING SURVEY - Assume you will be the last owner and have to dispose of it at the end of your ownership - Get a heck of a deal on it.

I have owned 3 steel RiverQueens. I can state that when I sold every one there was not a spot of rust anywhere. Most owners would NOT spend the hours to maintain them to the level that I did.

My last 4 houseboats were aluminum. I would never go back.

03-08-2015, 05:05 PM
Hi OLD HOUSEBOATER, you have done really a great job. Your post is very informative. I am interested to buy a Houseboat but I have a problem, that I have no Insurance Source. What can I do? Have any other way to buy?
Thanks for the informative post.


03-08-2015, 06:17 PM
This is a BIG problem. After 10 years old, insurance people start to get picky. Insurance for steel boats is almost non existant. Home builts are also tough to insure. Amelia got insurance for their homebuilt. You might give her a PM.

03-10-2015, 01:04 PM

Lynn Stem
Kaigler & Company
7028 Church Street East, Suite 200
Brentwood, TN 37027

03-11-2015, 07:04 AM
Thanks Tom

Anybody else have any possible contacts?

09-20-2015, 06:31 AM
Hi Old Houseboater this thread is full of info thanks for that. We have been looking for a aluminum hull houseboat that was with in our budget. We have found this one http://lexington.craigslist.org/bod/5199073008.html.. Any thoughts or things that i should look for that would rule it out before I spend the money on a survey.

09-20-2015, 08:47 AM
This is a link to another forum I participate in. The guy has a pretty good list. Good Luck