Although houseboats are known for spending most of their time tied to the dock, there are numerous houseboats that can cruise under their own power.
Houseboats can move under their own power, but the extent that they can move varies widely. Cruising houseboats, which are designed for excursions, can cruise at speed for hundreds of miles without refueling. Other types of houseboats are designed only for limited movement, such as switching between docks or moving out to an anchorage.
In this article, we'll go over the different types of houseboats that can move, how far they can cruise, and the average speed of a houseboat. Additionally, we'll cover what kind of waterways are suitable for houseboats, and how to move a houseboat without an engine.
Resources used in this article come from houseboat experts, houseboat manufacturers, and online boating communities. Additionally, we performed our own research and made calculations to determine the average speeds and range of houseboats.
Cruising houseboats are specifically designed to move under their own power. The vast majority of new houseboats sold in the United States today are cruising houseboats, and they all have at least some ability to move on their own.
The range and capabilities of self-powered cruising houseboats are very different from similarly-sized trawlers or recreational watercraft. Even cruising houseboats have limited abilities, as they're designed to spend most of their time moored or at anchor.
The capabilities of cruising houseboats vary widely. Some cruising houseboats, especially smaller models, are designed primarily for cruising around lakes in between moorings. These vessels usually have a small outboard engine that is steered from the stern.
Larger cruising houseboats have dedicated helms, inboard engines, or multiple large outboard motors. These vessels are much more capable and can cruise much farther in varied weather conditions.
Stationary houseboats are common and protected waters, and many people prefer them for their increased space and comfort. This comfort comes at a price, as stationary houseboats have no engine, propulsion, or steering. In other words, they can be towed but they can't move on their own.
How to Move a Stationary Houseboat
Moving a stationary houseboat isn't as easy as firing it up and driving away. Usually, multiple boats are involved in the tricky process of pushing or towing a houseboat out of its previous location. At the very least, you'll need a tugboat or two for your move, but a single large commercial tug can handle a houseboat with ease.
Permanent Vs. Temporary Mooring
Stationary houseboats are typically moored permanently. That doesn't mean they can never move again, but that they would be difficult to move. Water lines, sewer lines, and power lines are often connected with no intention of removal. These houseboats generally stay in one location for their entire service life, but they can be unplugged, towed, and rewired if absolutely necessary.
Cruising houseboats, due to their ease of movement, are typically moored temporarily. This means that all utilities are connected using removable hoses and wires, allowing them to disconnect safely and depart whenever necessary. Sometimes, cruising houseboats stay in this configuration for years. The primary difference between temporary and permanent mooring is how the vessel connects to shore infrastructure.
How Far can a Houseboat Move?
The distance that a houseboat can move depends on its propulsion type and fuel capacity. Additionally, fuel economy is a factor to consider. If it doesn’t have an engine, it’ll have to be towed. But tugboats can tow a houseboat almost indefinitely, so range comes down to how much you’re willing to pay the tow company. Cruising houseboats, which have engines, are an entirely different story. We’ll use a typical self-powered cruising houseboat as an example below.
Houseboat A is a typical cruising houseboat with a 100-gallon fuel tank and a four-cylinder diesel engine. Houseboat A burns about 10 gallons of fuel per hour, and it has a maximum cruising speed of 15 miles per hour. It follows that houseboat A can travel at full speed for about 150 miles without refueling. At lower speeds (and in fair weather), the range can be extended about 25% to 30%.
About 100 miles is a fairly typical range for a houseboat, though cruising range varies between around 50 miles and upwards of three hundred miles. Houseboats generally don't have fuel tanks larger than 250 gallons, as they're not designed for the kind of cruising that similarly-sized yachts and trawlers engage in.
How Fast Can a Houseboat Move?
Houseboats are not known to be the speediest craft, but modern vessels can reach impressive speeds that are more than adequate for cruising. The average speed of a houseboat is around 8 to 10 miles per hour.
This is relatively slow, as houseboats are generally square-hulled and not particularly hydrodynamic. However, some more powerful houseboats can cruise at 15 miles per hour or better, which is considered excellent for boats of this type.
Is it Hard to Move a Houseboat?
The amount of difficulty involved in moving a houseboat varies based on the vessel type and the operator's experience. Houseboats generally aren't the easiest vessels to control, as they're boxy and generally don't handle well in strong currents or wind. Houseboats have a high profile and shallow draft, which makes them much more prone to drifting and pounding in heavy chop.
That said, piloting a houseboat in open water and in fair weather can be very easy, especially at slow speeds. Moving a permanently moored houseboat is a much more laborious process, as it involves tugboats, tow lines, radio communications, and other strenuous tasks.
Where can Houseboats Cruise?
Houseboats cannot cruise everywhere that a sailboat, yacht, or trawler can. This is because of their design, as houseboats are built for comfort and not seaworthiness.
That said, cruising houseboats are more than capable of navigating most rivers, lakes, and lagoons. Houseboats can cruise in almost any navigable inland waterway with sufficient depth and fair weather.
How Much does it Cost to Move a Houseboat?
The cost to move a cruising houseboat (assuming it runs) is generally just the cost of fuel multiplied by distance. This can be pricey, as houseboats often burn about one gallon of fuel per mile or more. Moving a stationary houseboat is a different story, as Tugboat Services can be extremely expensive.
The average cost of a tugboat is between $500 and $1,000 per hour. over-the-road transportation is often less expensive over greater distances, but it can still cost between $10,000 and $30,000 to ship houseboats across the country via land.
Can You Add an Engine to a Houseboat?
Owners of stationary houseboats often wonder if they can convert their floating house into a functional moving boat. Generally, it's not feasible to convert houseboats (that weren't designed to move) into self-powered vessels.
This is because cruising houseboats differ in many ways from stationary houseboats, and they include complex hydraulic, electrical, and mechanical equipment that's necessary for navigation. Additionally, hull design makes stationary houseboats generally unsafe to operate under their own power.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson