Houseboats are some of the safest floating objects around. Houseboats don't sink often, but sinking is still possible and almost always preventable.
Houseboats, like virtually all other boats, can sink in some situations. This usually occurs due to a collision, a fire, or unsafe handling during transport. Houseboats are least likely to sink when they're well maintained and moored in a safe location.
In this article, we’ll cover why houseboats sink, how often they sink, and how houseboat safety stacks up against other recreation watercraft. We’ll also go over helpful tips to reduce the odds of sinking and other preventable accidents.
We sourced the information for this article from U.S. Coast Guard statistics, safety records, and from boating experts familiar with houseboats.
What Causes a Houseboat to Sink?
Houseboats sink for the same reason other boats sink. Water gets inside and replaces enough air to make the houseboat negatively buoyant. This is most often caused by a collision, a structural failure, capsizing (tipping over), or a severe storm event.
Houseboat sinkings are more likely to occur during transport, as this is when collision, boat wakes, and bad weather are most often encountered. Houseboats moored in the proper location are generally safe from boat traffic, ocean swells, and the worst of a severe weather event.
Do Houseboats Sink Often?
No, houseboats do not sink often. In fact, recreational boat sinking is relatively rare considering how many people own boats. Houseboats are particularly unlikely to sink. This is primarily due to the fact that houseboats spend most of their time tied up to a dock in well-protected waters.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, not a single person died in America as a result of a recreational boat sinking in 2017. That same year, only 213 boats sank due to an accident, and not a single one of them was a houseboat.
Houseboats are significantly less likely to be involved in any kind of accident than powerboats or sailboats. For reference, 71 major accidents or incidents occurred on houseboats in 2017. Compare that to open motorboats, which experienced nearly three times that in alcohol-related accidents alone.
Why are Houseboats Less Likely to Sink?
The primary reason why houseboats are less likely to sink is because they barely ever move. Many recreational boat sinkings are caused by moving collisions with other boats or stationary objects, which are often hidden underwater.
How Houseboats Float
Houseboats, by design, are resistant to sinking in the environments that they spend the most time in. Next, we'll cover why houseboats sink less and which types of houseboats are the least likely to sink.
Houseboats with traditional hulls, such as powered leisure houseboats and canal-style vessels, are navigable vessels that physically resemble boats. These vessels are the strongest, as their design is based on either industrial workboats or self-propelled pleasure boats.
Despite being the strongest, these types of houseboats are the most likely to sink. Keep in mind, the margin is extremely small, but any boat that moves under its own power is more likely to suffer a collision or other accident.
Some houseboats are built atop one or several buoyancy blocks. These blocks are usually made of foam, plastic, or another positive buoyancy substance that resists water and floats well. Technically speaking, unless it's burned or torn to shreds, it's practically impossible to sink positive buoyancy material.
Designs differ between manufacturers and builders, but houseboats built on material that can't sink are very difficult to sink in the traditional sense. Parts of the vessel may end up submerged, but the foundation won’t sink. The only exception is if the foundation comes apart or the houseboat flips over, which can occur in hurricanes and other severe weather situations.
A barge is essentially a floating tub designed to be filled with stuff and towed along a waterway. Barges are extremely tough and resistant to impact and strain, making them a great platform to build a houseboat on.
Barges, like traditional hulls, can sink if they fill with water. But the odds of a barge being damaged badly enough to fill with water and sink are low, especially if it's tied up to a safe dock all year round.
Pontoons are great, and houseboats built on them enjoy numerous benefits. Pontoon houseboats always have multiple pontoons, which are typically made of stainless steel or aluminum and welded shut on both ends. Without damage, water can't fill a pontoon and can't sink the houseboat on it.
A pontoon houseboat can only sink if it flips over or if enough of the tough metal pontoons get punctured. Pontoons are particularly safe, as it generally takes more than one of them to fail before the boat actually sinks.
How to Prevent a Houseboat from Sinking
Houseboats sometimes sink or suffer damage when houseboat owners take them where they aren't designed to go. This is common with self-propelled leisure houseboats, as it's easy to stray from protected waters and enter choppy and dangerous conditions.
These vessels are often boxy, underpowered, and top-heavy. These characteristics make them difficult to maneuver and vulnerable when underway. Houseboats are designed to favor living comfort over sea keeping abilities, so it's best to move them as little as possible.
Moving or stationary, maintenance is the most important thing you can do to reduce (or nearly eliminate) the odds of your houseboat sinking.
A well-maintained houseboat will be structurally sound and unlikely to suffer any physical failure that would cause it to sink. This includes repairing leaks, maintaining the hull or pontoons, and regular structural and cosmetic inspections.
Additionally, maintain your vessel's electrical systems to reduce the odds of a fire. Keep at least one fire extinguisher aboard, as fire is one of the biggest threats to houseboats.
A fire can easily cause your boat to sink as it weakens structural supports. It could also completely destroy flotation materials, especially if they're bolstered by flammable buoyancy foam.
Houseboat Sinking Safety
Houseboats are some of the safest vessels around when it comes to sinking. After all, years have gone by without a single houseboat sinking in the United States due to an accident. That said, houseboat owners should still prepare and stock adequate equipment in case of an unexpected sinking.
This includes all the required Coast Guard equipment such as life jackets and throwable flotation cushions. You and your guests are much more likely to fall off of a houseboat than to sink it, so easily accessible flotation is a good idea regardless.
Additionally, make sure your houseboat has adequate exits in at least two places. This could include a front door and a roof hatch or a window that's large enough to fit through. This will help ensure that you can escape if one part of the boat becomes submerged or inaccessible.
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