Many people live full-time on houseboats and participate in civic life. But where does your mail go when you live on a houseboat?
Some houseboats have dedicated physical home addresses, but most receive mail to the marina they’re docked at. Other houseboaters have a PO Box in town and list the marina as their place of residence, sometimes with the slip number included.
In this article, we’ll go over how houseboat addresses work, along with the best and most secure ways to receive mail. Additionally, we’ll cover the basics of liveaboard mail and address registration, along with the legal status of houseboats as homes. We’ll also cover a few common address practices that you should avoid.
We sourced the information in this article from reputable news sources, court cases, city statutes, and the advice of the liveaboard houseboat community.
Is a Houseboat a Legal Residence?
Yes, a houseboat can be a legal residence. The law allows a boat to be your dwelling, but the lines get blurry when the boat is floating on the water. In most cases, you can use your houseboat as your primary house and even get a dedicated legal address.
Is a Houseboat Considered a House?
Many people wonder if a houseboat is technically considered a house. And the answer is—it depends, and kind of. Here’s what we mean. Houseboats can be classified as houses, but the definition of a ‘house’ varies between states. Generally speaking, a boat, RV, trailer, or even a car can be considered a house fully or partially in most states if it meets a few criteria.
Houseboats are more likely than sailboats or power boats to be legally considered a house. In most places, some houseboats are considered houses when it comes to private property rights. A recent Supreme Court case originating in Florida ruled that a houseboat is actually a house, and owners enjoy many of the protections that homeowners do.
From the language of the ruling, it appears that stationary houseboats (that cannot move under their own power) have the most protection. The court looked over the houseboat (which was a wooden house built on pontoons) and classified it as a house, thus exempting it from seizure or search by maritime enforcement.
Powered houseboats are a different story because they’re classified as vessels. The coast guard can still board and search a houseboat at any time for any reason, and most states allow local law enforcement to do the same. The exception is if you’re on private property in a private lake.
Can Houseboats Receive Mail?
Yes, of course! Houseboats and their residents can receive mail and packages, especially if they keep the houseboat on private property. The process of receiving mail on a houseboat varies widely, but everyone can do it if they set up their deliveries and addresses properly.
How do Liveaboards Receive Mail?
People who live aboard houseboats have a few options for receiving mail. This varies based on how the marina is laid out and where your houseboat is docked. Usually, the boat itself doesn’t have a mailbox. Instead, the marina has a front desk mail container or a set of private PO Boxes for each liveaboard dock.
You can also set up a PO Box at the local post office and register it with the address of the marina and your slip number. Usually, you have to get permission from the marina first, but most marinas will accommodate you if you ask politely.
Houseboats with Dedicated Street Addresses
Some houseboats have dedicated addresses. These houseboats are usually custom stationary houseboats, often made to look like houses. These boats aren’t designed to move—instead, they usually make up small communities of permanently docked floating homes along rivers and lakes.
Stationary houseboats like these are often adjacent to a road. As a result, the city can list the vessels as individual houses on the street and give them the right to install a mailbox on the street or on the deck of the houseboat. In this case, a houseboat can have a normal address, such as “101 Houseboat Street” and so on.
Marina addresses vary widely. Basic marinas may direct liveaboards to simply have their mail sent to the marina office. This system works in small marinas where residents are on a first-name basis with the staff, and there’s a level of mutual trust involved.
Other larger marinas have more apartment-like mailing systems. They may have you direct mail to the office with a slip number on the address, such as “101 Marina Street, Slip 4,” or something to that effect. Others have individual boxes for each tenant, and the address will be something like “101 Marina Street, Box 55,” and so on.
What’s the Best Kind of Houseboat Address?
The best kind of houseboat address is one that leads directly to the houseboat. In other words, if you can have a dedicated mailbox that goes directly to your boat (and not through a marina office), you’ll have the most direct and secure access to your mail deliveries.
However, most houseboat owners can’t have a private mailbox that belongs only to them. Instead, a PO Box at the post office or in the marina building are the more likely scenarios. These are usually safe and secure, though you may not have 24/7 access to your mail or the ability to receive certain kinds of packages.
The least secure form of houseboat address is the marina itself. It’s true that many people have their mail sent directly to the marina, but this allows anyone to view your deliveries and may result in theft. Keeping your mail private when it sits in a tray on the desk is impossible, as everyone who walks into the office will see your name and the package.
Do You Need a Houseboat Address?
Technically, you can get away with using a remote PO Box or having your mail delivered to the marina office. However, there are times when you’ll need to provide a physical address, especially when registering for licenses, paying taxes, or making a big purchase.
Usually, when an official document asks for your place of residence, they want the exact location they can go to find you. This is usually just a formality, but it can be a big deal if you don’t give them the right location or incomplete information. A PO Box address will usually not be sufficient, and you may have trouble filing important paperwork.
If necessary, you can talk to the marina to establish a more specific address for your houseboat. If you’re a long-term renter or permanently moored at a specific slip, simply ask the marina if you can have your mail addressed to “101 Marina Street, Slip 4” or something to that effect.
Mailing Address vs. Place of Residence
Your mailing address is simply the place where you receive mail, and it doesn’t have to be the same place where your houseboat is. Your place of residence is where you actually live, IE where your houseboat is stored.
In some situations, you can simply list the address of the marina as your place of residence. You may have to clarify this when completing paperwork, as the situation we mentioned above may apply. Generally speaking, it’s best to be as specific as possible when asked for your place of residence.
Can You Use a Different Address for Your Place of Residence?
It depends. You can use a different address as a mailing address, as long as the address registered with the PO Box is where you actually live. You shouldn’t use a different location as your place of residence. Some houseboat owners use their parent’s house or a friend’s house as their legal place of residence, but this practice is sketchy and should be avoided.
Can Houseboats Have Moving Addresses?
This question comes up on houseboat forums from time to time. People often wonder if they can put a mailbox on their houseboat, register it, and receive mail at multiple docking locations. The answer to this question is a resounding no—if your houseboat moves, your mailbox should be fixed to one location.
If you have a stationary houseboat without an engine that’s permanently moored, you can probably have your mailbox on the houseboat. Some localities may require you to have the mailbox on dry land, so it’s best to check first for the safety of the postal workers.
Can You Register a Houseboat Address?
Most states don’t have a formal process specifically for registering a houseboat as a house or filing the address. If you have a stationary houseboat with a permanent mooring on a private shoreline, you can usually just call the city and inform them that the property is now a residence. The address of the land is already registered, so the process is pretty simple.
Local Issues with Houseboat Addresses
Some localities are known in the community for treating liveaboards poorly, and they (intentionally or unintentionally) drag out the process of finding a legal mailing and residential address. These areas may not recognize a boat as a real domicile or bog down the statutes with regulation which makes it extremely confusing.
These areas technically regard houseboat liveaboards as ‘homeless,’ regardless of the fact that a houseboat has been legally recognized many times as a domicile. This issue can usually be settled in court, but it may be worth finding another place to live.
How to Avoid Houseboat Address Red Tape
Red tape is a problem in some locations, but there are a few ways to minimize the hassle of legally occupying your houseboat and receiving mail.
First, find a dedicated dock or marina for your houseboat. Some areas, such as Sausalito, California, are known for their long-term public anchorages. While cheap and convenient, simply anchoring in public waters usually isn’t officially recognized, and thus you’ll have nowhere to list as your address.
Also, find a marina that’s liveaboard-friendly. Don’t try to fly under the radar, as the office may not be receptive if you need their help with mail delivery. Liveaboard marinas, even in areas that are hostile towards houseboats, have the experience and infrastructure needed to establish an official address and receive mail without trouble.
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