A houseboat is a great way to experience the open water and see many different places without changing hotels. But how fast does a houseboat go?
People usually go well under their maximum speed when driving their houseboats. A fast boat is designed very differently from a houseboat, with a different hull shape and less weight relative to its engine power.
Houseboats max out at 8-10 mph on average, with some houseboats maxing out at 15 mph. Unlike regular houseboats, some yachts are fast - capable of going more than 60 miles per hour. Rowboats and sailboats can be slower than houseboats, but most boats are faster.
Houseboats sink into the water and push through it as they move. Faster boats skim along the top of the water after they build up enough speed. A houseboat cannot skim along the water - if you go too fast, the boat's nose will move upwards, and the boat will slow down.
As someone who has had a houseboat for a decade, I would not drive the boat fast even if it were possible to do this. Houseboats are big, heavy vehicles without brakes, and it takes time for them to slow down. There would not be a lot of opportunities to drive a houseboat fast without danger.
Houseboats are Slow Because of their Weight
First off, houseboats are heavy - 10,000 or 20,000 pounds, so there is no way they are traveling as fast as light and fast boats. Even with fairly powerful engines, houseboats are still going to travel slowly. Very fast boats are lightweight and have powerful engines.
Houseboats are one of the slowest types of boats. Sailboats and small fishing boats can usually go faster than them. Despite their slow speed, they can still cover a reasonable distance each day if they spend enough hours traveling.
Are There Fast Houseboats?
Some houseboats can go faster than average, but only up to about 15 miles per hour or so. These are large, expensive boats with large engines. It would be difficult to make a fast houseboat, and there may not be enough of a market for it.
A Houseboat Deck is Low to the Ground
Since a houseboat deck is so low, there is a risk of too much water getting on the deck. Eventually, this could flood the boat, perhaps even sink it.
Usually, this isn't a problem, but it would be a problem if a houseboat were going very fast. Waves would go over the deck at a high speed. A slow houseboat won't get flooded.
Houseboats Carry People and Items Around
Another reason why houseboats are slow is that they carry furniture, appliances, people, and supplies around. The weight of the passengers and possessions in addition to the mass of the boat itself slows the boat down.
A houseboat that is 25 feet long and 8 feet wide may be able to carry around 11 or 13 passengers safely. This adds roughly another ton to the weight of the already heavy boat. Even without many people onboard, a houseboat is still weighed down by people's belongings.
Even if the boat has few people on it, there is still the weight of the beds, washing machines, driers, and supplies. Houseboats also have large fuel tanks, which weigh them down even more if they are full. A houseboat can't travel very fast even with a large engine.
There Might Not Be a Market for Fast Houseboats
People usually drive a houseboat slower than the maximum speed of 8-10 miles per hour for the sake of safety. For this reason, there might not be much demand for a houseboat that can go much faster.
People Overestimate Their Boat Driving Skills
You don't always need a license to drive a boat in the United States. This makes people overestimate their skill level, leading to boating accidents.
If you are new to houseboats, don't drive at the maximum speed. Drive slowly and carefully, because you could run the boat into the ground or worse otherwise. Remember that boats can't stop right away, so what seems to be a slow and safe speed is dangerously fast in some situations.
A Fast Houseboat Would Be Expensive
A houseboat needs a powerful engine just to move at 10 miles per hour. The boat weighs five, ten, or more tons, and is not shaped in a way that helps it go bast. You would need a huge and expensive engine to make a fast houseboat.
Usually, an engine twice as powerful makes a boat go less than twice as fast. An engine that is twice as powerful may also be more than twice as expensive. Since the engine is a big part of the total cost of a boat, fast houseboats would be unaffordable.
People usually don't want their motorized houseboats to be very fast, they only want them to be able to cover a reasonably long enough distance each day. As long as a houseboat owner can take their boat down a very long river to a different part of the country in a reasonable amount of time, they don't need it to be any faster.
A Fast Houseboat Would Be Fuel Inefficient
If you drive a car, truck, boat, or any other motor vehicle either too fast or too slow, you get poor fuel efficiency. You will get more miles per gallon on a car if you drive at an efficient speed, and if you drive at a constant speed instead of speeding up and slowing down.
For a houseboat, an efficient speed is only five miles per hour. People are not likely to need to travel a distance in a short time in a houseboat. What they want is to travel a long distance without spending a fortune on fuel, so they drive slowly.
For these reasons, there just isn't much consumer demand for faster houseboats. A company could easily lose money if they developed a fast houseboat that not nearly enough people wanted.
How Does Fuel Efficiency Work?
Any motor vehicle has a sweet spot where it is most fuel-efficient. If you drive either too fast or too slow, your mileage will worsen. This is particularly important for houseboats because the fuel is so expensive.
In cars, the sweet spot is often quite fast. You have to travel about 80 km/h (50 mph) to reach peak fuel efficiency. However, with a large boat that does not have a hull designed for speed, something more like 5 mph is most efficient.
Why Do Higher and Lower Speeds Make You Go Slower?
If you drive a car very fast, wind resistance makes it harder to keep accelerating. The wind will always be pushing against your car and trying to slow you down, so you will have to use more than twice as much fuel to drive twice as fast.
Air resistance is also more than twice as strong if you drive twice as fast. It increases faster than the speed, so it takes a lot more fuel to drive at 80 miles per hour than to drive at 50. Most of the total drag on a fast-moving car is air resistance.
Going too slow is also a waste of fuel. If you go much slower than the maximum speed, the engine won't work as efficiently, and you will use more gas to travel the same distance.
Is Fuel Efficiency on Boats Any Different?
Fuel efficiency works in a similar way on boats. To get the best mileage, you should go about 80% of your houseboat's maximum speed. Usually, you need to get your engine going over 2000 but under 3000 RPM to achieve peak efficiency.
On a boat, if you travel too fast, the drag the water generates will increase very fast and your boat will use more energy to travel the same distance. At high speeds, a small increase in speed can mean a large increase in drag.
Houseboat Fuel is Expensive
Another reason why fuel efficiency is so important on houseboats is that it costs a lot of money to move a large boat a long distance. Houseboats only get about two or three miles per gallon. A car that gets 20 or 30 miles per gallon is near the bottom of car fuel efficiency, so a houseboat is not a cheap way to travel.
Fuel consumption for boats is often measured as gallons per hour, not miles per gallon. Many engines have instruments that let you know how much fuel you are burning, so you can easily learn about your boat's fuel efficiency.
What is a Boat's "Hull Speed?"
A hull speed is a theoretical maximum speed for a boat based on its hull shape. If a boat speeds up, the wave in front of the bow becomes larger until it is even with the waterline.
When the wave becomes that large, the nose of the ship rises and it becomes hard to go any faster. While the hull speed is not a hard limit on how fast a boat can go, it does become much harder to accelerate once you reach it.
Most boats including houseboats use a displacement hull, which pushes the water out of the way. This makes them limited by their hull speed. Some light and fast types of boats use planing hulls, meaning that they float on top of the water when traveling quickly and are not limited by any hull speed.
Calculating a Boat's Hull Speed
Calculating the rough maximum speed of a boat is surprisingly easy. You only need some simple math and the length of the ship's waterline.
Hull speed (in knots) = 1.34 X Square Root (Length of waterline in feet)
So if the length of a boat's waterline was 49 feet, you would find the square root of that (7), then multiply that by 1.34 and get a maximum speed of 9.38 knots.
Hull Speed Doesn't Apply to All Boats
Some boats can go significantly faster than their hull speed. A canoe, for example, is long, thin, and good at cutting through the water. This makes it faster than its not very long waterline would suggest.
Hull speed is a reasonably good estimate of a boat's maximum speed. Catamarans, some kayaks, and boats with planing hulls can exceed this limit, but a boat's actual maximum speed is often similar to its hull speed.
If you go faster than your hull speed with a houseboat or any other kind of boat, you will hit diminishing returns. It will take a big increase in engine power to make your boat go only slightly faster.
How Do Planing Hulls Work?
Boats that can travel much faster than houseboats need very different hulls to do so. A boat has to be shaped a certain way to go very fast, just as a car or a plane does. Instead of cutting through the air with little resistance, a boat must cut through the water with as little drag as possible.
Boats with planing hulls "skip" along the surface of the water rather than push through it. It is sort of like skipping a stone along the surface.
A planing hull pushes a boat above the water when it is going fast enough. This reduces contact with the water, which minimizes drag and makes the boat much faster than a boat with a displacement hull.
What is Planing Speed?
Planing speed is how fast you have to go to rise above the surface of the water. If you go below the planing speed, the boat will have to push through the water, which will use a lot of energy.
You may actually use less energy at a higher speed if your boat has a planing hull. It can also become easier to accelerate at higher speeds instead of much harder to accelerate after you reach your boat's hull speed.
Types of Planing Hulls
There are two types of planing hulls, a flat-bottom hull, and a deep-v hull, with some boats being somewhere between. A flat hull is used on dinghies and some fishing boats. These hulls rise above the water because there is so little distance between the water level and the lowest part of the boat.
Flat-bottom hulls are not good at all if there are waves. A deep-v hull performs much better against waves because it can cut through them. Even though the boat mostly skims along the water at high speed, a deep-v hull still cuts through the water and can be safe to use on the open sea.
How Do Engine Horsepower and Weight Affect Speed?
Hull speed is not the only way to calculate how fast a boat will go. You can use a less simple formula to get a better estimate that works for boats with planing as well as displacement hulls.
How Fast Are Other Types of Boats Compared to Houseboats?
Nearly all types of powered boats are as fast as or faster than houseboats, which travel at 8-10 mph or up to 15 mph in some cases. Pontoon boats travel at 15-30mph (sometimes up to 35 mph) and cruiser boats at 16-30mph (sometimes up to 50mph). Bass boats travel at 30 to 50 miles per hour and often go 70 mph or faster.
Houseboats can be as fast as or faster than sailboats. Sailboats travel at 8 mph or up to 12 mph. Rowboats are also usually slower than houseboats, only going 5 or 6 miles per hour.
Houseboats have to work as houses as well as boats, which prevents them from being fast. A houseboat is heavy, contains rooms and furniture, and could never be as fast as a small boat built for speed.
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