Living on a houseboat can be a cost-effective and rewarding experience, but there are unique challenges to consider before living aboard full-time.
It's completely possible to live on a houseboat full time, and many people do it. Houseboats require more maintenance than traditional houses and often have less space, though they are safe and comfortable homes for those willing to make minor lifestyle changes.
In this article, we'll go over some of the unique challenges of living full-time on a houseboat. We'll also cover some of the primary benefits of living on a houseboat and why you may want to consider moving onto one.
We sourced the information used in this article from people who currently live on houseboats, forums, and other related resources. We sourced information about cost from official housing statistics.
Challenges of Living on a Houseboat
Living aboard any sort of boat comes with a unique set of challenges, and houseboats are no exception. Here are some of the unique things to consider before moving on to a houseboat full-time.
Location and Commuting
Houseboats are limited in where they can dock, and thus, you're limited in where you can live. Unlike sailboats and powerboats, houseboats can't be subjected to much pitching or rolling.
Houseboats aren't seaworthy, so they can't power through large waves or busy shipping channels. Houseboats are usually only found in calm waters close to shore utilities, which rules out many docking locations.
If you work from home, this won't be much of an issue as you won't need to commute from a strange location. If you don't work from home, you may want to find a docking location that's close to your workplace. This is especially important if your marina doesn't have safe and affordable parking.
Unlike apartments or real estate developments, houseboats aren't usually 'turn-key.' Once you find a place to put your houseboat, you'll need to hook it up to utilities on the shore.
That means you are responsible for the high voltage wires that plug you into the grid and also for the freshwater and sewage lines. Modern utilities are pretty easy to install, but sometimes maintenance can be unpleasant or hazardous.
After all, nobody wants to deal with sewage lines more than absolutely necessary. On a houseboat, your utilities are certainly not out of sight and out of mind.
Maintenance is one of the few considerations that can go either way, as maintaining a small houseboat can be much less expensive than maintaining a large house. However, houseboats can be more labor-intensive (on your end) than a land-based house, as you also have a hull and buoyancy to worry about.
Additionally, houseboat owners have pumps and safety equipment to maintain and replace occasionally. Thankfully, marine stores are everywhere, and serviceable equipment is affordable and widely available.
The final drawback to living on a houseboat is space, as houseboats are naturally smaller than most land-based houses. This isn't an issue if you're moving from a small studio apartment into an average size houseboat, as the additional privacy and room will likely be a welcome change.
However, if you're moving from the average 2,500 square-foot suburban home, living on a houseboat may take some getting used to. You'll probably need to part with some of your furniture, and regular household items may require some creative storage solutions. Personal organization is key in the confined space of a houseboat.
Benefits of Living on a Houseboat
There's a long list of benefits to living on a houseboat, as many liveaboards are often keen to point out. Here are some of the upsides to living on a houseboat full time and a few reasons why you may consider making a move.
Reduced Living Expenses
It's easy to make a financial case for living on a houseboat, especially if the alternative is a traditional large suburban home. The average price of a houseboat is around $50,000, whereas the average price of a suburban home is over $250,000.
Additionally, it's usually much cheaper to rent a slip in a marina than a comparably-sized apartment in a major city, and utilities are also less expensive. Property taxes are usually a non-issue, as they only apply on land. This is a major benefit in states (such as Texas) with notoriously high property taxes.
Freedom to Move
Houseboats are movable, which is a great option for people who need to move within the same region. Houseboat owners have been known to move for everything from finding a better school district to wanting a simple change of scenery.
However, it's usually not as simple as just firing up the engine and motoring to a new dock. Moving a houseboat is typically comparable to moving a double-wide trailer. It's possible, but it takes some planning and expense.
Faster Home Ownership
Rising housing costs and inflation has made homeownership more difficult over the years. But as we mentioned earlier, the overall price of purchasing a houseboat is significantly lower and an average size suburban home.
In other words, purchasing a houseboat is similar to buying a somewhat optioned-out new SUV. With that in mind, the prospect of homeownership is likely within reach of most people, and it doesn't have to take 30 years to pay off the loan.
No Building Codes or Permits
Houseboats or a do-it-yourselfer's dream. There is no national or uniform building code for privately-owned houseboats, and most localities have few (if any) specific rules related to building or modifying floating homes.
Houseboats offer the freedom to experiment with alternative energy (wind and solar), unique architectural styles, custom floor plans, and alternative building materials. In other words, you probably don't have to ask anybody's permission or wait for costly and complicated city permits.
That said, always check your local and state laws before building or modifying a houseboat, and be safe.
Is it Legal to Live on a Houseboat Full Time?
There are no federal laws that prohibit people from living on houseboats, and most states don't address the issue directly. In other words, it's legal to live full time on a houseboat in most places.
However, some localities specifically prohibit living on a houseboat, and others ban it indirectly through zoning. In many cases, houseboat legality depends on how local zoning and housing laws define a 'dwelling.'
Some localities set minimum square footage requirements on legal dwellings, while others simply don't allow houseboats within city limits. Check your local and state laws, or ask a local marina for liveaboard information.
Is Full-Time Houseboat Living Worth It?
Living on a houseboat is worth it to many people, especially those who appreciate the cost savings and independent lifestyle that houseboats provide.
Living on a houseboat requires some extra effort, but your lifestyle change doesn't have to be dramatic. You can still enjoy the same amenities that you have in a traditional house, and you don't have to confine your life into a dark sailboat cabin or cramped powerboat quarters.
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