What Is A Houseboat? | LakeWizard

Houseboats are almost incomparable to sailboats and powerboats. But how do you identify houseboats, and what makes them different?

Houseboats are long and spacious vessels designed for comfort. Most move under their own power, but only in protected waterways. Houseboats are more spacious and comfortable than other kinds of boats but less seaworthy.

In this article, we’ll explain the design characteristics and uses of houseboats. We’ll show you how to spot them, along with their strengths and weaknesses when compared to other common types of boats.

We sourced the information used in this article from trusted boat guides and from our own research into houseboat, sailboat, and powerboat design characteristics.

Table of contents


What are Houseboats For?

Houseboats are recreational vessels designed to provide creature comforts and stability in floating form. Houseboats have accommodations for many people, wide spaces, great lighting, and decks for recreation.

Houseboats are used as recreational touring vessels and full-time houses for many people. The vast majority of houseboats can cruise under their own power in calm conditions, but some aren’t designed to move.

Houseboats are extremely popular at rental marinas. Families and friend groups can rent houseboats for a few hundred dollars per person and enjoy a floating vacation or party platform.

How Big are Houseboats?

Houseboats can be significantly larger than sailboats and powerboats. The average houseboat is around 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, though they get as long as 60+ feet in some cases.

Houseboats can accommodate ten or more people or provide a comfortable full-time living space for an entire family. These vessels are designed to fit as much luxury and accommodation into a limited space as possible, which explains their rectangular shape.

Where Can Houseboats Go?

Houseboats can navigate almost all inland waterways that other boats can. However, they can’t go offshore, or in the ocean, as their hull shape, top-heaviness, and boxy design would be swamped by large waves in moments.

Additionally, houseboats would be supremely uncomfortable in rough weather.

Houseboats are found in rivers and lakes. Some lakes, like Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, are home to hundreds of houseboats that serve as primary residences, vacation homes, and party boats.

Houseboat Characteristics—How to Spot a Houseboat

So, what sets houseboats apart from other common types of boats? For one, their size and shape. Houseboats are long and boxy, as they prioritize living space over seaworthiness.

Houseboat hulls are usually flat, and sometimes houseboats use pontoons. This gives the living spaces very little clearance from the water and explains why houseboats aren’t suitable for use offshore.

Houseboat Comfort and Living Spaces

Houseboats have the best accommodations of any kind of recreational vessel. They have wide spaces, large decks, and full-size living amenities. Additionally, they have spacious bathrooms, unlike other kinds of boats with cramped and awkward heads.

Houseboats can often use full-size home appliances, as they’re usually wired for 120v-15a power throughout. Also, houseboat appliances don’t require marine appliances for rough water, as they never encounter big waves.

A typical houseboat has one or more bedrooms, a bathroom or two, a kitchen, living spaces, and even a washing machine. Additionally, the living conditions are a mix between a house and an RV—nothing like the interior of a powerboat or a sailboat.

Houseboat Hull Shapes and Types

Houseboat hulls are only designed to keep the box on top of it afloat. The hull can be a barge, pontoons, oil barrels, or virtually anything else that floats and supports a flat surface.

Some houseboats, specifically cruising vessels, have V-bottom hulls for riding out boat wakes and strong currents. Yet, the vast majority of houseboat hulls are just flat fiberglass tubs that float.

Houseboat Propulsion

Most houseboats have some sort of propulsion system. Usually, this is in the form of one or two modest outboard motors or a medium-sized gas or diesel inboard propulsion unit. Houseboats have larger generators than most other boats, as they have a greater power need.

Houseboat power plants rarely exceed a couple of hundred horsepower. They’re not designed for speed, and they can’t get up on plane—so they just need something reliable to scoot them around at 4 to 8 knots.

Houseboat Displacement and Draft

Houseboats are extremely heavy, but they don’t displace much or draw a very deep draft. This is primarily due to their long length-to-beam ratio and flat hulls. Houseboats are ideal for shallow water, as they rarely draw more than a foot at their deepest point.

Houseboat vs. Powerboat

Houseboats are distinctly different from traditional powerboats. Unlike houseboats, powerboats are built either for speed, rough-water handling capabilities, or both—houseboats are just built to provide comfort and safety in calm waters.

You can live aboard larger powerboats, as they often have full accommodations below. But power boats usually have cramped quarters, miniature marine appliances, and minimal natural light.

Houseboat vs. Sailboat

Sailboat accommodations can be even more cramped and spartan than powerboats, and these vessels share almost nothing in common with houseboats. More often than not, sailboats are designed for bluewater sailing in the ocean.

They have narrow hulls and deep keels for stability, along with a low cabin roof and watertight hatches. Houseboats are easy to get in and out of, whereas sailboats usually require you to descend a ladder to access the cabin.

Many people live on sailboats, but the quality and size of the living spaces pale in comparison to houseboats. Sailboat cabins are dark and cramped and usually offer little to no privacy. Houseboats have lots of natural light and flat walking surfaces, along with spacious bathrooms.

Remember, a sailboat’s primary purpose is to be a good and seaworthy boat. Everything else—like living spaces and beds—is a design afterthought that gets stuffed into whatever haphazardous spaces are left to work with.

Houseboats are designed for living and comfort. The living spaces take priority over all else, which makes them a much more comfortable and inviting place to be.


Brian Samson

Brian Samson

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.

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