Thankfully, it is usually not hard to find a place to park a houseboat. You have to be careful with laws and permits, but it is easy to find a place to park.
Different states/countries have different rules. What is legal in one place might be legal in another. For example, one state may have a law that says you must leave in 30 days; another state may require you to leave after seven days instead.
There are not usually any laws against parking a houseboat in a river or lake. It is common to need a permit/permission first, but it is not common to be forbidden to park your boat in the area. You can also park your boat in a marina, which has advantages but costs money.
People use houseboats in different ways. Some only rent houseboats, many buy them for long vacations, others live in houseboats for many years. Regardless, you have to know how to find somewhere to legally park a houseboat.
I have owned a houseboat for a decade, and I have both stayed in the same spot with it for a long time and taken it on long trips. If you are staying in the same spot, parking is easy to understand - you can find somewhere that will let you stay as long as you want as long as you pay rent. However, finding somewhere to park is trickier if you are traveling around with your boat.
Where Can You Legally Park a Houseboat?
The law is different everywhere, so you will have to look it up for your state or country. Sometimes, you have to move your boat around to avoid breaking local or state laws. A lot of the time, you can moor your boat in a public waterway within certain limitations.
Public Waterways in the United States
There are no large private rivers in the United States. Any river that is large enough to easily take a boat down is always public property. You won't have problems with trespassing laws when taking your boat up any rivers as they are always government land.
All of the land that is underwater is public property. People have the right to use it for swimming, boating, recreation, fishing, and commerce. State governments do not have the right to sell their submerged land to private companies.
However, governments do have the right to pass laws about how the land can be used. A government can, for example, ban people from swimming in a port, which would be dangerous and make the port unusable.
What Types of Rivers are Publicly Owned?
Again, if you can take a houseboat down it, it is almost certainly publicly owned. Texas defines a navigable waterway (any navigable waterway must be open to the -public) as any river or stream that is always at least 30 feet wide. California's laws say that any river you can take a boat down is a navigable waterway.
Many states, cities, and local areas require permits. For example, if you want to remain moored in a harbor for more than 48 hours, you might have to ask for permission. If you want to stay for more than two weeks, you might need a permit.
When traveling with a houseboat, use common sense and don't do anything that should be and likely is illegal. For example, don't block traffic. It is often illegal to anchor anywhere that will obstruct passing boats or boat ramps.
Sometimes, you are legally required to register your boat in a state if you have been there for more than a certain time. Registrations in other states are sometimes valid forever, but other times become invalid after a while. For example, registrations in other states cease to be valid in Mississippi after 60 days.
What About National Parks?
You may be able to explore a national park with a houseboat, but you can't always camp right beside where you park the boat. There are some regulations you have to follow.
For example, at Voyageurs National Park, you must get a permit to stay overnight. If you are not near any developed campsite, you can park your houseboat anywhere. Otherwise, you can only park at designated houseboat sites.
If you want to get out of your houseboat and set up a tent, you must be at least 200 yards away from your developed tent site. Since different national parks have different rules, find out the rules first. You may have to call them and ask questions.
Houseboats On Smaller Lakes
Sometimes, you can take a houseboat out on a smaller like without any problems. However, there is a chance that the lake won't be deep enough, and you could get stuck. If you are in doubt, look up the depth of the lake and its suitability for boats first.
If you get the boat from someone else, you should make sure you get the title transferred to you properly. Titles are legally required in most states and help deter theft.
Houseboats On Your Own Private Lake
If you have a houseboat on your own private lake, laws might be more lenient than on a public waterway. You might be able to do things that would be illegal elsewhere. However, you might still call and ask about what is legal on private property if you plan to live on a houseboat on your own lake.
Houseboat Laws in Different US States
Different states have different rules and regulations. Usually, the laws are reasonably lenient, but you still have to follow them. Take rules involving things like registration and permission seriously, as they may actually enforce the laws.
Since things like gun laws and marijuana laws are different in different states, be aware of changes in the laws while traveling. Sometimes, a police officer can board your boat for little reason or for a minor infraction. Don't keep anything that is illegal in your state onboard.
In Annapolis, you can moor a vessel for up to 30 days in a 180-day period without a permit. However, if you want to stay there for longer or return there more than once and stay there for more than 30 days in total, you need a permit. You must register your boat with the harbormaster.
The Department of Public Safety, which controls boating rules, does not put any extra restrictions on boats people live on. However, some local governments have laws and restrictions.
At the grand lake (also known as the Lake O' the Cherokees), you cannot moor at the same location for more than 48 hours. You must move to another location, which must be at least a mile away.
In New York, local governments determine restrictions on houseboats. On many lakes, no watercraft are allowed, although there are still many places to take a houseboat in New York.
How to Park a Houseboat Properly
To keep your boat safe, you have to anchor it properly. Find a good spot to park your boat - look for a beach and look for anything that will protect your boat from the wind. Approach the beach very slowly until you are just a little offshore and can park your boat.
Place your anchors on the beach and run the lines to your boat at a 45-degree angle. Attach the lines to the cleats at the stern of your boat. Make sure there are at least two lines on each side.
Make sure you dig your anchors in properly. Dig two feet down, and bury the anchors with the points pointing towards the boat. Don't leave your boat in the same spot for too long without checking the lines for tightness because the anchors may not hold it in place forever.
How Much Does it Cost to Park a Houseboat?
Sometimes you can park your boat for free. Some people spend thousands of dollars a month to park their boat, with hundreds of dollars a month being a more common price.
The easiest way to park your boat for free is to find a public waterway where you can park your boat. You might have to move your boat sometimes, but you might not have to move it far. Parking your boat for free is realistic in many parts of the United States.
Parking Your Houseboat at a Marina
If you do decide to dock your boat at a marina, you shouldn't always pick the cheapest marina you can find. A bad marina might be in a bad neighborhood, have poor security, and not be a safe place to keep your boat. There are many things to consider when choosing a marina.
Water Traffic at Marinas
Sometimes, there is far too much water traffic at a marina. High traffic isn't safe - even experienced boaters get in accidents. You can't count on other boaters to drive safely and competently.
There will be powerboats as well as houseboats at a marina, and these boats can be dangerous. It can also be time-consuming and unpleasant to enter and leave the marina if there is heavy water traffic. None of this means that you have to avoid a marina with heavy traffic, but pick the marina with less traffic if you have a choice.
What a Marina Should Offer
Look up some reviews of the marina before you choose it, as some marinas lack basic features. At the very least, you should easily be able to find a power outlet to charge your batteries and clean water for your tanks. You should also be able to wash your boat at the marina.
It is also crucial for a marina to give you a place to dump your garbage. Your boat may have a fair bit of room to store trash, but you will still need to dump it regularly. You may also need dock carts to move items around.
Another thing that you might need is storage. Space on your boat can be scarce, and it is great to be able to store some of your belongings in waterproof boxes at the docks. You might also want laundry facilities, private lockers, and many other conveniences.
Is the Marina in a Convenient Location?
You may also want your marina to be close to a place to shop or entertainment. How far away are the nearest grocery stores, malls, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, or anything else you might want to visit? A marina can also be in a bad location - it might be too noisy at night, or at worst, it could be in a high-crime area.
Wet Docks vs. Dry Docks
With a dry dock, your boat is stored on land, not in the water. You will have to inform the company that you need to use your boat and have them put it in the water.
With a wet dock, you can get in your boat and go whenever you want. The advantage of a dry dock is its lower price.
Some Dock Slips are Hard to Use
It is a big advantage if you can easily, quickly, and safely get your houseboat in and out of a boat slip. If the boat slip is longer, it is easier to get your boat in and out. Your dock should also not be too far from the dock behind you because that gives you less room to move around.
If the dock is the right height, you can easily step off your boat. Otherwise, you might have to get off the boat from the side deck or even use a ladder. You also don't want to have to back into your boat slip to be able to step off of it easily.
Not every dock has room for you to put a dinghy beside your houseboat. The water level at some docks may even be too low, especially if the level at the lake is falling. Your propeller might not be fully submerged if the water level is not high enough.
Again, look up reviews of the marina before you spend any money. The marina should have a good customer service reputation. The marina staff should be helpful, friendly, safety-conscious, and knowledgeable about boating.
Other Houseboat Laws and Safety Tips
You cannot drink and drive a boat. Your blood alcohol must be very low, or else you can lose your license. Driving under the influence of alcohol can be just as dangerous with a boat as with a car.
You also have to turn on your lights at night. Houseboats must meet certain design specifications, and there are laws about discharging wastewater and sewage properly.
All Houseboats also need GFCI protection. GFCIs are a powerful, fast-acting kind of circuit breaker that can save your life in an emergency. GFCIs will activate when they detect electricity flowing from a power source into the ground, and they can prevent you from getting electrocuted.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Having a Houseboat
In my experience, getting a houseboat is definitely worth it. It is not necessarily different from what you would expect it to be - a fun way to make your life different and better. While a houseboat lifestyle is not exactly cheap, it can be both cheaper and better than the life you had before.
One disadvantage is that you can't have as many possessions as if you own a house. There isn't nearly as much room to store a lot of belongings on a boat, so you might have to get rid of things.
There may be places for you to store your belongings at the marina and elsewhere, but there might still not be room for everything. Even if you have good heating and air conditioning on your boat, the weather can still affect you more. A houseboat is more than worth the investment despite the disadvantages.
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