Talk me out of buying a houseboat

I’m giving serious(I mean, serious) thought to purchasing a houseboat and living year round on the Mississippi river. Anyone ever done the houseboat thing? They can lift it out when it freezes over, right(I’m up north)? Is shore power expensive? Tell me about everything you experienced!
Tell me to buy a house like a normal person!

Here’s an KPLU (NPR affiliate) story [audio] on buying a houseboat, which aired on the 1st of December.

You gotta give up satellite TV.
There are freshwater sharks.
The Sultana sank in the Mother of Waters with a greater loss of life than the Titanic.

How much “stuff” do you have? How “organized” are you wrt your possessions? How old are you? How tall are you?

Got an SO? Ever have friends over to visit? How might such an environment affect their enjoyment of the visits (not as an exotic, one-off experience, but an ongoing thing)?

Ever spend a week on a rented houseboat for a vacation? If you have, try spending a month on one, see how you like it.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

kaylasdad99, former submariner.

ETA: Or, watch Foul Play, with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. That will show you that living on a houseboat absolutely ROCKS! And you get the really hot chick in the end.

Can you see if you can possibly experience a living on a boat without owning one? If so that is a way to go.

If you can’t I say go for it and buy it. Life’s too short.

As long as you’re not cutting off your nose and bankrupting yourself in the process, what harm can you do?

I owned a houseboat on the Mississippi River for several years. I docked it at Watergate Marina. I loved it. I could get off from work and be pulling out of the marina in 15 minutes (if everything was pre-packed).

Be prepared, though. If you have a houseboat, you have discretionary money, and they know it. Slip rental will cost you, so will haul-out and put in. Gas averaged about $1.00 per gallon more on the water than on the road. (Note: If you itemize your deductions, save your gas receipts. You can deduct the state gas tax–in Minnesota anyway.)

And, gas will cost ya. Expect LOW gas mileage. Even going downstream.

Keep in mind that what type of hull you have will have a definite impact on how much insurance will cost. Steel hulls cost more than fiberglass or aluminum.

But the people you meet in the marina and on the river will be the coolest people in the world. Got a mechanical problem? They all pitch in. Out of beer? Come on over. Stuck somewhere? They’ll tow ya. Great folks, them river rats.

I had cable tv while at the dock. Air conditioning, too. While tied up on an island I had to run the generator. Also, there are showers and stuff at the marina.

I don’t think I’d want to winter-in. Even though I had a steel hull and therefore wouldn’t’ve needed a bubbler, I think I might’ve felt a little cramped. But, some folks do it and get by just fine. They just plastic wrap everything from bow to stern and run heaters.

I sold mine because my mother fell ill and needed constant care so I couldn’t be away for long periods. I miss it.

You get the maintenance commitment in time, trouble and expense of both a house and boat in one package. Sure you can stand that? 'cause I couldn’t.

A boat is a hole in the water that you try to fill with money.

We lived aboard 2 of our sailboats during different times of our lives, including 14months with a newborn (she was 2 months when we moved aboard.) We were fortunate to have water heaters and showers aboard both, but both were hard to heat, so it was cold cold cold in the winter, even when we were living in northeast Florida. Worse in Baltimore. Of course, I’m more inclined to be cold than comfortable, so I may not be a good source about that.

As for living aboard, what I found most inconvenient was the lack of a decent sized refrigerator (altho on a houseboat, that may not be an issue. We had to have under-counter bar-type fridges.) The other thing I didn’t like, especially with the baby, was having to go to a laundromat. It would pretty much consume half a day. On the other hand, when my husband was living aboard alone, he just took his clothes to a fluff-n-fold in the morning, and picked it up on his way home from work.

There are advantages to living aboard - most boat folks are really great to be around. You’re always a member of a community, and there’s always someone who will lend a hand or someone you can help out. There’s also something really nice about being rocked to sleep, although that my not be a pronounced on a houseboat. My favorite part was waking up early, and watching the sun rise as I sat alone on deck. The world was mine… :smiley:

As for costs, we’ve lived in some marinas where electricity was included, others where you had your own meter. It costs more to live aboard than to just keep your boat at a marina, but the difference covers garbage and water. Oh yeah, speaking of water - every marina we’ve been in turns off the water to the dock in November-ish and it doesn’t come back on till maybe late March. That can be an issue…

Go to the marina where you think you want to live and talk to the folks who live there. That should help you decide either way. Good luck!

My parents owned several when the lived in Illinois - they kept upsizing until the last one was huge; air-conditioned, with lots of amenities.
They practically lived on it in the summer, but had to take it out of the water in the winter and dry dock it as water freezes in Illinois and not a good thing for houseboats.

I visited them a few times and, although it was fun and the community was great, etc. etc. the mosquitoes drove me insane and it was sort of like living in a playhouse; yes, all the creature comforts, but everything was tiny and compact and if you didn’t put something in its correct place immediately, the houseboat got really cramped.

They rarely took it out on the water for cruising the river - mostly just parked it in the dock with the great river view. They told me one story of a wealthy Chicago couple who bought one of the biggest houseboats in the marina and, on their maiden voyage on the Illinois River, they hit some rock and sunk it. Everyone in the marina was there in time to help them get off the sinking houseboat and even get some of their things - but it was a quick ownership and short stay for them at the marina.

I suppose if you can afford it, and consider it lodging by the river in the summer, it could be a worthwhile, fun thing to do. But year round in that climate? Don’t think so.

Thanks to those who responded.
I knew it would be more involved than a normal house but I really need to go to the local marina and talk to people there after what you guys say.
That’s the first time I ever heard of water being shut off!

A co-worker of mine lives on a sailboat. He loves it, but it’s cramped and cold. His girlfriend does not like to stay over in the winter. He doesn’t have a lot of stuff lying around, and he has to keep organized.

He had a new composting head (that’s “toilet” to us lubbers) delivered to the office, since he couldn’t have packages delivered to his boat. He was thrilled! That much less time pumping out the holding tank, since he’d have to pump it out less often.

He doesn’t get to take the boat out all that often, either - only a couple of times a year :frowning: . Apparently you can’t get a home mortgage on a boat, even if you live there. :frowning:

All in all, I’ll stay on dry land. My co-worker wouldn’t trade living aboard for the world, but your nautical mileage may vary.

Standing fully clothed in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills will give you much the same pleasure.

After reading the above threads, the definition of a houseboat must be different back east than it is here in the Northwest. There are lots of houseboats in the Seattle area and almost all are regular but small houses built upon a barge. Hereis an example of what I am talking about. A co-worker of mine lives in one on Lake Union, it’s only about 800 square feet. The part he says he likes the best is getting out of bed in the morning, taking 10 steps than sitting in a recliner with a fishing pole in his hand. It is hooked up to City of Seattle power, water and sewer and he pays the same rates as any other customer. No cruising in these, they don’t have engines.

Travis McGee is turning over in his grave.

My sons are in Chicago and at one point thought about living on a boat. I asked my ex-wife (with whom I am currently on good terms) who lives on a boat in Seattle and absolutely loves it.

Her advice, don’t do it unless you really want to live on a boat. They’re really small, they’re expensive, maintenance is an all-consuming thing (you know that hairline crack in your foundation wall? Imagine your house sinking if you don’t fix it right away), and you have problems with excessive humidity and mildew. If your summers are hot, air conditioning is problematic, and there’s the whole smell factor that comes with living in a slow-moving, shallow body of water.

Also, there are some times she really would like to take a long, hot shower, or even better, a bubble bath.

Go on the piers and docks and talk to current owners. Living on a boat…actually LIVING and not just part-time enjoying one…is a huge, huge commitment. You want to buy the boat knowing you may NEVER be able to sell it for anything close to what you paid for it. You will be putting money into it ALL OF THE TIME. It’s huge. There is probably another way you can get your jones taken care of without actually going that far, and if you can remotely think of one, then do it. =p

In the meantime, wait two years. Research; serious research. Hit the net and look up books about houseboat living and then go to the library and read them all. Research exactly where you want to live and talk to people currently living there to find out what it takes to join the organization or whatever you have to do to actually live on a dock; it’s not like a parking lot, you have to be approved and whatnot.

There’s SO much research that you need to do, that if you take the time to actually DO it, you’ll know whether you really want to do it or not.

Good luck, and good times to ya. :slight_smile:

My sister’s family had a houseboat on the Miss. near St. L for a few years. Essentially an oversized enclosed pontoon boat. They bought it essentially as an alternative to buying a vacation home. One thing I remember is them telling me that the Miss was a SERIOUS body of water serving as a commercial highway. Yeah, we all kinda know that, but the impression I got was that it acquired a whole new meaning when they actually tried to navigate and recreate on it.

After a few years they had their boat hauled to (I think) Kentucky Lake, which was a longer drive, but better for fishing, swimming, and such. A few years later they sold it.

In St. L they always winterized it. Not sure what you would need to do further north if living on it year around.

Houseboats mean a ‘house on a barge’ type thing to me here in the NE USA.

Other boats include express cruisers, cabin cruisers, small yachts.

These are mostly boats, with various amounts of camper-type equipment and layouts squeezed into their hulls.

You are in a camper-type environment, up to about 36’, then it gets more bearable, but never ‘house like’.

Houseboats mean a ‘house on a barge’ type thing to me here in the NE USA.

Other boats include express cruisers, cabin cruisers, small yachts.

These are mostly boats, with various amounts of camper-type equipment and layouts squeezed into their hulls.

You are in a camper-type environment, up to about 36’, then it gets more bearable, but never ‘house like’. Used boats are nightmares, and to even finance a large one you’ll be required to get a marine surveyor by insurance and loan companies. A marine surveyor will cost about 750 bucks for a live-on vessel. You might spend the 750, then his report goes to the insurance and loan company who pass on you based on the lousy survey.

Then you wrestle up another 750 bucks and find another boat, and risk losing that 750 bucks. Depending on the types of boats you want reviewed/surveyed, the actual cost might range from 600 to 2000 bucks.

You need to know a heck of a lot about boats, because you need to know if it is a good risk BEFORE hiring a surveyor. Again, the surveyor is required to issue a report, and if the bank and insurance company don’t like it, your headaches have just begun. You might need 2500 to 5000 bucks on hand just to find the right boat.

A 20k repair could pop up overnight on a boat and not be covered by insurance.