Building a Houseboat

build a houseboat

“Darwin” built by Chris Carr

There is something about building a houseboat that just gets into a guy’s brain. They’re not totally crazy, they’re just crazy about houseboats! And maybe, building a houseboat isn’t really as crazy as it might sound or that hard either. With modern woods, fasteners and epoxy finishes a nice houseboat can be built and lived on  for decades.  The boat on the left is The Darwin. Built in Michigan by Chris Carr  following  George Beuhler’s RiverWalker design, with some extra touches by Chris. 

Built by Rob Reiheld

Built by Rob Reiheld

courtesy of Rob Reiheld

courtesy of Rob Reiheld

How about this beauty. This houseboat picture on the right is so awesome it doesn’t look real, ..but it is.  Its a big houseboat,  50’ long and 16’ wide.   Too hard you say? It’s a good thing Rob Reiheld didn’t think that way when he set out to build a houseboat. He didn’t think it too impossible. In fact he had no houseboat plans when he started, just a dream. But when this retired doctor turned modern-day Noah dreamed of building a houseboat he went large. The result is a classic houseboat that’s constantly turning heads. Built on treated plywood pontoon sections, it can cruise along the Albermarle sound for day trips or lived on full-time.The way he built the pontoons in sections and then bolted them together is a unique way of building and definitely worth some study and consideration. Along the way, he managed to get the whole family involved. Visit his site and learn all about his building adventure. See the fun and the challenges, as well as some serious setbacks he encountered building this great houseboat. The pictures alone are worth a visit to his blog at,

Also    Top 9 Sites – Build a Little Houseboat    and  Houseboat Building Adventure

Houseboat Plans

  So, I’m dreaming about building a houseboat, like a tiny home design, and putting it on a barge deck or maybe pontoons. , Of course, this would be strictly for protected-water use, I don’t think we’ll be sailing it over to the Bahamas.

The great thing is, there are lots of varied designs…different designs for different uses.  Some houseboats are just big floating barges that stay anchored in a marina  and hook up to the shore for all the conveniences of a regular home. But that’s no fun !. . .  A  little house boat is what I’m talking about. Building a little houseboat that you can motor about in and still enjoy some of the comforts of home.   And when building a houseboat there are dozens of plans  to choose from.                                     

building a houseboat

One of the nicest little houseboat plans on the net is the Aqua Casa. If you want to see how the Aqua Casa construction proceeds visit and you can follow along and learn some of the lessons he’s learned the hard way.

building a houseboat

There are some folks in Vermont who are involved in a project that will prove the commercial value of a “triloboat” derived design. In fact, they have already made their first trip down the Hudson river to New York and delivered goods all along the way!  You can follow their progress at Vermont Sail Freight Project 

The last thing you want to think about is the ”cost of living on a houseboat” because you can’t really put a price on adventure.But in order to know exactly what you’re getting into follow this link and learn all about the costs of living on a houseboat from the folks at They have compiled a great list of costs to help you plan your next move. check out their original website.

    Check out   (guide to buying a second hand boat)    and    ( boat plans )

Retire on a houseboat ?                              

While thinking about ways to retire cheap I thought about the idea of retiring on a houseboat.building a houseboat

 Can it be done? If so, where? And, of course, what will it cost?  building a houseboat

Can it be done?” The answer is always yes . . . if you have enough money just about anything can be done.But our real question is can it be done CHEAP!  Well, let’s look at the numbers.

One family in North Florida pays  about $12 bucks a foot (per month) at a marina. so, for a 32’ boat its about $400 buck a month. Add to that a pump-out fee of $60 if you’re not in a marina with free pump out and the price could run $520 to $640 a month.

A man in Apalachicola pays $400 a month for his 50’ houseboat to tie up at a dock.  This includes electricity and water.

On Lake Norris in Tennessee it will cost between $250 and $450 a month and there is a waiting list everywhere.  This doesn’t include electricity or pump-outs. You can get  a yearly pump-out contract for about $400 to $500 and the dock usually supplies the water.

At the Gangplank Marina in Washington,DC it will cost you about $12 bucks a month per foot on a yearly basis, plus electricity. Liveaboards will be charged an additional $150 a month for pump-out and use fees. So, a 32’ boat will cost about $535. Not bad for a view of the Washington Monument. (2013 prices)

This is a sample of the  costs at marinas and docks. It doesn’t include the cost of insurance. Just like a home, a boat should have insurance. This insurance can run  $1,500 bucks a year for small size building a houseboatboat. Some insurance companies offer boat insurance as part of a larger package, so check with your homeowner’s insurance company first.  This is a cost that will have to be added into your monthly costs. While it is true that boat insurance is not required, most marinas will require it. They don’t want you puttering in and around their million dollar yachts without the insurance to pay for the damage.

Do You Need Boat Insurance ?

Boat insurance is an interesting subject.  Many people have reported that they simply don’t carry it. Many folks sailing  the Pacific and the Caribbean  opt to carry none. It eventually boils down to two questions,

1. can you afford to lose the value of your boat  without insurance? As in “nothing left showing but bubbles”?

2. do the marinas you frequent require you to carry insurance? Most  larger ones do.

Some folks report that they were quoted as much as 20% of the boats value for a years insurance. Most people would definitely think twice about that price.

building a houseboatTo sum it all up, if you add all these costs together it can easily cost $750 and more a month to live full-time on a boat or a houseboat. this is not exactly cheap but its not expensive either. But, if you desire different and  possibly interesting lifestyle it is a great alternative to sitting in your 2 bedroom condo looking out the window for the mailman to go by.

Most boat owners who live full-time will tell you that they don’t do it to save money, they do it because they love boats and the lifestyle. For more on houseboat insurance read Insurance

If you desire to learn from a current full-time boater on a small sailboat check out:

 ( for more on regular boat plans )

   (  Extra: read about houseboats near Washington, DC  )boat x


Building a Houseboat — 2 Comments

  1. I guess I had better keep working till I drop as I can’t afford the rent at marinas living mostly on social security when I retire. I’m only going to get around $900.00 per month at age 62 . I’m 60 now. I was planning on getting a houseboat built slowly and when finished retire to the water. Oh well I do appreciate the info. though. I had thought perhaps a nice catamaran to sail around in and live on the hook. Actually I wanted to build whatever I build to be self sufficient enough that I would not have to be at a marina all the time. Possible ???

    • I’ve given that a lot of thought too. Honestly, a boat is probably not the way to go if your funds are low. Any little maintenance problem can balloon into an expensive pull-out and marina charges, materials etc. If my funds were as low as you are talking, I would consider an RV Park, or a small apartment, on a main road near a medium size city. They usually have low to no cost bus travel for seniors and that would save you needing a car. Living on the hook is often touted on blogs as being such a cheap way to live, but usually by folks with big retirement plans. when you get a chance read my post at

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