Houseboat

This article is to answer questions on a forum by a person known as “3567,”

I am going to tell the houseboat story first and then see if I have answered your questions.

First off, I actually live in Elk Grove, CA.  A friend owns this houseboat and lets me use it.  It is great for fishing and relaxing.  Sometimes he isn’t here when I arrive, so we keep a key hidden for me to use.  I try to spend a couple of days each week on the boat.  I am retired, so I often travel abroad and around the USA too.  On the left side is another boat of his.  He lowers it when we wish to fish or visit another area.  The houseboat is cumberson to move around, but it still functions quite well.

This shot was taken at the top of the ramp that goes down to the dock.  The ramp side rails are required by law for safety.  What protects a person once on the dock?  The tide was out, so the angle down the ramp is nearly to the maximum.  On the right is the houseboat with the green sunshade.

This is the view of the dock to the back of the boat where entry is made.  The dock is about 4 feet wide.  By this time I have warned visitors to stay in the middle of the dock walkway.  To fall in is life-threatening.  I explain the few ways to extricate oneself from the water.  At high or low tide the water isn’t moving at all.  During the time between those extremes, the water may be moving quite fast.  A person must be conscious and know what to do.  Notice no side rails here as was on the ramp.  At the far end is the step up to the boat’s rear entrance.

One morning the dock was covered with black ice.  I didn’t know it and took the large step down with a basket in my hands.  I slipped and instantly fell on my right side.   The wind out of me and I was hurt.  I was laying on my side on the sheet of ice.  It took me at least a minute to be able to get up.  I injured my right shoulder, hip, and elbow.  The elbow took the longest to heal, at least 3 weeks.  Had I gone into the water, I might well have drowned.  I didn’t pay attention to the speed of the tide, so I can’t say if I would have had a chance or not.  This really got my attention and I had to do my best to make this large step safer for visitors and me too.  I added the mat and concrete step and more.

At the fall, my feet were at about the lower part of the floor mat with my head just above the concrete blocks that weren’t there at the time.  See the 2 1/2′ X 5′ floor mat with the 6 concrete blocks that are now outlined with reflective red and white tape?  The blocks are 3 wide and 2 high to divide the former large step into two smaller safer steps to get to the boat. The light tan portion in the center is clear grip tape.  That is the stuff used on skateboards to reduce slippage.  Mounted to the side of the boat are two solar lights to illuminate the concrete blocks that make the step.  You may see them just above the two corners of the concrete steps.  The steps make it two easy steps instead of one large step.  Day or night the concrete step is easily very visible.

We still had some of the grip tape left over, so I cut a piece of where one’s foot would land when stepping up and onto the boat.  I also did this for the seldom used entrance at the bridge, which is still the original large step.  I still had a piece, so I used it at the bottom part of the ramp which is aluminum and could be very slippery when wet so we always avoided stepping on the aluminum.  Now it is a more secure foothold than either the ramp or the dock, so we always step on it.

This view is taken from up on the stern of the boat and shows the entrance that I use 99% of the time.  I have that floor mat for scrubbing dirt off of my shoes.  It really catches stuff and greatly reduces my vacuum duties.  It is fastened down with Velcro and one corner has a safety tie just in case the wind lifts it off the Velcro.  I try to have a “double safety” for as many things as possible.

This is looking in the stern door at the bedroom.  At the upper right is the hallway to the rest of the tiny house.

This is looking back toward the stern door of the bedroom.  See those two steps that are for leaving through the stern door?  Both steps open up to reveal some controls.  One is a switch for turning on the septic pump to dump the contents.  Lower down will be a photo showing part of that process.

“Head,” marine lingo for a bathroom.  On the right is the sink for washing hands.  During the cool part of the year, I try to keep every drain plugged to keep cool air out.  Since I am not here for long periods of time, the weather can change and it can get hot on the boat.  On the left is the bathroom door that is open and it is covering the shower.

I closed the door so that I could take this photo of the small tub/shower.  The drain has the plug put in place to stop cold air from circulating.

This is the view when entering the dining and kitchen area.  The blue table folds up against the wall and the two seats fold out flat to make a double bed.  It is useful for when we have a guest.

View of the table/bed area from the other side and looking back toward to bathroom.

The kitchen is just across from the table.  At the far left is a slice of the stove.  On the far right are the microwave and fridge.  The squeeze bottle on the left is rubbing alcohol which I use for cleaning.  I keep both sinks plugged for air control unless there is a risk of freezing.  Then I run a slow trickle of water all night long.

From top to bottom; microwave, freezer with POLST document and the fridge.

This open cupboard is under the microwave and fridge.  Since the interior of the boat is a dark walnut, the insides of every storage space were just a black hole.  I painted every one of them with white paint to improve visibility.

This is the computer area with two monitors, my laptop mounted on the docking station, the external keyboard and mouse.  The desk was full sized but I removed the set of drawers on the left to make it narrow enough to fit.

The wheel on the left is the bridge or control place for the boat.  I use those two Vornado fans to move air wherever it is needed.  The white thing is the dehydrator.  It runs a lot in order to collect the humidity that tends to collect.  I was taught to keep the water on the outside of the boat.  It is sitting on a step to the outside.  The step is a box for storage.  This is the bridge exit that we rarely use.

From the parking area, I must walk up many steps to the top of the levee.  For safety, 8 solar lights, 4 on each side are mounted to illuminate the steps.

This view is from the bottom of the ramp and shows the 4 solar lights mounted on the boat railing to illuminate the dock walkway.  You also see the two lights at the concrete block step on the left in the distance.

The two solar lights that illuminate the concrete block step fairly well.

All of these 14 solar lights stay on all night even when charged on a totally cloudy day.

I have the septic tank pumped out about once a month, depending on how frequently we are using the houseboat.  The smelly liquid will splash all over the side of the dock and boat.  My solution is to use this shovel to deflect the effluent directly down and into the water.  I always wait for help since the electric switch for the pump is on the inside of the boat.  I show my helper where it is and when I have the shovel ready, I request it to be turned on.  It only takes about 5 minutes to empty.  That is a smelly job.  I then must add the liquid treatment to the empty tank.


3567 posted the text below.  My answers are in red.

My property backs onto a river which is slow moving 80% of the time, but when it storms it’s quite fast moving. I’ve been thinking about houseboats lately, and what I might be able to use one for. Some examples I thought of, was to use it as my office, rent it out on Airbnb, or rent it out as a houseboat to be used along the river.

A few questions I have for those who have experience with houseboats –

1. Did you buy new, second hand or did you build your own?  I only borrow it from my friend.
2. What did you use your houseboat primarily for?  It is nothing more than a tiny house.  
3. Was the houseboat permanently moored or did you have to constantly move it around?  I will never move it, as I have no experience that would allow me to operate the boat.  It is rather complicated to move a boat with a tide coming in or out.  The owner is quite good at moving it.
4. How big was your houseboat?  I think that the length is about 50 feet.  The inside is about 8′ wide and 30′ long.
5. How many people were living in your houseboat?   Usually nobody, but sometimes we have an occasional visitor.
6. What are the main yearly maintenance costs?  I have no idea, but fairly small now.  It is over 35 years old and we had to do a lot of maintenance and modification to make it livable.  I like to work with tools, so I am modifying things very often.  It is a fair trade-off for getting to use the boat
7. Would you agree or disagree that houseboats are only for those with boating experience?  Agree and I have no boating experience, so it is always tied up unless my friend wants to move it.
8. How long did you live on the houseboat for?   On and off for about 1 1/2 years.
9. Are you still living in a houseboat, if not why did you move out?  I still visit I wish to get some peace and relaxation.
10. What are some of the negatives when living in a houseboat?  The challenge is huge.  This is basically a cheap trailer mounted on a boat.  The walls are 1″ thick with poor insulation.  Just keeping it at a livable temperature takes frequent attention as one goes through the day.  We mounted a heat pump when I first started staying on the boat and it does a lot of the heating and cooling, but it is slow.
11. Feel free to provide any other comments.  It takes a special person to live on an old houseboat.  However, as a part-time user, it is as close to ideal as possible.  I often see a seal in the water, wild turkeys, raccoons and much more wildlife.  It is quiet and private.  Most of the island is below sea level, even at low tide.  It is protected by a levee.  Just over the levee is a huge garden and I get lots of fresh vegetables, citrus, and more.

I think that the risk of injury to a guest is too large to consider renting the boat out to a city dweller.  For me, it wouldn’t be worth the liability risk.  I think that you can see several areas where one could easily get injured.