Building a Houseboat

Building a Houseboat

Build a

The Darwin

Everywhere you go around the world you can find someone building a houseboat. From Key West Florida to Kodiak Alaska or even in Murray Australia they are rolling out the  houseboat plans and grabbing up the tools. Some don’t even have formal boat plans - just Dreams and ideas – big ones and some not so big. Some of these would be a good way to stretch retirement finances when you really can’t afford that second home. Some folks just want to search “houseboats for sale” and buy a houseboat already built. That’s  OK, but think of the pride you’ll  have cruising along in a houseboat you built with your own hands.

Build a little houseboat top 10

The Millie Hill , under construction

So if you’re going to build a boat, why not combine it with a tiny house  and build one you can spend the weekend on! Think about building a houseboat! And building a little tiny home that floats isn’t really as crazy as it might sound…or that hard either. But it does take patience and dedication . . . and often, some good friends. With modern plywood, fasteners and epoxy finishes a  nice houseboat can be built and enjoyed  for decades.

Chris Carr’s  Darwin ,  pictured above,  is one really great example of houseboat building and great boat design.

  “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 didn’t even have any houseboat plans, just a dream. But when this modern-day Noah dreamed of building a houseboat he went large!. The result is a beautiful houseboat construction that quickly becomes the envy of all who see it. Built on sections of treated plywood pontoons, it can easily be cruised 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  houseboat building and definitely worth some extra study and consideration.

“Lotus Eater” by Robert Reiheld


 Along the way, he managed to get the whole family involved. 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 RobReiheld’s site

Houseboat Plans                                                

Millie Hill

Check out The Millie Hill

Personally, I’m dreaming about building a little houseboat, sort of like a “Tiny Homes Design” and then just putting it on pontoons or a barge hull. Of course, this would be strictly for protected-water use.  We won’t be barging over to the Bahamas.

The great thing is, there are lots of varied plans and 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. 

 Tiny Homes that Float                                  

One of the nicest little houseboat plans on the net is the Aqua Casa.  I even found one once under houseboats for sale. If you want to see How the Aqua Casa houseboat construction proceeds visit and you can follow along and learn some of the lessons he’s learned the hard way.
build a houseboat.comThere are some pioneering folks in Vermont who are involved in a project that will prove the commercial value of a triloboat derived sailboat design. Its based  on the boats that used to ply the Rivers and harbors of England. In fact, they have already made their first trip down the Hudson river to New York and delivered   agricultural goods all along the way!  You can follow their progress at Vermont Sail Freight Project 

Check out the Triloboats


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.

Tiny home or HouseboatBuild or Buy

What can you say!

What can you say!

Honestly, I would much rather build a houseboat. The construction of your own houseboat would  do much to satisfy all the primal “boat building” urges that reside in the heart of man.

I’m sure the first thing our primitive ancestors thought when they say some bird standing on a floating log was “how many logs would I have to tie together to be able to stand like that?” The beginning of boating. So he makes a great big raft out of logs and ties them together with “coconut fiber rope” and floats across the river. It would soon occur to him that, if he slept out on the raft, the wolves couldn’t get him. Then after getting rained on, he builds a little roof on the raft. And the shantyboat is born! For more on Shantboat building  check out

courtesy of

courtesy of

But as much fun as it would be to build a little houseboat, it could be expensive. I’ve figured out the cost of a small houseboat several ways and it always comes out to at least $15,000. Others have the same experience.

Build a

The Darwin

When Chris Carr was faced with the question, build or buy he built. The Darwin, is one of the coolest looking little houseboats around, and he figures it cost him about $12,000 to $15,000 to build it.

I saw a nice looking  Devlin designed  “Millie Hill” for sale for about $17,000. So you could build or buy!


build a houseboat

Check out Millie Hill

Bryan Lowe at Shantyboat reported that one little houseboat builder spent $75,000 on a small shantyboat / houseboat. I almost fell over when I saw that.  Most of the time the houseboat builds I’ve seen cost between $12,000 and $20,000.  But . . . here’s something to consider.

You can find a nice used sailboat for much less than that and it would already be built! True, its not a “houseboat” or even a tiny home but it’s a live aboard boat that does pretty much the same thing. Also, it would be much easier to push along at hull speed and way more acceptable in most marinas.  This is a lot to consider. Even if you never put the sails up. (or even had sails) 

1989  27catalina 9500

I looked on Craigslist and quickly found a 27’ 1989 Catalina for $9,500 and that included a 2 year old Tohatsu 9.9 kicker. Even  if I never hoisted the  mainsail I could slide along the waterways for about ½ gallon an hour.  All this without building anything! Hmmmm?


   Retire on a houseboat  

build a houseboatWhile thinking about ways to retire cheap I thought about the idea of retiring on a houseboat. (no, that’s not me)

 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)

building a houseboat

This is a sample of some 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 boat. 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. If you lose control in docking or in a high wind you might need the insurance to build a houseboat for someone else!


Houseboat Insurance

houseboats for sale

courtesy of Pixabay

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 build a houseboat and then 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 building a houseboat at that price.

building a houseboat

To 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 are still reading at this point I think you too are dreaming about building a houseboat.

Another great site with  some awesome pictures is TinyHouseSwoon


Building a Houseboat — 2 Comments

  1. I want to build a houseboat on the Tennessee river is there a place that will let you build it on the river since it is going to be 32′ by 16′ and 14′ high also are any maps that show the height of the bridge’s in the area. thank-you tom moore

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