Retire on a Houseboat

Too small

Recently I got a crazy bug to retire on a houseboat. As I was thinking about how much I would need to retire, it seemed like a viable solution to stretching my retirement money. To tell the honest truth, I’ve been dreaming about houseboat living since I was 18.

Way back in the 60’s when I was going to junior college,  I would drive right past the plant that manufactured the “Surfside–6” houseboats. They were popular then.  I would often stop and just watch through the fence as they were building houseboats. One houseboat was featured in an old TV show about a couple of guys that lived in Miami Beach on a houseboat. Naturally, there were girls, and adventures and such and it always just seemed like a neat idea.  The name of the TV show— “Surfside 6″


Houseboat Living

One day, back then, I saw a houseboat for sale in the paper. It was parked on New River in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Wow, I thought, they only want two-thousand bucks. So, I called a friend and easily convinced him of my great idea, and,  then and there, we decided to go in on it together. I quickly contacted the owner and advised to stop by the next day and look at it. Well, the next day, as I approached my future floating bachelor pad something was wrong. The old wooden pontoon boat had sprung a leak over-night and the boat was slowly tilting into the abyss. I stood there, staring at the boat for what seemed like forever. And as it slowly went down into the murky water, so did my enthusiasm for houseboat living. I suddenly lost the desire to have everything I owned in an old leaky barge.

Well, that was decades ago, and I guess time has dimmed the lesson learned that day and I’m ready to possibly try again. (maybe I need a tin foil hat)

When I think about wanting to retire on a houseboat I’m not quite sure if I would end up as Captain Courageous or Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants, but I can’t get this idea out of my mind. And, as it turns out, I’m not alone.

The urge to float on water must be buried deep in our genetics. The internet is full of stories about guys (and some gals) who have turned their backs on dry land and set out to live on the open water, or at least the water around the dock. Some buy a boat, and some build their own. And there is a different design for almost everyone.

Types of houseboats

ShantyboatOne of my favorite little designs is the Aqua Casa. A design by Berkeley Engineering. This is one of the simplest and yet functional small houseboats going. The design incorporates years of experience in boat design into a smart little floating home. Their site has plans for building one yourself or links to some for sale. While I would take issue with their estimated $3,500 dollar cost to build one, I think it would be a deal at twice that. I know folks that have put way more than that in a fishing boat but can’t stop in the middle of the lake and cook the fish they catch. This design offers both. I could spend a couple of weeks on this but probably not live full-time.  If you are interested (and who isn’t) you can see some super great pictures and find out all about it at Aqua Casa 

For the more adventurous soul perhaps a “shantyboat” is what you need. Harkening back to the time of paddlewheel riverboats and Huck-Finn rafts, shantyboats come in the oddest shapes and sizes. Varying from no more than a wooden box on barrels to really comfortable houseboats, people have built an almost unimaginable array of floating stuff.  Some of the more rugged folks have strapped a small motor on the back and gone all the way down the Mississippi.  Traveling by day and pulling over at night to camp and rest, often within walking distance of downtown amenities, they create some amazing vacation experiences. But it’s not something you would hope to retire on.

They don’t look like the one above anymore. Well, actually some look worse, but most are sharp designs incorporating all the latest in essential boat stuff, you know,  like a bathroom running water and a kitchen.

If you like houseboats and houseboat living as much as I do, you will really like a site designed for nothing but shantyboats, in fact, it’s The author, Bryan Lowe, has assembled tons of information on Shantyboats, houseboats, Eco-friendly boats and much more. It’s a “must see” for me. I enjoy the articles and all the great pictures.

In England, many retired folks live on narrow-boats. These are skinny boats designed to go up and down the skinny little canals that cut across Great Britain. With a maximum width of only about 7’, the design inside is much more like a long travel trailer. With a length often exceeding 60’ and usually powered by a small diesel, they can slowly roam the English countryside while still having afternoon tea. Often seen in downtown areas, they offer a unique living style and can be an economical alternative to traditional housing. You can find out more about these truly unique British boats at NarrowboatWorld 

But in the USA it’s getting harder to live in a houseboat. Because houseboats don’t generally move much, most people and especially boat people don’t really consider them “boats.” They are kind of excluded from the boating community. That’s where sailboats seem to be more useful.

retire on a houseboat
Retire on a houseboat on Lake Union, Seattle

A small sailboat, while not giving all the comfort of a houseboat, offer the owner the ability to have a home and also be able to travel.  A boat that actually moves is usually accepted in marinas that would otherwise shun a houseboat. The truth is that most sailboats don’t really sail that much. They just motor along. Usually, with a small  “kicker” motor on the back, they can move along just as fast as they would sailing and sip only ½ gallon of gas or diesel an hour. The main advantage is that when you stop for the night, you’re already home.

So, instead of living on a houseboat or even planning to retire on a houseboat, maybe I’ll start thinking about a sailboat. Anybody know how far it is to St. Croix?

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