Frequently Asked Question about Houseboats:

1. How big are houseboats? 2. Are they single or twin engine vessels? Gas? or Diesel? 3. How fast do they go? 4. Are they easy to steer (pilot)? 5. Can you pilot from the top deck? 6. Are they seaworthy? 7. What type of accommodations do they have? 8. What are they made of? 9. What about water and waste? 10. How much do they cost? 11. What about maintenance costs? 12. Rental versus owning.(a complex question)
1. How big are houseboats?

Houseboats range widely in size from perhaps as small as 20' to as long as 125', even longer. As they get longer, they also get wider. Shorter vessels are 8' wide while the longest are as wide as 24'. On Lake Powell the National Park Service has restricted vessel size to a maximum of 75' by 22'.

2. Are they single or twin engine vessels? Gas? or Diesel?

Both, but the vast majority of them are twin engine, especially the larger vessels. Most are either outboard engine powered or inboard/outboard (that is, inboard engines with and outdrive). Very few have the strict inboard drive systems. Almost all houseboats are gas powered.

3. How fast do they go?

Generally houseboats are "go slow" vessels. While most travel in the 6 to 12 mph (5+ to 10.5 knots) vessel design and propulsion systems vary widely. I am aware of one 40' houseboat designed to maximize speed that travel up lake over 40 mph (35 knots).

4. Are they easy to steer (pilot)?

Houseboats are generally more difficult to pilot than motor yachts. They have more wind surface which acts like a sail in wind. Like most things, it takes practice, but mistakes are costly.

5. Can you pilot from the top deck?

Many, perhaps most, houseboats have a helm in the main salon and on the top deck, the fly bridge. Especially with Powell’s scenery and weather, it is nice to pilot your vessel from the fly bridge. However, when it comes time to enter your slip or land your vessel on shore to anchor, most pilots return to the helm below. There is usually a better view immediately in front of the boat and more fully equipped helm controls.

6. Are they seaworthy?

Houseboats are not intended for off-shore ocean cruising. They are not designed to and do not handle "big water" well, though some designs do better than others. Generally, houseboaters avoid sea over a two or three feet and winds over 20-25 mph. Four and five foot waves can be dangerous for many houseboats. When storms approach, houseboaters seek shelter and strong anchorage.

7. What type of accommodations do they have?

Accommodations range from sparse to high end luxury. Small vessels may have one bunk for two persons, a minimal galley, and a head, without shower. The largest vessels will have 4 to 8 staterooms with island beds ranging from bunk to king size and sleeping twenty or more. I have seen 48 cuft Subzero refrigerator/freezers. HVAC air-conditioning is common. Large entertainment centers etc. At least one houseboat on the lake includes a water entrance garage for its tender, which is a nice ski boat. Since these vessels are often much larger than the largest RVs they can have more and bigger equipment.

8. What are they made of?

Houseboats have been made from all the typical marine materials, wood, fiberglass, steel, aluminum. The majority of the vessels at Lake Powell are made of aluminum with quite a few made of steel. Aluminum is light, strong and easy to work with. Steel has similar qualities and may survive the rocks of Lake Powell slightly better. However steel vessels are generally more expensive.

9. What about water and waste?

Houseboats generally will have ample tanks for fresh water and tanks to hold human waste. Laws prohibit the discharge of human waste in freshwater in the United States. On Lake Powell, the National Park Service provides large pump out stations for all boats and National Park Service rules require that all vessels which overnight on the lake have some form of waste collection system on board. Houseboats on freshwater lakes usually have a lake water system to provide water for washing, bathing and toilets. The law does not yet require "grey water" (bath and dish water) storage systems and most vessels do not have them, though such requirements are under consideration.

10. How much do they cost?

They range in cost from a few thousand dollars to millions, much like an RV. A new 60 foot vessel will cost from $300 to million dollars. A fairly new but used vessel, especially in today's market, will range from under well $100 thousand to perhaps the high S200s, depending on condition and amenities.

11. What about maintenance costs?

Annual maintenance and upkeep of a vessel is a major cost consideration. Slip fees range from $10 per foot per month for shorter vessels to well over $20 per foot per month for the largest vessels in the nicest slips. Storage out of the water is much cheaper, generally $1.5 to $5 per foot per month with a wide range of amenities. However launching and retrieving a houseboat is quite expensive, ranging from a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand dollars. Fuel, for the last year has ranged from about $4 to over $5 per gallon. Mechanics are $100 per hour. All marine parts are quite expensive. Maintenance of larger houseboats will often range over $25,000 per year.

12. Rental versus owning.(a complex question)

There are three ways to use a houseboat on Lake Powell. National Park Service rules are quite specific and well controlled. You can (A), rent houseboats only from one of the two Park concessionaires who have long term contracts to provide that service, (B), buy a percentage interest in a vessel, Or, (C), be a single owner. I have outlined the basic differences below.

A) Rentals of houseboats range widely from a couple thousand dollars for a week on a smaller fairly sparsely but adequately equipped houseboat (sleeping 6 to 8) in low season. Larger vessels, all electrically equipped, with multiple staterooms, flat screen TVs, Jacuzzis etc. can exceed $10,000 per week in high season. These vessels are nice houseboats and the cost, while a large number, is not too high on a cost per person per day basis.

B) "Multiownership" up to 18 persons is allowed. Time shares are not allowed. You can not own only the right to use the vessel. The owners must hold title to the vessel and each owner owns a percentage share of the vessel. There are several companies who specialize in putting together multiowner groups of six to 18. Prices of these interests vary widely. All costs are shared based upon your specific interest in the vessel. An interest equal to two or three weeks use per year of the vessel can range from $2,000 to upward of $25,000 depending on size, age, and condition of the vessel. At least half of the privately owned vessels on Lake Powell are multiowner boats.