Can I take a Houseboat on the ICW.

by Laura
(Hernando Beach, FL, USA)

Gibson Houseboats are a very popular Houseboat.

Gibson Houseboats are a very popular Houseboat.

I am interested in trading my 43 foot sailboat for a 36 foot Gibson houseboat. My husband and I would like to cruise along the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway), would that be a problem for a Gibson houseboat?

Thanks, Laura.

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Reply - Answer
Well Laura, trading in a 43 ft sailboat for a 36 foot Gibson Houseboat is quite the change. Houseboats were designed for lakes and rivers, so as with all boating, the weather and water conditions have to be evaluated daily before doing any open water traveling.

With that in mind, I know people that have done it with small cruisers, to large trawlers, so a 36ft Gibson should be fine, as long as you plan in advance and check the weather conditions.

If you're interested in cruising the eastern coast or the ICW, than these excellent dvd's will definitely be of interest to you.

Lastly, I'm hoping that some of our readers who have traveled the ICW will share and post comments about their houseboat traveling experiences.

IAN from all-about-houseboats

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Comments for Can I take a Houseboat on the ICW.

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Houseboats on the ICW
by: Kim

I would like to hear from people whom have taken their houseboat (or lived on one) on the western Florida ICW. Possibly around the Port Charlotte area.

ICW from Tampa to Lake Okeechobee in our houseboat
by: DAN

Our 34 ft Nautaline single engine houseboat made the trip from Manitee river near Tampa to north end of lake Okeechobee thru the locks into Taylors Creek to our home dock.

We ran slow as we just purchased the boat and spent 2 days tuning up and tighten up the boat. We ran 5-7 mph, it could have run 3 times that speed, but did not want to push our luck. It took 5 long days to make the trip.

Only problem was the larger cruisers and their 3-4 ft wake. Would hate to see what they do with fishing boats. My wife and I had a great trip. Looking to do the Kissimi river from Taylors Creek to lake Kissimi in near future.

Totally Doable, with the right boat
by: M/V Ditch Rider

As the name of our boat suggests we are on the "Ditch" aka Intracoastal on our 50' Gibson houseboat.

The intracoastal is almost 100% protected water and is totally do-able on a well maintained and appropriate houseboat.

The ICW - the difficulties and realities
by: Canuck Sailor

Good grief, there are some monumentally insane remarks on this thread - the ICW is entirely protected, with minimal exposure to difficult conditions.

About the only places one could have any difficulty at all would be Albermarle Sound, the Neuse River, and a couple of the big Georgia Sounds and that only if the weather was kicking up - so problems are entirely avoidable by checking the weather.

This talk about going '100 miles offshore' is foolishness. Why would that be an issue here? On the ICW, most of the time, you'll be within 50 yards of shore, in water less than 20 feet deep.

The strongest currents are Fields Cut and Snows Cut, with the Cape Fear River being another challenging area - but if you watch your tides, you'll be just fine.

And who am I? I'm the creator of Sailing South - First Timer's Guide to the ICW. I lecture on the topic at boat shows, and have 19 trips on the ICW under my keel. You can watch a trailer to the DVD at if you want to know more about cruising the ICW.

Canuck Sailor

Houseboat Cruising - Pensacola to the Florida Keys
by: CarlCraft owner

Hey Tug boat Captain. I live in Pensacola as well and just bought a 57' Carl Craft for cruising the local waters but my dream is to spend a month or so in the Keys. I'd love to talk with you further about your experiences so I can better plan my own future trip. Thanks

ICW or open water cruising in a houseboat
by: Tug boat Capt.

I am not sure if I would take any houseboat a 100 miles off shore ever. With that said I have no problem going in open water say for a 50 to 60 mile jump to protected water.

Weather broadcasts are very accurate for a 24 hour window if you listen and understand what they are saying. It takes time and practice to understand weather forecasts and how that relates to what you want to do, remember mother nature is not on your time table, so if you have to be somewhere by a certain time, book a flight.

Every bad weather story on just about any kind of boat starts by, "We had to leave because.........

When making jumps in unprotected and open water I would never do it in a boat with one engine, twin engines are a must, for that matter I would have twin engines if you are cruising any kind of distances in strange unknown places where you can't call your friends for a help.

Second your houseboat should have a good bow and high free board. A houseboat with a big sliding glass door on the bow with low free board and an open railing is no good, should stay in only protected water.

To cross big open water the houseboat should at least have good speed. 10 knots or slower is not good and will leave you exposed in open water longer and if you lose an engine will go even slower, leaving you exposed longer to mother nature. Max speed of 17 to 20+ is good. So on a 60 mile jump you will only be in the open water 3 to 4 hours.

Remember that most houseboats have shoal drafts, ICW is maintained for 10 ft draft vessels. Most houseboats draw from 2 to 3 feet, so you are not limited by the ICW, sometimes avoiding an open water trip by leaving the marked ICW. Spend the money and always have detail nautical charts with depth readings.

I live in Pensacola FL, and I can take the right houseboat all the way down to the FL Keys.

Houseboats on the ICW
by: Frank

This is funny, I just came on board "all about houseboats" 5 min. ago and traveling the ICW comes up. I have a 37 ft 1980 Gibson houseboat with a single engine. I am a single boater with my dog, and it took me 3 months to get to Pt. Pleasant New Jersey.

Just like most of the people said, just don't go out in iffy weather. I can do 13+ kt's and did every time I crossed Big Water. You know BOAT DON'T FAIL ME NOW, is all I kept on thinking.

Take the trip you will love it, one thing more you can go where other boats can't (skinny water). Frank

Houseboats and the ICW.
by: Anonymous

I think I read the question right, but like anything else about boating, you have to be responsible for what you do.

And so I say, you can take a houseboat on the ICW, just use your head.

Houseboats and open water.
by: Old Houseboaters

A 36 foot Gibson houseboat in open water is NOT a good idea. Houseboats are designed and insured for protected waters such as bays and rivers. Their low freeboard and large window areas are NOT suited for offshore operation.

On a good day you can go anywhere you want to, however, you have to look at the overall situation and be equipped for the hazards that are common in the area that you boat in.

It's true, some people have gone out in very inadequate equipment and have made the trip, however fools and luck only get so far.

Investigate how the majority of the boaters are equipped in the location you want to boat, and follow their lead. Most ICW cruising is done in Cruisers, Trawlers, and Sailboats, NOT, houseboats.

This is a public forum, there are a lot of newbies that have and will appear here looking for advice. IMHO, those of us that are experienced should give the best advice that we can, and pointedly discourage practices that could lead the inexperienced into questionable/dangerous situations.

Reply - Answer
Well Old Houseboater, thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience in our forum.

I agree with you Old Houseboater, and have always preached that the ICW is doable, but only with the proper houseboats, who are experienced, planned, and prepared to wait for good weather windows.

I have said repeatedly that houseboats are designed for lakes, rivers, and inland waterways, and I would not want to be 100 miles off-shore, in a houseboat, especially in a bad storm, with rough pounding water conditions. It's not the place for any small boat anyways.

However a Gibson houseboat with twin engines, properly equipped, and in good running condition, has no problems in normal "open water" conditions. You don't want to venture out past the limit of seeing the shoreline on the horizon.

A Gibson houseboat with twin V8 engines, can easily plane at @ 20 knots. A conscientious Captain watching the weather forecast and conditions will be able to avoid most of the difficult conditions.

So, I will repeat it again, houseboats can't cross oceans and seas :)

Thanks again for sharing Old Houseboater

IAN from

Know what you're doing
by: Anonymous

I have traveled the Carolina Sounds in a 21 foot Boston Whaler in a Nor'easter.

ICW on a Houseboat
by: beached guy

My wife and I traveled the ICW from TX to Lake Ontario in a full displacement boat, sturdy and more seaworthy 32 footer, more seaworthy than which a houseboat would be.

Our biggest problem was that the boat was underpowered and would only do 5 kn at best. I have no idea what your cruise or top speed would be in the houseboat you are thinking of.

You need to be able to go to shelter quickly and in portions of the ICW north of Florida, it is almost impossible to travel with the current for any lengths of time due to numerous inlets to the Atlantic.

To explain that:
Think of leaving your overnight anchorage at a period when you have a flood that enters the ICW pushing you north.

After a relative short time, the inlet ahead of you is also pushing water into the ICW and that current is against you.

Once past that point it is possible that the tide has turned and the water ahead of you is now flowing back out of the inlet that just caused you to have an upstream run. Because of the lack of power in our boat, that was one of the most stressful portions of the ICW for us.

Did you do the ICW with your sailboat? If so, then you know how fast the weather can change and you don't want to be caught in one of the bigger Sounds with a houseboat that can't reach protected waters in a hurry.

Houseboating the ICW.......calm waters
by: Lake Pirate

Just got back from traveling the ICW between Ft Meyers and St Lucie. I have also traveled the ICW from St Lucie to Ft Lauderdale. I would not hesitate to take my houseboat (02'Myacht model 4313, pontoon style). Have fun and "may your waters be calm"

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