Houseboats built to cruise and travel the Great Loop

Typical route for houseboats on the Great Loop.

Typical route for houseboats on the Great Loop.

We are looking to have a houseboat built to handle the Great Loop? We have sent out a bid to three houseboat manufacturers a list of our requirements for a future houseboat.

This vessel will be 95' x 22' in length, and needs to be capable of navigating around the Great Circle Route.

Can someone provide proper recommended design (structural) characteristics, that will be necessary to handle the great lakes, across the Gulf from Mobile to Florida and other potentially rough water areas?

I currently have the prospective manufacturers and their respective marine architects studying the issue.

Would also appreciate any experiential stories or recommendations relative to taking a houseboat on such a journey.

Thank you,
Robert W. Steen

Reply - Answer
Well Robert, congratulations on your decision to do the Great Loop, and also on your decision to have a new houseboat built to handle it all.

If I was to have a new houseboat built to do the Great Circle, I would definitely have Pluckebaum Houseboats on my list of potential manufacturers. Skipperliner Houseboats would also be on my potential builder list.

You would want a vessel that can handle some of the following conditions:

1) I'm not a Marine Engineer, however most manufacturers that build cruising houseboats are generally incorporating many of the stringent ABYC - American Boat & Yacht Council Standards.

2) A vessel with a fair amount of freeboard for wave handling capabilities. It makes cruising less stressful in difficult conditions.

3) Sufficient engine power to be able to get out harms way, and to handle the current and rough water conditions.

4) If you're building a large houseboat, than a good windlass and bow thruster would be on my list of necessary options, amongst many other options :)

5) The list could go on, and on, and on ....

I just wonder why you're having a 95' x 22' wide houseboat built to go long distance cruising. I don't know how many people you expect to have on board, it just seems like a large vessel to handle with two people, considering some of the marina sizes along the rivers.

Either way, we are all curious and eagerly looking forward to any updates that you have, since this article about a houseboat cruising the Great Loop is surely to be on many houseboaters minds.

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their houseboat cruising experiences. If anybody is knowledgeable in the structural and construction standards, please share any information for us all.

IAN - from

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Maximum length
by: Anonymous

You're size requirements had me wondering. In order to go through the Trent-Severn waterways; To enter the system from Georgian Bay (clockwise on your drawing), you do so through lock 45, at Port Severn.

It is the smallest of the whole system of 44 locks and it has a maximum length of 84 feet by 23 wide. So, while your width would be OK, if a tight fit, your length definitely would not.

Also, you should be aware that under normal conditions the depth goes from 6ft within locks 20 to 45, to 8ft through locks 1 to 19. With the size of your boat you describe, I wonder if 6ft might be a little shallow. The lowest bridge clearance of 22ft might be ok, again depending on your boat specs.

Gook luck, though, it does sound exciting.

What abouta Coastal Commander for the Loop?
by: Boathpy

I am in the process or restoring a 49ft 490 Coastal Commander by Holiday Mansion with the intent of doing the loop. I have removed both engines and out drives. I plan on either a single or twin 4 stroke Outboards.

This boat has a 12ft beam and a very aggressive bow but the hull bottom flattens out quickly and with an outboard(s)will have a pretty shallow draft. The original gross of the boat was 22K. I would appreciate any and all input.


Houseboats on parts of the Loop
by: Graeme

Sorry, I didn't mean for my questions earlier to go under 'anonymous'. If you have feedback for me, it's Graeme.

Another section I like is Chicago down to Nashville. I was told to avoid the lower Mississippi as it would be too choppy for a houseboat with the barge activity. Is it much better heading up the Ohio?


I did half the loop on a houseboat.
by: dc9loser

OK, as a complete houseboat novice I purchased a Catamaran Cruisers 40x12 near Atlantic City, NJ and then sailed it on the ICW to my home Northwest of Tampa. It really was not that hard. It took about 19 actual sailing days to do the roughly 1700 miles.

Since that time I have repeatedly sailed on the Gulf of Mexico back and forth to points north of here, as far as 80 miles up the Suwannee River. I once sailed from Homossassa to my home while a Cat 4 hurricane was in the gulf and in spite of gusts to 40 mph and two feet of storm surge it was bumpy but perfectly safe.

The biggest threat to your safety on such a trip is the calender. Only go when the weather is perfect or nearly so. I was in a hurry and ended up crossing St. Andrews sound in Georgia in very bad conditions. I made it, but it was a handful.

My boat is powered by a single 115 hp Yamaha outboard which is ideal for shallow water operation.

I know the experts above want you to buy a deep draft boat for safety? Frankly that is the dumbest suggestion possible. It will ruin your ICW experience. Shallow draft is safer and give you the peace of mind 99% of the time, whereas that deep draft boat will do the same less than 1% of the time.

Shallow draft give you more places to hide out bad weather and more places to explore. It also does not constrain you to sailing only at high tide.

In the Gulf when it gets rough I just stay shallow. Look if you are in 3 feet of water it is IMPOSSIBLE for huge scary waves to develop. If I were going to go from here (Tampa) to Carrabelle I would hug the coast which is pretty easy since in the entire big bend area of Florida the Gulf gets deeper at the rate of 1 to 3 feet per mile. I can be five miles offshore and in less than 5 feet of water.

If I were to do the trip in a houseboat I'd probably get a 55x16 Catamaran Cruisers boat with twin 4-stroke outboards. It has about 18 inches of hull draft and will be able to make 12 mph when you need it, or cruise at 6 to 8 mph and not burn much gas.

Having said all the above, I am eventually going to get a more seaworthy boat for deep water cruising, which is not the conditions you see on the ICW.

Just my thoughts.

Houseboats on parts of the Loop
by: Anonymous

I am wanting to purchase a used houseboat, because of the comfort and space that come with longer hauls. I also openly admit a lack of serious experience, so I think it would be easier to handle something with less draft (since running aground seems to be quite frequent) and that would mean coping with limited chart-reading experience and understanding of shoaling difficulties, etc.

I have read all the Dozier Waterway Guide books, and agree that the houseboat is not suitable for the Gulf and Lakes portions and even have my trepidations about some of the Carolina and Georgian Sounds.

My compromise is therefore to do parts of the loop that will give great variety and viewing without too much difficulty, and after years of more experience perhaps I could tackle another boat and the uncharted parts.

My initial best parts would be the Florida east coast all the way to the Keys. I also am desperate to do the New York canals and go right up the Champlain canals into the St Lawrence, the Ottowa River, Rideau to Kingston and back to Oswego. Not sure if this Ontario crossing from Kingston to Oswego is possible though in a houseboat?

I was thinking of a single-motored 36' Holiday Mansion or Gibson with about a two and a half draft; or even the one foot draft 30' Adventurecraft. Would anyone care to comment or advise which parts of the loop are do-able in a similar houseboat?

Houseboat on the Loop.
by: Anonymous

Just to clarify - houseboating on the loop:
I have taken an 85' houseboat, no pontoons but a V hull, from Sarasota, up the coast and crossed the gulf on a 34 hour journey to Appalachicola. I left the crew at that time, and the boat then continued up to Tennessee. It can all be done.

We have a 65' V hulled houseboat, and with proper planning for the loop, this can be completed. Wouldn't catch us doing the loop in a sailboat….heights and drafts are restraining. Our height can be under 19' and our draft is 3.5 feet.

It is all personal preference as to what vessel each of us prefers. We are just saying that it can be done. I wouldn't suggest a houseboat any longer than what we have at 65' and never would suggest any boat with pontoons trying the loop.

Our boat has been out on the ocean many times, bypassing the inland waterways because of the hazards, and being responsible about our home, don't take any chances.

PS: this boat has been to the Bahamas, and up north to the 1000 islands. It all comes down to responsible planning. And in our years of travel, it always seemed that at the end of the day doing the loop, at the marinas, everyone ended up on our boat to talk about travels and experiences.

Which makes it very worthwhile as we have met and maintained awesome friendships with sailors and power boaters alike.

Just to clarify.

Our houseboat did half the route
by: Anonymous

Our houseboat started in Tennessee to the Gulf to the Great Lakes in a 65 foot Fantasy houseboat and it was an awesome trip.

We stopped there only because of time constraints and hurricanes. We were in Houseboat Magazine in March 2011.
The only tough part is paying for fuel but we burn a gallon a mile at 9 knots with twin Yanmar diesels and our genny running.

Our awesome Fantasy intercoastal took 3-5 foot waves really well but was a handful at 5-7 footers but then that was quite rare as we usually waited out any weather like that.

It can be done and is a fantastic trip as we did 4k miles that trip and loved it. Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done.

Juts our thoughts…

The great loop
by: Tom

Hi Robert:
Doing the great loop is not easy. I don't see anywhere where you indicate you have experience in sailing. I sailed the great lakes for more than six years and the waters can be very dangerous for a regular house boat and I don't recommend for you to get a regular house boat.

For the Great Lakes and the gulf you NEED a deep hull with a high free board or you will scoop water from your interior and you will hate the day that you did this to yourself.

If the funds are there for you to finance a boat why not look at a Dutch Barge, Branson Boats, English barge builder, construct live a board barges and they have or can constructed for a class C ocean that will help you to navigate open waters.

Tom de Jong,former Dutch mariner

Houseboats cruising the Great Loop
by: Capt John

If I thought there was a good seaworthy houseboat capable of cruising America's Great Loop in it's entirety - I would have one.

I live a-board and cruise the Great Loop on a full-time basis. Furthermore, I am a very frugal voyager.

Right now I am averagng 0.4 gallons per hour motoring around in a 32' sailboat. Needless to say, if I could do even 1.0 gallon an hour in a nice little "houseboat" I would - simply for the open air, flat deck, and additional space.

However, not only does one have 70 miles of open Gulf to cross (between Carrabelle and Steinhatchee - one has to cross a good portion of open waters across NY Harbor, Chesepeake Bay, and Albermarle Sound. Albermarle Sound can (and usually is) worse than the Gulf.

Now. . . some have 'done the loop' in everything from jet skis to open skiffs and motor boats, and in fact it has been done in a sooped-up customized tri-toon.

But a houseboat on pontoons especially, would (in my opinion) be a very bad idea unless one was able to trailer around these areas.


What about trailerable houseboats?
by: fsta

Can a trailerable go the Great Loop, or substantial parts thereof?

Great Loop Travels - doing the loop in a 65 ft houseboat
by: Anonymous

Last year we left Sarasota and went up to the 1000 Islands in Canada and then returned in December. We will be continuing the loop this year yet starting a little earlier than last year.

Our story will be in the Houseboat magazine in March or on our blog. You need to research it properly and be prepared because it is not a cakewalk nor is it cheap.

Great Loop Houseboats - no houseboat I know of...
by: Capt. John

Sorry guys, but no "standard production" houseboat I know can "for certain" handle that open 160 mile stretch of the open Gulf of Mexico from Caravelle to Tarpon Springs.

I am on my 4th time around the Loop. Did it once when I was too young to appreciate it, and have done it twice more. Now, I am retiring on the Loop, on the long slow route.

So, just to let you know, I have "first hand" seen aluminum style pontoon houseboats head out into the Gulf, and come crippling back looking more like trapezoids then rectangles. Furthermore, low "freeboard" both swamps and flips these babies.

You need a very high freeboard, and a solid hull to make that Gulf, and so you know, the Great Lakes can be just as bad.

Houseboat on the Great Loop- doing that now
by: Fantasy

We have a 65x18 Fantasy houseboat that we have begun our loop travels with this April. Just the two of us manage this, and that is as large a vessel as one should have! We have been on the Atlantic side and done the locks and the ocean.

The great loop contains every body of water imaginable and every condition weather wise. I highly recommend not going to 95x22 unless you have crew onboard. There will be some places that it could be difficult to maneuver through with a boat that size. Good luck!

Great Loop Houseboat
by: BillG

I have a similar thought (dream). I found several Cari-Craft houseboats for sale 45' to 63' and they seem large enough for my needs. They are catamarans.

One pilothouse looks more like a tug with its custom bow, all seem to have sea going capabilities. I read an article about someone taking one to Belize and Bahamas, another down the Baja. Any opinions on this vessel?

Houseboat Travels - doing the loop 18x65 houseboat
by: Fantasy

We are doing the loop with just the two of us and you just need to pick your times and weather. So if we can make it, well, anyone can as this is our first voyage in this great intra-coastal (Fantasy)

Your size is too big for most marinas and will be impossible on some of the ICW waterways but rock on and just modify the boat.

Choice of houseboats
by: Atlantis Blues

Robert; the Great Loop, what a good time. I would strongly recommend looking at a Pluckebaum houseboat. I lived a few miles from their boatyard for many year and watched them build the boats.

The workmanship and quality of materials is of the highest order. And the resale is very high. I worked with them at one time on a boat I wanted to build and found them very easy to work with. Also their hulls are very deep affording a great deal of storage, an important consideration on such a long trip.

On the boat your are looking at building I would offer the following comments. The beam you are looking at is pretty wide for many of the areas you will venture into. If you can keep it to 18 foot it will be to your benefit.

I would also suggest building the houseboat with Kort nozzles if you plan on cruising at or near displacement speeds. They will cut your fuel consumption and if they are directional type will aid in handling in tight places.

I looked at buying a 50 foot steel double ended trawler with a single engine and no bow thruster and the Kort nozzle was amazing in tight quarters. If you plan on cruising at palnning speeds the Kort nozzles are not the way to go though.

A single level deck is something that is very nice on a cruising boat. When you basically spend 24 hours a day on the boat the steps get to be a pain.

Have fun on your trip.

I hope to make it one day.

AGLCA site for Great Loop info
by: Dave

Robert, I am also looking forward to doing the Great Loop in a houseboat with the knowledge that this type of boat requires a greater awareness of weather and sea conditions.

But whatever boat you choose, you would be wise to become familiar with the America's Great Loop Cruiser's Association (AGLCA) and their website for the information and tools available there. They offer a set of free tips sent to your email.

From tip #2- 19.1 feet is the lowest unavoidable structural clearance you will face. And the smallest lock at Port Severn is 23' x 84', so a 95' vessel would not be able to use the dock.
In any event, happy cruising.

by: beached guy

My mind boggles me at the thought of such a huge houseboat. You didn't write if you had prior experience with the ICW.

So here are some of my observations at random.

I can tell you firsthand that some of the Sounds and the Great Lakes can get more then just a little bit bumpy. How much crew (not passengers) are you counting on?

Some of the docks in Florida are specifically designed to hurt your boat unless you got substantial rubstrakes on the hull. Fenders will be not enough.

New Jersey's locals like to park their butts (boats) right in the ICW channel (which is narrow and convolted) to do their fishing and consider transient boat as an intrusion.

In other narrow sections further south, we found swimmers in the water not heeding any boat traffic.

I am presuming that the "Skipper Bob" publications are still available. These are low cost no pictures cruising guides for the entire Loop and are of outstanding value in what you get.

There is also a organization that deals with folks that do the Loop. You can probably find it easy on the net and they have a large amount of up to date info and first hand reports.

There are several fixed bridges with limited air clearance that you need to be aware of, the lowest just south of Chicago if memory serves me.

I could see a houseboat your size may be too tall, something around 15 feet was the height that would pass underneath.

I agree with Ian, why such a size houseboat, and would a different style boat for the same $$ be more suitable for such an undertaking.

Something a little smaller?
by: Richard

I have been thinking of building a Glen-L, 45' Bon Voyage. The product literature states " though the hull is intended primarily for protected waters, a vee-form with long skeg assures good handling when the weather kicks up, while the topsides feature a good flare that combines with the forward bulwark to knock down spray for a dry ride."

There's lots of cabin space and I thought if a person raised the forward bulwark another foot it would stay pretty dry. Why go longer than you need to.

I would add a small bulbous bow with an integrated bow thruster for docking and I think things should be pretty good. You could get one of these built for a reasonable price (I would use the fiberglass version). I look forward to hearing your feelings.


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