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A houseboat rental at
Ft. Myers, Pine Island Sound

Not all houseboat rentals are memorable

Not all houseboat rentals are memorable

Paradise Vacations of SWFL

Our rental experience wasn't funny, but it was memorable. I wanted to share it somewhere to prevent other renters from being disappointed as we were.

For our 20th anniversary, we decided to do something completely different. My wife saw a show on the Travel Channel about houseboating and we found a place in No. Ft. Myers Paradise Vacations of SWFL that had a 41' and a 37' for rent. I did my due diligence and searched the web for any info on the company and found nothing good or bad, so we went ahead and booked a week on the 41 in March for an October trip.

The company is run by a retired Coast Guard Chief, and the brochure showed pictures of 3 pretty boats lined up at some marina. The literature stated that the charter would originate in Marinatown, and showed pictures of happy people enjoying the cruising life. Everything looked so good.

I immediately ordered the local charts and cruising guide for Pine Island Sound, Sanibel and Captiva, made a loose float plan and called marinas to reserve slips. I studied the charts, read the cruising guide a few dozen times and Google-Earthed the area to become familiar with the geography.

Getting close to charter time, I called the rental company to inquire about the best way to get from the RSW airport to where the boat is. They gave me an address and when I looked it up on maps, I found out it was not a marina but the owner's house on a canal with access to the Caloosahatchee River. The boats were actually docked in their back yard, not a marina. Warning sign #1.

We paid an extra $150 to spend the night before the charter on the boat at the dock. The owner came down and showed us how to use the head etc, but he didn't know the boat very well and mis-instructed us on the proper switch to throw to get the head vacuum pump to work. The pump motor overheated and caused a short in the wiring.

Then he told us to use the other head which as it turns out was the one with the shorted pump. Of course, that head backed up and I discovered the aft head was working fine. Warning sign #2.

The overall condition of the boat was fair, but I was getting suspicious at this point and went over to the 37 to see if it looked any better. The condition and layout was better, but then I noticed engine parts on the aft deck and a hammer on the helm station and figured there were issues with this boat as well. Warning sign #3

On Sunday morning we did our checkout ride with the checkout captain and motored across the river to pump out and fill up. The wind was kicking up 25-30 from the northwest, but the checkout captain felt with our experience it wouldn't be a problem and sent us on our way. The first day's trip was a short hop to the end of the river to anchor in a bay just off the ICW. About 1 hour into the leg, the motor started losing power and then quit completely.

I dropped the anchor and it grabbed, so I started troubleshooting the problem and called
the charter company. They told me to call the checkout captain and I left a message. After waiting for a half hour, I tried to start the engine and it seemed the fault had cleared. Later at anchor, the checkout captain finally called, claimed it was probably water in the fuel and said nothing could be done unless it happened again and I could tell him what the engine diagnostics said. Warning sign #4.

The next day we planned the longest leg to Boca Grand, and then we would do short hops back for the rest of the week. In the narrowest part of the ICW between Captiva and Pine Island, the engine quit again. The anchor went out again and grabbed in spite of the 25 knot winds and there we sat just outside the trench. Calls to the charter company and the checkout captain went unanswered, so I called TowBoatUS for a tow.

The tow captain didn't think he could pull us up to the anchor so I tried to keep the engine running long enough to motor up to the anchor and break it loose. Just as I was getting the rode onto the cleat to break the anchor loose, the engine quit and the hook did its best to pull me off the boat. I let the anchor go and it took the bow rail with it. I managed to tie a fender to the thimble and cut it loose. TowBoatUS took us in tow to Tarpon Pt, where the owner finally showed up with a new fuel filter.

By then we'd had enough and packed our bags while we were being towed in and got off. We couldn't get back to Cape Cod because hurricane Sandy had the entire northeast shutdown, so we stayed with some friends for a couple of nights. The charter company refunded our money no questions asked.

I felt a profound sense of sadness for a few days after this ordeal. I had studied the charts and books for 6 months and it was like losing an old friend. I wished there was something online about this company so I could have avoided the situation entirely. So, to help out anyone in the future, I'm posting this here.

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Reply - Answer

It is unfortunate when we hear about rentals that have gone bad. Hopefully the operator has "made it right" with some form of compensation.

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers and visitors will share and post comments about their houseboat experiences and tips.

Feel free to use the "Click here to post comments." link found near the bottom of this page.

Thanks again for sharing, IAN - from

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