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Any Winter or Cold Climate Houseboat Living Tips?

by Ian Macpherson
(Toronto, Canada)

What tips for winter houseboat living?

What tips for winter houseboat living?

The idea of living on a houseboat during the winter intrigues me. What modifications are involved for winter and do you know anyone living on a houseboat in cold climates?

I've heard a "plastic wrap" helps. Would any of the high end houseboat manufacturers make a boat for winter climates?

Thanks from Toronto.

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Reply - Answer
If the thought of living on a houseboat during the winter intrigues you, you are not alone. You will find people from all over the world doing it in different types of boats, and yes, even houseboats.

When you say winter or colder climates, I presume you mean that the water will or can freeze, and that there will be some snow and wind.

Some of the things to consider:

1) A water bubbler system to agitate the water around the houseboat to keep it from freezing.

2) A method to keep the houseboat heated (electric-propane-diesel) and condensation under control (dehumidifier).

3) Winterization of the outboard or outdrive system in order to reduce the risk of freeze damage

4) A method to keep the wind and snow from building up on the houseboat. EX: a clear plastic shrink wrap system, or portable garage tempo, around entrances and exterior walls to reduce heat loss.

5) A method to get potable drinking water and a way to pump out the septic tank.

6) A reliable generator for the occasional power loss to prevent freeze damage.

7) This tip is a BIG ONE, a spouse or partner that understands and accepts some of the small or large inconveniences involved in winter houseboat living.

There's other things that need to be done, but I'm sure you get the idea, it's feasible, do-able, and enjoyable, however it's not the "norm".

In closing, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their winter or cold climate houseboat experiences.

IAN from all-about-houseboats

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Comments for Any Winter or Cold Climate Houseboat Living Tips?

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Free frozen lines
by: Anonymous

When water not running lines are frozen with increseased odds that line, fitting or valve split. Investigate entire lines dark water and fresh fir any breaks, with water running its dangerous to assume line ok and not leaking.

Very carefully I use 1200 watt hot air blower gun similar to hair dryer. Take care though as it can melt plastic, rubber and even remove paint. Once you discover where freeze is then it is precisely the area where warm air needs to be continually circulated.

We used to use pump houses not to dis-similar ti an un-insulated out house lol. to cover our well and to keep it from freezing all that was needed was alight bulb left burning.

Thinking these new led lights won't throw much heat but gives you some idea. Beware of heat lamps as we lost building to fire using one that was found to have fallen over.

Strongly suggest not waiting for spring, as stated we did a lot of winter camping, with one unit on site we had a sewer line break, thinking all was ok until spring when we found an entire cavity below had been filled and frozen of sewer water.

Worst night mare clean up. Sure would love to try the winter boat but also have no illusions to the harshnes of Canada winter. The skating and peace sounds BEAUTIFUL. BD

No water
by: Bree

This is my first winter on a houseboat and I have no running water since the freeze almost two weeks ago. It was 45 degrees today and the toilet now flushes but no sink or shower water.

At what temperature do you think I will have running water again? Thank you!

Brrrr sub zero fiberglass built like boat RV Winter living
by: BD

Living in Western Canada, winter camped in a Bigfoot 12' similar construct to houseboat. Lessons cost thousands to learn. Insulation is critical and needs to be material which does not denagrate when wet.

Aluminum frame keep in mind metal (particularly hollow) always/draws bead of frost inside similar build up you might expect to see on windows. As you heat interior that frost runs down walls, windows, sub floor etc... inside and out and refreezes or pools as water destroying insulation value, rots wood, creates black mold.

Windows ideally should be double pane sealed similar to houses. If you look at your window frames you might notice single pane and frame with small holes at bottom which during summer allows moisture to drain outside. These frames in the winter freeze, melts, refreezes and brings water inside.

Propane heating is by nature filled with water, therefore more difficult and again adds unwanted moisture. Dry heat EX: fire place, pot belly etc... far better. Insulate, Insulate, seal and insulate.

I am considering year round houseboat also, Yellowknife, NWT dry dock boats to live year round, thats sub 60 below and for ease and peace of mind think I stick with winners and do same.

Also the exposed non insulated, holding tanks, plumbing etc will freeze, split, leak huge damage. Some people will create an insulated free air space around these and run one or two furnace vents down into cavity to prevent freezing or leave open exposed to inside.

Good Luck.

PS: if dry docking - farmers used to run 1 stack straw bales around base to cheaply insulate and ease recycling afterwards.

Full-time liveaboard east of Toronto, ON Canada
by: Michelle

I've been living aboard full-time on my houseboat (40' x 10') for 2.5 years now. Winter 2012/13 was a cake walk compared to last year, 2013/14!

A full shrink wrap cover is mandatory here - it's insulating. Also, when I gutted the interior to renovate after I bought it, I had insulation blown into the walls and ceiling - thank goodness!!

I have two small electric heaters, which are sufficient, even with last years' record low temps, they kept up. Outside, on my enclosed deck, I have a dual element propane heater - when the sun comes in my "windows" (aka clear vinyl cut outs in the cover), it's like a sunroom - very cozy, indeed!

I have 3 pontoons, so I have 2 agitators in the water - flying these requires placing them strategically and constant monitoring.

Last year they had a hard time keeping up, so breaking ice manually was a daily exercise (we only lost one ice chipper). One day at a time got us through it.

Winter at the marina is extremely peaceful and beautiful! I love it as much as I love it in the summer. Me and my neighbors even built two skating rinks last year and had a ball - this year is looking like it might be a skating rink year again.

Cheers and happy live-a-boarding!! BEST-LIFE-EVER :)

Pickering, ON

Reply - Answer

Michelle, thanks for taking the time to write such a positive and refreshing post about living aboard in the colder winter months. I do agree with you that the peacefulness and beauty are something money cannot buy... :)

Thanks again, IAN from

New year round live aboard
by: Anonymous

We're first time live-aboards but we will be braving the winter.
A lot of boaters we talked to use wood burning stoves for heat. That seems a little scary to me. Dunno, thoughts?

Winter Houseboat Living - heating our boat
by: Julia

We live in Edgewater, MD on a houseboat year round. This will be our second winter and the end of our first year living aboard this boat.

It's a 47' Aqua home and we find that two space heaters up top and a blue flame ventless propane heater for the bedrooms work the best for us. We no longer use the back entrance and we mounted it there.

The boat next to us has a bubbler so we don't worry about that much. We put the plastic wrap around the windows to keep out the draft. But during the day, the sun heats the inside of the boat and we have to turn all the heaters off.

The electra-san waste disposal works fine and our boat's motors do not work so we don't have to worry about winterizing the motors.

So far, I love living on the boat but sometimes I miss having a yard and a bigger kitchen. But with two people and a kid it works out just fine. :)

Reply - Answer
Julia, thanks for sharing your winter heating and living tips.

IAN from

Houseboat Living - live on it while dry-docked?
by: Mimi in Pittsburgh

I have been thinking about buying a houseboat and putting it on a piece of land and living in it. I don't think it would be taxable if on a trailer. Would it be easier to live in in the winter? What would a person have to do to "winterize" it if living in it while dry-docked? Thanks! :)

Winter living on your houseboat
by: Kathy

I am getting ready to live on my house boat for the winter. I will update as the weeks go by. Any tips from those of you who are seasoned are much appreciated....

Winter houseboat living tip
by: neal from tampa

Cruise south, way south, sunny florida :)

Winter Houseboat Tips, and a few more ideas
by: Ronnie and John

We are full time live aboards and have been for years.. we really never enjoyed winter that much until we moved on to the houseboat.

1. You will want a good BBQ grill, there is nothing like BBQing in the midst of winter.

2. If you have a top deck with a canvas cover you will want to get some extra tie down straps, rivets and also bungee cords for those winds that blow.

3. We have a 12.5 KW generator which runs all of our equipment and appliances, but it also runs up the fuel bill, so you may want to get a small portable generator to run the essentials when you aren't running full power.

4. Have some movies on hand because your TV stations will sometimes go off.

5. Have a small portable space heater for inside and when you want to sit outside.


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