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Building a Houseboat with No Plans.

by Amelia
(Edenton, NC)

Building a Houseboat without Plans, only a 1/12 scale model.

Building a Houseboat without Plans, only a 1/12 scale model.

My husband is building a 50' x 16' houseboat with out plans, from scratch, out of his own head - no plans, no blueprint, however with lots of unsought advice from me, from very amused neighbors, and generous total strangers.

After three years of cutting, gluing, screwing framing and fitting pressure-treated plywood, it now begins to look like an actual shanty houseboat, roof and all, and now we've come to the slow-picky stage, deciding on systems and figuring out how to install them - wiring, plumbing, outboards, and the like.

Eager to get this unlikely show on the road, even before it's got windows, galley and head, we've called a number of outboard motor salesmen and described the problem to head-scratching incredulity. Yes, we patiently explain.

The houseboat is in the water, since it was assembled there. No, we can't haul it out-- too big, but we can tow it to a nearby boat ramp to install a pair of 60-75-hp outboards. A few salesmen have actually come to call, to see the challenge close up, but as yet, we have not gotten the first written quote. The economic downturn doesn't seem to have hit them hard enough yet...

So, it is fun, but probably a long time before being underway, at this rate. Is there a question buried in this pile of verbiage? Why, yes. Many.

Some of the questions that we have are:

House power: are we good to go with A/C throughout, rather than having some of each, if we install an inverter for solar panels and generator?

Since we're building our houseboat from scratch, our engine instruments, power controls, and navigation displays can be installed almost any way we like. If you had a blank slate, how would you do it? (In most multi-engine airplanes, the gauges are twinned- L-tachometer/R-tachometer, L-oil pressure/R-oil pressure, etc...

In the few power boats I've been aboard, the instruments seem to be clustered above the throttle for each engine, so you must look up to the left group, and then over to the right group to compare them. Do we care?

Do you have favorite brands for appliances, specifically, refrigerator and LP stove?

I'm thinking to go with a Raritan head and a Purasan waste treatment. Got another thought?

Flooring- I like wood. How will laminate hold up?

Other thoughts you care to share?

I'm grateful for whatever attention you have for all this foolishness!

Amelia from Edenton, NC.

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Reply - Answer

Well Amelia, congratulations on your project, and on such a major undertaking, building a houseboat, with no plans, only a 1/12 scale model.

To answer some of your questions,

Should you have A/C 120 volts throughout? Well, you will find that the majority of houseboats have a combination of 12 volts and 120 volts, since some of the lighting and other accessories can be powered from DC power.

Dual or
Twin Engine Instrument Placement?
That's a great point that I never considered, would it be better to have instruments grouped together, or grouped according to Port or Starboard engines. I would imagine since there is no "law or standard" regarding instrument placement, you're free to install them to your preference. Hopefully other readers will share & post their comments...

Thinking of Building a Houseboat with No Plans?

* Once you have decided to build a boat, you will be needing some building materials, marine parts, and technical building information.

* Before you start building that boat you should also take a moment to watch some of the best "How To" videos on boat building.

Do you have favorite brands for appliances, specifically, refrigerator and LP stove? We have used and have had great service from propane appliances such as Dometic, Norcold, Wedgewood, are some of the most popular ones. Whatever appliances you install, be extremely smart and safe with propane, and install a propane sensor and control kit. Better safe than sorry.

I'm thinking to go with Raritan's head and Purasan waste treatment. Got another thought? The Raritan and Purasan are a great combination, and others that are gaining popularity are the Marine Composting Toilet, and the Electric SeaEra Raritan Head.

Flooring- I like wood. How will laminate hold up? There are some issues to consider before choosing a flooring material for your houseboat, since the marine environment, or houseboats for that matter can amplify certain conditions.

Conditions like high humidity, rain, water, sand, high traffic, rocking motion (can be slippery), are just a few of the things to look at before deciding whether you want wood, tiles, linoleum, carpet, etc... I also agree that wood looks great.

Other thoughts you care to share? The thoughts that I will share now are simply things that after a lifetime of boating, and a decade of living aboard a houseboat, I now realize are "options" that make life much easier or simply more comfortable. Sometimes it is easier to plan and build it in now before the walls and interior finishing is all done.

Things to possibly look at are an Electric Anchor (Windlass), Thermopump for Heating and Air Conditioning, Davit System for a Dinghy, Flybridge for Navigating, Patio Doors & Screens, Washdown Pumps, Bow Thruster, and a easy Ladder to get out of the water, are just a few things to think about. Just food for thought!

You will also find our Houseboat Parts and Accessories page of interest to you since it's also a Reviews and Buyer's Guide.

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers and visitors will share and post comments about their "no plan" houseboat building 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 all-about-houseboats

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Comments for Building a Houseboat with No Plans.

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Bow thrusters and other ideas
by: Erik

Hi Emilia,

I am still planning the build for my own houseboat but as I live in Florida and work as a kayak nature guide I have a big personal issue with props (having seen the damage done to manatees and dolphins).

My solution is an all electric boat. Since you've already procured motors for primary propulsion my idea will not be viable as a primary drive for your boat. It will however mitigate the need for other costly motors with a simple solution for bow thrusters.

I used to make pond set ups for friends and in a few houses I lived in in the past. Often with large high volume waterfalls.

These waterfalls are powered by pond pumps (electromagnetic pumps spinning and impeller) that range from a few thousand gallons per hour to pumps that can do 14,600 gph. These pumps can push water to a 35-40 foot header (height).

Essentially this is a simple jet powered method for creating thrusters for docking your boat. The biggest of these pumps can be purchased for a few hundred dollars on amazon or eBay.

For bow thrusters you would not need large pumps. Anything in the 2,000 - 3,000 gph range would do. They can be built into the hull bellow the waterline or added on externally.

I plan to power my boat entirely with them. I'm also skipping the obvious "green" energy options (though I will use some solar powered objects like fans for a small greenhouse) I will instead be using a magnetic generator to generate free power. 12 deep cycle golf cart batteries in series with an inverter and power regulator will fulfill all of my needs.

Essentially enough electric power for two houses. For my purposes making the boat jet powered makes it safe for wildlife and totally clean and independent of fuel and chemicals.

Best wishes with your ongoing build. Cheers!

Yet another update.
by: Amelia

The homemade houseboat is still a work-in-progress, but there's now a lovely galley with enough space to comfortably prepare dinner for a dozen.

We decided, happily, on a C-Head "composting" toilet, with which we are entirely pleased. It was inexpensive, after 2.5 years, remains completely stink-free, easy to keep clean.

We purchased a stable and sturdy, light, easy-to-paddle inflatable kayak that snugs nicely and easily overhead under the rafters of the back deck, out of the way, but quite convenient.

We find that with increasing competence, the need for thrusters becomes less urgent... and those "Marriage-Saver" headset-walkie-talkies are invaluable for bow-to-stern docking discussions.

Also one of those back-up camera setups they sell for RVs and big trucks. Small and unobtrusive, it gives good situational awareness.

We bought a portable air-conditioner, but it really doesn't do a very effective job. Still thinking on that. There is, no doubt, a very expensive alternative system that would require extensive renovations, but we're not at that point yet.

Thanks much for the book recommendation. It will be on my doorstep in 48 hours!


Electrical & Mechanical systems
by: Laketime

I can't emphasize enough the utility...the genius of the book by Nigel Calder: Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual on Amazon

Six or seven years ago, we bought an old houseboat from a bank. They had repossessed it, so we didn't have anyone to ask about the systems. For instance the toilet was in the banker's office. The info sheet said the boat was partially remodeled...yeah, everything was partially done.

I, being a professional builder and remodeler, saw every thing at a glance that would need attention, but my wife was just in love with it, so there went my bargaining power, out the window! But, I was charmed by the old boat, as well, I must say.

All this to say we had to pretty much replace all the systems: single pole shore power breaker, Romex A/C wiring, propane lines with splices and fittings all over inside the hull, waste holding that was...just a nightmare!

I found Calder's book, seemingly by holy intervention, and have learned so much not only about ABYC codes for all these systems, but WHY these things are recommended. He has a way of explaining things so even I can understand it.

If you want to put your boat together in a safe, intelligent, efficient, and elegant manner, get this book. It's way worth the price.

Update: Building a Houseboat with No Plans.
by: Amelia

We had some hull damage in a storm a few months ago, and we're awaiting both fine weather and strong help to remove those crunched sections of hull and patch them. I believe it may be a project for the next week or two. Wish us luck! Like everything else, the solution will not be ordinary or predictable. (sigh.)

Building a Houseboat with No Plans

Hope this helps, Amelia.

Link for the houseboat building pics?
by: Anonymous

There used to be a link for the houseboat building pics. What happened to them, Bill

Reply - Answer
The link was no longer functioning, so I had to unfortunately remove it.

IAN from

Progress Report
by: Amelia

We're now the proud owners of a pair of Yamaha T-60 four-stroke high-thrust outboards. They were installed a couple of weeks ago, and so far, we're quite pleased.

The boat tracks nicely, turns in its own length, (7mph at 2000rpm, still breaking 'em in, so haven't gotten to WOT yet) and seems both quiet and stable. That's the good news.

The bad news is that almost two operational hours into it, we've got a lot to learn about steering this barge in close quarters-- as in, how do we get back to our dock again without scraping paint in a fresh crosswind?

Same as how you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice practice? That and a lot of cushioning on both boat and dock, I suppose.

As for its interior, there's none, yet. No finished walls, no electrical, no plumbing, no fancy flooring. It's just a shell, except for a newly constructed mahogany helm, a shiny stainless wheel, basic engine instruments and binnacle.

But for now, it might be one heck of a fine motorized camping platform, as it's watertight and bug-proof.

By this time next year with luck, it'll be somewhat more civilized, with real plumbing and lights that work, a bed that doesn't need to be inflated, and so forth. But for now, we still have a very long list of projects, so no time for boredom.

Reply - Answer
Wow Amelia, it sounds like you folks have been busy, and glad to hear that the outboards are working out well. Like you said, before you know it, it will be finished. Thanks for sharing the progress report.

IAN from

Houseboat Flooring
by: Bill V

On my 80 ft. house boat, I will use carpeting in the state rooms, lounge, and master state room. The galley and dining area will be non skid, non slip, CORK flooring.

Comes in rolls 6' wide, and butts evenly to the next edge. It also comes with glue to fasten to the exposed decking. NO screws.... Bill

Watching closely
by: Bill V

I am doing the same, building a houseboat with no plans. I only have pics of what I want. Mine will be using 44" home built (plywood) circular style pontoons.

Would love to have aluminum, but very expensive. My boat will be 80' x 18' beam. We would like more pics of your houseboat to the finish.

So far you have proved a big point to all the skeptics that said it couldn't be done. Your boat is incredible, very nice. Thanks Bill

by: Amelia

Ian, thanks so much for your good advice. Some of your suggestions are already firmly in the gotta-have bin: anchor windlass and marine air-conditioning, for instance.

Some we're still debating. With two high-thrust outboards mounted 14 feet apart, do you suppose we'll need bowthrusters, too?

The davits & dink thing is still being argued. Himself thinks there ought to be a way to snug the dinghy up between the hulls when it's not in use. I'm lobbying for stern-mounted davits behind the 'back porch' roof, as perhaps easier to lower and climb into, and maybe quieter.

I'm looking forward to all the great advice your readers will offer, too. We have a lot to learn, and prefer as little as possible of it be 'the hard way.' Thanks again, Amelia.

Reply - Answer
Amelia, in reference to the "bow thruster" this all depends on your anticipated usage, wind, current, and docking facilities etc... Good thing that you will have twin high thrust outboards mounted 14 feet apart.

IAN - from

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