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Newbie Houseboat Warning - Money Saving Tips on Buying House Boats!

by Old Houseboater
(Gulf Shores, Al.)

NEWBIE WARNING about Buying Houseboats!

NEWBIE WARNING about Buying Houseboats!

When it comes to Newbie Houseboat Warnings, here's some money saving tips on buying house boats. This comes from 50+ years of boating experience, and is solely written to help beginners or newcomers interested in houseboating.

As time goes by and the economy gets worse, there are more derelict houseboats advertised as "once in a lifetime bargains", "fixer uppers" or "distress sales". In truth many of these crafts are beyond economical repair, and are really junkers that need disposal.

In many cases unscrupulous owners are trying to shed themselves of dockage and/or storage costs and avoid disposal charges. Boat yard and Marina owners go along with this because their business is rental and sales commissions. In some cases the owner is unaware of the poor condition of the craft.

Here are a few hints of what to look out for.


* When it comes to buying a boat, doing a general inspection can save you lots of time & money. This is where a DIY Preliminary Inspection can help you eliminate boats that are NOT worthy of future investigation. By expanding your knowledge on how to do a DIY Houseboat Pre-Inspection, you greatly increase your chances of getting a solid & worthy houseboat.


* Steel boats are where wood boats were 40 years ago. They are succumbing to the ravages of time. Most are over 30 years old. They are a hard sell and are rejected by many marinas. INSURANCE IS A REAL PROBLEM TO OBTAIN.

* Steel boats usually rust out from the inside and the areas of the hull that go bad first are the keels and engine compartment. SeaGoing boats have roofs that rot out extensively and are a chore to repair. RiverQueen's have better roofs.

* On the flip side steel boats are the easiest to repair, of any, if you have metal working and welding skills.

* IMHO I would not touch a steel boat due to the resale and insurance problems. However if you have to do it I would look for a Lazy Days or RiverQueen as they were far and away the best built steel houseboats, they could take a hit, and are more seaworthy than most.


* Fiberglass boats are the costliest and most time consuming to repair.

* Fiberglass boats are glass on the outside but most have significant amounts of wood on the inside in the form of roofs, decks, framing, transom reinforcement, hatch covers, etc. This is the Achilles heel of fiberglass houseboats. The rotting of the wood eventually will weaken the boat enough to make it worthless. Many of these boats will still look good but investigation will reveal damage beyond economical repair.

* Where to look - Soft roofs and decks indicate the supporting plywood is rotted and in need of replacement. This is within the capabilities of the average handyman with wood working and fiber glassing skills. Yard price $500 for a spot, $4000 up for extensive work. Stringer and transom rot requires removal of the machinery and advanced wood working and fiber glassing skills. This work is best left to a yard experienced in this kind of work. Vee drive boats $6,000 up. Out drive boats $7000 up.


* Aluminum boats are far and away the best value in rebuilding boats. It is possible that they may have electrolysis or stray current corrosion on the bottom but this is repairable almost as easily as a steel boat. (In 50+ years of boating I have only seen 2 aluminum boats requiring bottom repair.)

* No boat holds value better than an Aluminum boat. Kings Craft and Marinette are the predominant available brands. Pluckebaum is the best you can buy.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

* Pre 1969 RiverQueen's, early Chris Crafts and a few other makes of houseboats had vinyl covered plywood cabins. I would strongly urge you not to consider these for rebuilding due to horrible deterioration.

* Many Nautalines, early Chris Crafts and some orphan brands exhibit a humping of the floor in the galley area. This is due to rotting and failure of the stringers and is usually not economically repairable. This is especially true if the condition is long term and the bottom of the hull is hogged.

* 57' Carl Craft hulls should be checked for deterioration carefully in the area directly aft of the cabin.

* Burns Craft, Blue Water, Boatel, and Harbor Master are premium boats and should get extra consideration.

* Boats kept in covered slips age at 1/5th the rate of boats stored outside.

* Check Holiday Mansion and Three Buoys upper rear cabin corners for extensive deterioration

* Wiring on many early houseboats was deficient by today's standards, especially the 120VAC, consider this when rebuilding.

* Vee drive boats are much more desirable than outdrive boats and usually are in better condition.

* MerCruiser (with the exception of Merctrans units which are problematic) and Volvo Penta using American V8s are the preferred power trains due to the availability of repair parts and service.

*Parts availability, especially manifolds, is a problem with the small Volvo built 4 cylinder engines.

* DANA outdrive units are some of the best ever made but repair expertice is scarce. (see forum post on DANA)

* OMC outdrive units were a minority player and service and parts are scarce.

* Plan on 1 to 3 years spare time for an extensive rebuild

* During the rebuild period you will have to pay yard or storage fees.

* You WILL have to have a survey to get insurance. If you are a newbie, Get a survey BEFORE you buy.

* On steel boats and boats OVER 30 years old - MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN INSURANCE SOURCE BEFORE YOU BUY THE BOAT. (Read some of the other posts).

* On steel boats make sure the marina you plan to use allows steel boats.

* Coal Tar Epoxy is the best bottom protection available for a metal boat.

* Many RV parts are applicable to houseboats. Get a catalog.

These thoughts are not meant as a discouragement to anyone looking to rebuild a houseboat. They are rather thoughts and cautions acquired during a 50+ year love affair working on, rebuilding, and living on boats.

Best of luck, Old Houseboater.

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Reply - Answer

Well Old Houseboater, I personally wish I had read this information years ago early on in my boating career. It would have saved me some serious time, money and headaches :(

I really appreciate all the time and knowledge that you have put here, and personally, I don't think it could have been said any better.

Now for a first-time boat buyer or newcomer to boating, this is considered the ultimate ebook and "How to Buy a Houseboat" bible to the truths and facts about the different materials, equipment, and boat models. It is filled with 135 pages of pictures, details, and a blueprint on how to choose and buy the perfect houseboat for you.

How to Buy a Houseboat

If a first time houseboat buyer would follow some of the valuable information here, there would be less disappointments and financial surprises. Better to have the knowledge before, than after a houseboat purchase.

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their other houseboat newbie warnings or experiences. 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 Newbie Houseboat Warning - Money Saving Tips on Buying House Boats!

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Old Salt rebuttal
by: SaltyJoe

Old Salt mentioned that Tugs, navy ships, and barges utilize steel and have long service life.... which is true. Comparing these vessels to a steel houseboat, however, is pure folly.!/4" to 1/2" plate steel vessels have a great deal of material that a 1/8th" thick houseboat hull does not have. It only takes a small amount of corrosion on the thin steel plate to render it a problem. Big tugs and ships hulls can have the entire thickness of a houseboat hull in corrosion, with little effect on strength. A houseboat steel hull will require constant vigilant inspections and preventive maintenance to assure any longevity. There is a reason most insurance companies refuse coverage on an aging steel hulled houseboat vessel. Most owners quickly tire of pulling up floorboards an crawling bilges to catch the next corrosion attack before it becomes serious. So they begin to skip inspection/maintenance, and all goes downhill from there. Also, stray electric currents, (prevalent in any marina with shore power), will quickly attack a steel hull. If you insist on having a steel hull boat, buy the old tugboat.

Kayot boats
by: Anonymous

I'm looking to buy my first houseboat! The one I'm looking at is a 1979 Kayot 46 foot pontoon house boat does anyone know if there's anything in particular to watch out for with these boats any advice is welcomed I've owned many boats but never a pontoon house boat well any houseboat

1979 Kayot pontoon houseboats
by: Anonymous

What about Kayot houseboats 1979 models are they any good

Mariner Floating Homes
by: Anonymous

Anyone have info on Mariner Floating Homes made in the early 1980s in New Jersey?

Rebuilt 12' x 42' houseboat for Ontario Canada
by: Fisherfreddy

We purchased a 12' x 42' steel pontoon barge 3 years ago. The cabin on it was 12' x 20'. Once we got it home we gutted the inside and extended the front by 12' to make a good size living room.

We added a 10 ' roof with half walls at the back to make a screened in porch. We now have 2 sets of bunks in the back, then a full bathroom on the right, a full kitchen on the left, plus sitting area and living room.

We added 9 double pane windows. The inside walls were insulated with roxal, then tongue and groove pine added everywhere. There will be a wood stove in the living room area for our cooler weather up here in Northwestern Ontario.

On the outside we installed vinyl siding with a half log look. We also built a 48 foot 30'' x 30" steel "float pontoon" to go in the middle due to the extra weight we added. No sense having it sink on the maiden voyage.

I recently purchased a 53' container trailer to move the boat with. The 3 pontoons each contain 12 separate compartments with a baffle in each one. There is a bung on top of each float so you can add air and a liquid soap mixture to pressure test for leaks.

We are super excited to be ready to launch this spring on Lac Seul in Ontario.

Thanks, Fisherfreddy.

We can fix your steel hull, we are mobile
by: rooster

Red Rooster Welding can fix your steel hull, check us out on the web

Remember This
by: Anonymous

Nothing works on an old boat but the owner.

Advice on a 65' Seagoing
by: Aryea

I'm looking at purchasing a late 60's or early '70's-era Seagoing steel hull. (I'm a Navy-certified welder, so I'm not afraid of repairs.)

Since the boat is located some distance from me, I wanted to have some info on hand when I go to look at her. But I've been scouring the net to find some info on this boat and I can't find any.

I know from the ads that Seagoing said they made a 65' model, but all of the boats I've seen listed have been smaller. Has anyone ever seen or heard of this boat? Do you know where I can find any info on it?

I like the length of this hull, and I've heard that the Seagoing hull is the best built steel hull. I'm going to be retiring soon and the wife and I want a liveaboard that's capable of taking some light seas (in the ICW.)

Looking at a BurnsCraft 31'
by: Chris

The Burnscraft is a mid 1970s model with a Fiberglass V Hull. Have to evaluate it quickly and I only have pictures.

The boat has a good hull, questionable motor (not been run for five or more years), and needs an entire interior remodel.

I have always wanted a houseboat, and this one looks like a steal at $1,000.

Worse case, if I take it, what should I be looking for? Any idea of the cost?


If you are a newbie, get it surveyed!
by: Karl

I though I knew what I was doing because I had boats many years ago. The thing is, you got to know where and what to look for.

I can tell you now sadly, that I'm now an expert on fiberglass houseboats. The seller said the stringers and transom had been repaired and true enough they were done very well. What was not seen was the rot in the firewall in two places. So bad that I could shop vac the wall away.

There was also rot in the forward bulkhead due to a cracked floor in the front deck stow and the hatch drain gutter hose was broken allowing water onto the floor. These were long neglected.

The seller said the bottom was in good shape. Yeah... after I spent $5000 on blister repair and paint it was.

He said the anodes were good,but there were none.

Did you know that new pair of 18 x 18 Dyna-quad props aren't cheap?

New low-cost houseboat with shipping containers
by: geoffrey fulton

Having read many comments, for those interested in a low cost houseboat, think about using shipping containers fixed to a steel frames deck. For floatation, look at importing double walled 3 ft diameter poly pipe. You can get them 40 ft long and they will fit in a 40 ft container out of China.

Most economical source and they don't deteriorate. You can weld bulkheads inside them to make watertight bulkheads and tanks for water and waste.

Looking for salvage yard for boats
by: Jessie

It sounds like you are experts on houseboat information. I am looking to see if it is possible to have a houseboat on land.

I am buying a piece of land where there are no codes to have to follow or rules, so I can have any house out there. I want a boat that I can bury halfway underground or lift it up on some structure. Any help would be appreciated.

I'd like a boat that is no usable on land anymore. I know it sounds a little crazy, but we can remodel it a bit, but I want to find a 55 foot boat or larger to live in, preferably with working electricity,and with a kitchen.

I can remodel most anything if engineer-wise it would work. Anyone know if a good boat salvage place in north texas?

My Experience with Steel Pontoons
by: Cozmo

I too wish I would have read this before purchasing my first houseboat. I will add a couple other warnings. If by chance you come accross old steel pontoons, most will need major repair.

The previous owner had put new steel over the old steel about 6 years ago. Unfortunatly when it leaked, which all will eventually, the water became trapped between steel sheet and rusted out the new steel. My suggestion would be to cut out at least the bottom steel and replace with new rolled steel.

Also a big warning, some of the old steel pontoon houseboats had gas tanks inside of the pontoon. Not sure if it was old gas that had leaked into the pontoon or what, but the air inside of the pontoon was highly explosive and was a bit of a hassle to vent before we could drill or weld.

In fact when the previous owner had the new steel welded over the old steel, there was an explosion and the person assisting the welder was killed.

Steel Houseboat Hulls - get a marine survey first, before buying
by: Ray

Old Houseboater, your article was excellent. I had a 40' Queen and it was a tank. Loved it. Have a Tucker now but would really like to go Plucky.

To those who have steel hulls or are thinking about purchasing one, if or when the hull is in good condition inside and out, good maintenance is a must.

When you coat the bottom on the outside, also clean and coat the hull on the inside. I used red lead, (now illegal I have heard thanks to EPA) and had no problems at all. In fact, this boat hull is still in great shape 20 years later.

Looks like Coal Tar Epoxy is the way now. On the inside too. Your boat will last many years with good preventative maintenance.

Anyone who buys a houseboat without a survey is buying a pig in a poke. Spend the money for one, it can save you many thousands of dollars.

Older Houseboats - new owner of 38' River Queen
by: Mike in AR

Just bought a 60? River Queen and can't find any numbers on the hull. After reading these posts, I hope i have not made a mistake. The boat has been out of water for years had water in the cabin, but got it cheap like $2500, and that includes moved to my house so I can work on it.

Houseboat Insurance Claims - dealing with companies and estimates
by: Wanda

I purchased a 1971 47' Boatel houseboat had it hauled from point A to point B and was in the water for about 16 days when the mariner we had it at unplugged my bilge pump and the boat sank. They told me they unplugged it and never called me to tell me that they did.

I have placed a claim in at the Mariner's Insurance company and all they want to pay me is what I paid for the boat, the cost of getting in from point A to point B, taking it out of water to haul to point B and putting it in the water at point B.

I called around to get estimates and was told that I had to pay for the estimate. The insurance company refuses to pay for the estimates. My insurance paid to have it lifted out of water.

I had to pay to take it out of water to dry land, monthly storage on dry land, gas to go to and from boat to work on it. Rent places at the lake because I do not have the houseboat to stay on. I would like to get opinons on how someone else would handle this claim? Thanks

Aluminum Houseboat Corrosion - get a marine surveyor to survey
by: Anonymous

My '69 Marinette RiverCruiser houseboat was bought without a marine survey and is proving to be a costly oversight (in time and money).

Being in salt water (Sarasota) and with the sacrificial anodes long deteriorated, the hull developed some serious corrosion. I only discovered how bad AFTER I bought it and had it delivered to storage yard where it still sits up on keel blocks where I work on it.

I don't know how a surveyor could have discovered the corrosion unless the boat was pulled out and the bottom was scraped to see the aluminum. It was only after I started removing the barnacles and sandblasted that I could see that the bottom was terribly corroded (I have the horror documented on many pictures).

The bottom looked like a moon-scape with deep pits and craters and holes, some the diameter of my finger. The barnacles and shells were crammed in the holes plugging them! I could not really tell how bad the bottom was from looking at it from the inside, but a surveyor would have been worth the money.

They have caught things on other boats that I wisely had surveyed. I guess I just believed the notion that aluminum was the way to go so I ignorantly avoided a surveyor. I can tell you for sure: aluminum can and does corrode...bad if not protected. Good news though, it can be repaired or welded.

Steel Houseboats - 1968 Stardust houseboat
by: chas

So I know the steel hulls are not the most favorite but my wife and I are looking at a 1968 Stardust houseboat, it is 11 X 40.

It has had a lot of work done to it in 04 (top re-glassed and regel-coated, hull reskined ect.) So I quess my question is what do you think?

Any sugestions? If the hull was reskined should I get a surveyor? Thanks, Chas

Houseboat For Sale - thinking of buying a '43 Carl Craft
by: Anonymous

I am currently considering the purchase of a '43 Carl Craft houseboat. The vessel appears to be in excellent condition, had a pre-purchase survey two years ago by the current owner.

They have fixed everything the survey recommended with the exception of the Genset (mechanic recommended a new fuel filter and spark plugs, but they didn't fix that yet because they really have no need for the generator).

Apparently the engine hatch needs to be replaced for some reason, still waiting on the reason for that. I am doing all my research via email with the present owner because I am currently deployed to Afghanistan (again).

Not too worried about the genset, but if I were to buy this boat, how the heck can I get a replacement hatch for the engine area? Any ideas?

Reply - Answer
Well, I would recommend verifying if the decks or engine hatch is not soft spongy, or holding a high percentage of water / humidity. Older fiberglass boats can be very expensive to repair because of delamination (water damage).

IAN from

TOO LATE - advice on older steel houseboats
by: Jim Dunlap

I purchased a 1970 Stardust houseboat sight unseen last year for $6000. It is a 11x39 and a very cute boat from a distance. I also purchased a four axle trailer with and the purchase price included delivery to Missouri from Kentucky. It has a steel hull with a rusted out skin on it.

I could go on and on, but I wish that I had read your advice first and got a survey at least. I am redoing it all as we speak. Does anyone out there have any more insight on this boat that would help me with the restore? Jim Dunlap.

Houseboat insurance is hard to find
by: Anonymous

Speaking as an insurance agent, insurance is indeed hard to find. One company will not insure steel-hulled houseboats, one company required an out of water marine survey and then declined because the boat was over 15 years old, and another company required both the survey and a VERY expensive ultra-sound of the hull to verify the thickness of the steel.

The application had to be submitted and there was no guarantee the application would be accepted even after all of this. Final recommendation, from an insurance stand point - avoid a steel hull, or at the very least, check around to be sure you can get it insured before you buy.

My .02 on steel houseboats
by: Barry

Comparing steel houseboats to navy and tug vessels is well for lack of a better word, retarded. GAUGE.

Also hope for merc trans II rigs, forward clutch plates are standard ford, very simple design, and are great drives.

Lack of knowledge is the problem. Do your homework or get owned by a marina.

Good article with Tips on Buying Houseboats
by: Del Rambo

Really good article and very timely! We've been houseboating here in Montana with our 34' Catamaran Lil Hobo, for the past 2 years, and really enjoy it.

I did a ton of research before jumping in with both feet. Your article would have been very helpful.

Del Rambo

Reply - Answer
Thanks Del for the compliment on the article, and yes, it can save some folks plenty of time, money, and frustration.

IAN from

Thank you for the Tips.
by: Patrick

Thank you for this article as I am only in the research phase for purchasing my first houseboat and jotted down a lot of what you wrote for my search criteria.
Thanks again, Patrick

Reply - Answer
Well Patrick, I am glad that you enjoyed the article, and do let us know if you end up buying a houseboat.

IAN from

Your houseboat article was too late for us.
by: nancy morgart

If we had read this article 4 years ago, we would have walked away from our $3500 houseboat "deal", but now that the work is over (GOD WILLING!) we now have a wonderful boat.

I can't say it was a mistake to go thru all the struggle, but it brought us closer as a family, working so hard on our boat. Perseverance

An OLD SALT supports Steel
by: Anonymous

An OLD SALT supports Steel! You're perhaps correct about the steel houseboats. I have owned two houseboats and both were steel.

I would like to find a 45 foot steel hulled River Queen houseboat, that someone wants to get rid of.

Why steel, ask yourself why tugs, Navy Ships, barges, some of them over 50 years old and still in service. Do they last, YES, if you use good replacement steel. An OLD SALT...

Reply - Answer
Well OLD SALT, thank you for taking the time and effort to share your experience about steel houseboats.

IAN from

The Newest of the Houseboat Newbies
by: Chez

As maybe the newest newbie and proud owner of a "vintage" 1974 houseboat, I began to read your posting with some fear and hesitation. What have we done??

Glad to report that we did our homework guided by both resident houseboaters at the marina and by the broker we were working with. Our first step was to order a hull inspection, followed by an mechanical and systems check of the boat.

Then the owner launched her and we took her out twice for a sea trial on the Mississippi. We took our time and included the services of an attorney to review our contract. The best news is that we bought an aluminum Kingscraft. Whew!

Looking forward to getting her painted and starting the interior updates.

Waiting for spring in Minnesota, Chez

I wish this blog post showed a date
by: Anonymous

I am a newbie houseboat buyer, and I appreciate this site and your informative info. However, in this post I see references to boat brands I do not find on boattrader or elsewhere, and I see no mention of the apparently prevailing manufacturer, Sumerset.

I'm not in the market for a fixer-upper, I want a turnkey boat I will live on full time. I have identified a surveyor reputed to be the foremost houseboat expert in my state, and he surveyed the boat I am most interested in 4 years ago.

I think I'm prepared to make a prudent purchasing decision, and thanks again for this resource!

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