Building a Massive Houseboat from scratch...

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Rowdy_Rebel, Nov 23, 2013.

  1. Rowdy_Rebel
    Joined: Nov 2013
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    Location: Panhandle Florida

    Rowdy_Rebel Junior Member

    Hey Im Rowdy, and I am just getting started on building a 16'8" wide by 55' long flat bottom barge style House boat. I know this is a huge endeavor, and I have been told by a few people that I can't do it. The only way to know is to try... but thats not the point. If everyone that was told it is too hard just quit; then we would have never made huge advances over human history. Im posting this thread to get feedback from people in general. In the following paragraphs I will outline in great detail my plans, and why I am taking the hard road. Please scroll to what interests you, its a lot to read. Also please take note of things you feel I am not doing correctly, or you would do differently. If you plan on reading the whole thing, go to the bathroom, get a snack, and something to will need it.

    My reasoning begins with the fact that I am in a wheelchair, and I plan on living aboard this boat full-time upon completion. I am very physically fit and not a master, but a some what skilled craftsman in many fields associated with this kind of construction. Lets just assume I have all the funds, equipment, tools, labor, space, and know how at my disposal. ;) Second, being in a wheelchair, I am not able to get around FREELY in most houses let alone a house-BOAT. I have looked around a great deal at whats on the market, and I just havent found anything that meets my criteria. And remodeling is almost always taking someone elses problem, unless you want to spend 80k on the boat and then another 50k remodeling. Not worth it, to me atleast, maybe someone else. The reason this is my first post is I like to have a plan together before I get it scrutinized. You guys read this, and then tell me what kind of problems I am looking at, or better ways of doing things. But remember, the whole point of this is to be able to live as independent of a dock as possible. I.E. NO MONTHLY DOCK FEES OR NEIGHBORS. Also, I have designed extra space into important areas so I can do maintenance and repairs without help, so somethings may seem weird but ask and I will explain the purpose. So now we have the "why" out of the way, so lets get into the meat and potatoes.

    I have spent the better part of the past year researching and using Solidworks / AutoCAD to design the hull/electrical/plumbing/waste/heat&air & disability equipment of this monstrosity. I will post pictures of the various designs in reply to this initial post in a couple days as I get questions pertaining to them. So lets start with an overview and then I need yall to give me some feedback.

    Size and Occupancy: The hull dimensions are 16'8"W x 55'L x 5'T. The house dimensions will be 16'8"W x 40'L x 9'4"T. The front deck will be 5' long and the rear deck will be 10' long. The overall height from top to bottom will be a whopping 14'4". I will be the only occupant, but there will be room for a wife if I ever get one. The Hull Displacement will be roughly 118 tons. With an estimated gross weight of 20 tons.

    Hull Materials: 5052/6061/6063/3003 aluminum in various extrusions and sheets (design photos up requests)

    Hull Shape: flat bottom barge with a v birth nose piece
    (separate and joined pictures upon requests)

    Engines and Engine Support: Twin 1987 4 Cyl.3.0L Mercruiser 165hp Gasoline (possible propane conversion) with Alpha One Outdrives (Rebuilt engines and outdrives "brand new") I have designed steel "cradles" that will bolt to the aluminum frame to house the engines and make it easier to "pull" them if major repairs are needed. The engine compartment will be roughly 8' long and the full width of the hull. It will contain nothing but the engines and two 55 gallon ballast tanks. All fuel/electrical/etc will be run into the compartment via sealed conduit pipes.

    Steering and Navigation: Stock Outdrive steering, rear rudders, and bow & stern thrusters. GPS/Depthfinder/cameras for 360 degree visibility from helm

    Anchoring/Mooring/Docking: Spud poles catty-cornered and automatic/winched danforth style anchors opposite catty-cornered. Based on Florida Maritime laws that will apply to me, I will be able to drop anchor pretty much anywhere as long as I am not in the way of boating traffic, or causing a disturbance. Docking will not be a problem in most places as long as I do not cause a disturbance or overstay my welcome. And as far as land transportation, I am working on a Z28 as I write this post that will eventually be a dune buggy. This monster buggy will be light and small enough to park on the rear deck. I have design the engine cradles in this area to give the proper support to handle this kind of weight distribution. I have also designed a ramp system using winches to allow me to back up at a landing and drive off of the boat.

    Water/Plumbing/Hot-Water: 300 gallons+ freshwater stowed in the bottom of the hull. In order to use it, I plan on using an electric pump to intermittently fill one 50 gallon tank above the level of the faucets/shower/ etc that will gravity feed the system. All the fresh lines will come from the ceiling and all the waste will go through plumbing into the hull and finally the storage/disposal system. If when installed it does not have adequate pressure I will install another pump to supplement. For hot water I will use an RV style propane water heater gravity fed and plumbing ran to the faucets/shower/ etc. The waste tank will be at least the size of the freshwater tank.

    Waste Disposal/Storage: In keeping with independence I am planning on using an incinerator setup that will handle all my gray and black waste. It has a holding tank for liquid/solid waste and runs off of propane, diesel or electricity. I plan on using propane preferably or diesel. The incinerator will be installed into a sealed fiberglass compartment with access panels where needed.

    Electrical: The only 24/7 load to speak of will be a small refrigerator. Other than that maybe a phone charger or something of the like. I will have solar panels to power it and charge a custom built battery bank that can support just the fridge for up to 48 hours, less with other uses, without charging. Also I will have a propane 5500kw or better generator under the deck for when I need to use A/C power. All the lighting and majority of boating equipment will be 12V D/C, but I will have a welder/ computer/tv/ etc. All outgoing/incoming wiring will be run under the cabin floor in sealed conduit anchored to the frame of the hull. When the wire is run through the floor it will seal to the sub-floor. The generator will also be installed inside of a sealed fiberglass compartment with access panels. And all the fuses/switchboard/etc will be contained in a small sealed fiberglass compartment next to the generator.

    Heating & Air: For heating I am going to have a wood-burning stove in the center of the living/dining/foyer/kitchen space. I have designed a "radiator" like system to be able to pump hot air to the bath and bed room in the winter time. I understand the risks I am running here, but they are worth it to me. Unless there is some law restricting a fireplace on a boat then I am doing it. And for air conditioning I will open the windows dangit, or go swimming. And at night I will run a fan in the bed room. I like the hot florida summers, but I can't stand being cold.

    Anchoring/Mooring/Docking: Based on Florida Maritime laws that will apply to me, I will be able to drop anchor pretty much anywhere as long as I am not in the way of boating traffic, or causing a disturbance. Docking will not be a problem in most places as long as I do not cause a disturbance or overstay my welcome. And as far as land transportation, I am working on a Z28 as I write this that will eventually be a dune buggy. This monster buggy will be light and small enough to park on the rear deck. I have design the engine cradles in this area to give the proper support to handle this kind of weight distribution. I have also designed a ramp system using winches to allow me to back up at a landing and drive off of the boat.

    Fuel Use, Delivery, & Storage: Unless I am able to consolidate fuel types, there will be 3 sources of power. And I understand the complexity of this, but remember the final goal is an independent vessel that is not tied to a single "lifeline". Discussed in order of consistent/important role. Propane will be used for cooking, generator, incinerator, hot-water, and engines. I will have 4-8 40 lbs tanks. The tanks will be housed in a sealed fiberglass compartment, and each tank(s) will be designated to each piece of equipment as capacity requires. All gas lines will be run to their designated place through flexible braided hosing housed inside of labeled, sealed 1.5" conduit. Electricity will be used for pumps/winches/lighting/entertainment. There will be solar panels and the generator to supply electricity. I am going to work with several battery manufacturing companies (competition makes cheaper prices) to custom build batteries for electrical storage appropriate for my needs. (The engines will have separate batteries) The batteries will be stored securely in a sealed fiberglass compartment with access panels. Wire will also be run out of the compartment to the control panel then to its designated place in sealed conduit. Gasoline would only be used to fuel the engines if I do not convert them to propane. (Any experience with propane alternative to gasoline engines?) The tanks will be installed into sealed fiberglass compartments with access panels, and its lines of course ran in rubber, braided hoses housed inside of sealed conduit. All conduit will be labeled for easy maintenance and repair.

    Disability Accommodations: In order to be able to make the whole boat accessible and easy for me to access things, I have made planned for many accommodations. There will be three hatches on the rear deck for both engines and to gain entry to below deck. I will also have one hatch door in the bedroom for emergency access. Inside the Hull I will have a 10' wide, flat base, running the length of the boat, as a floor with roughly 52" of head room. I will build a special lowpro wheelchair that I can use freely in the small head room. The engines will have at least 24" free space on 3 sides, and as much clearance possible between the transom. (ways of extending this space; like a longer drive shaft would be great?) In the hull I will place the equipment, generator/incinerator/water tanks/fuel tanks/etc, in a manner that will balance the boat, and ease maintenance and repairs. In strategic places, I will also install plastic 55 gallon drums with pumps and plumbing that will allow for ballasting the boat once it is fully loaded. I do not believe the finished, loaded vessel will displace near enough water on its own to have a proper draft. The hull is the single heaviest component, and Solidworks estimates its weight in aluminum to be a little bit more than a single ton. Added equipment, supplies, fuel, and personals it may have a gross weight of 40,000 lbs. That leaves 98 tons of viable displacement to ballast the boat to a proper draft.

    Design, Maintenance, and Repair: The design centers around easy to fix systems utilizing the simplicity of mechanical technology. For example, carburetor engines, manual switchboard for routing electricity, winches with pulleys, etc. Since I have designed every system using individual pieces of equipment instead of buying pre-made systems, I will have the unique ability to catalog and organize everything on the boat in a "Master Manual". This will make maintenance and repairs super streamlined. No boat builder would take the time to label everything inside the hull down to the wires inside the conduit then give you the key to it all. I am doing what no boat builder would ever do; I made enough space for every repair to be easily accessible and simple. I will be able to essentially go to Lowes or Autozone or even WalMart to get supplies for repairs and maintenance. Things like switches, filters, fuses, hoses, bolts and nuts, etc will be easy to have on board with low overhead costs. I plan on having a fully accessible, functional vessel that I can live on comfortably for as long as I choose with proper maintenance.

    Safety: I am aware of the dangers of using three different fuel sources, and the wood-burning stove. I feel I have made accommodations sufficient to adhere to US Coast Guard regulation, and common sense use. The wood-burning stove will have proper chimney, insulation, and spacing for optimal safety(no expense spared there for sure). All propane, electrical, and gasoline equipment/components in the hull will be installed in individually built, sealed fiberglass compartments with individual exhaust ducts/fans, and sealed access panels. All fuel lines and wiring will be housed, by type and destination, in sealed conduit pipe. All conduit will be mounted to the frame and labeled. The open portion of the interior Hull will also have a ventilation system, and every thing below deck will have some kind of tie-down or mounting system. There will be nothing free to roll around.

    Well I hope I didnt give everyone a headache :mad: with this massive post. Have a good one, and I look forward to the words of the wise.
    1 person likes this.
  2. michael pierzga
    Joined: Dec 2008
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    Location: spain

    michael pierzga Senior Member certain that you have a place to moor your boat and be certain that regulations. wont change.

    You should speak with a pro before beginning
  3. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Welcome to the forum.

    "Winging it" on a 14' skiff is one thing, but working out the loads, capacities and structural considerations on a 55' vessel is a whole other beast all to itself.


    This is one of my designs, for a 50' (on deck) 16' beam riverboat. She has a flat bottom, lots of internal volume for out of sight mechanical and many other features.

    You seem to have placed quite a bit of thought into many aspects of the design, though I think you'll find that some builders do perform much of what you think they don't, especially on craft of this scale. FWIW,

    You will find these outfits have little in regard to replacement and repair parts and materials.

    You'd be best advised to provide this list to a professional, as part of the SOR and go from there. It's fine for you to have worked up some virtual models, but the software just does what you tell it to do and doesn't tell you if the shapes you've employed are appropriate for your SOR.
  4. messabout
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    Location: Lakeland Fl USA

    messabout Senior Member

    You have done a lot of homework it would seem. Your approach to details is far superior to the many that post here. A houseboat that size is a major project. Do get some professional council before you begin.

    Best of luck in your pursuit of this project. It wont be cheap so avoiding mistakes should be a prime objective.
  5. WestVanHan
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    Location: Vancouver

    WestVanHan Not a Senior Member

    Have to say as well this is about the most detailed and thought out boat plan I have seen.

    I've often thought along similar lines,in my home waters of the British Columbia Coast and/or in The FLA Keys.

    A few random ideas:

    -if you could get up on the roof you could plant a solar powered aquaponic garden and in a small area produce more food than you could ever eat,and perhaps have a small fish farm going.
    -you are in why not plaster the top with cheap solar cells and use a larger battery bank.
    -hot water- a small solar collector for 3/4 of the year,propane for the winter?

    Good luck-plz start a thread about your build when you start it
  6. motorbike
    Joined: Mar 2011
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    Location: Beam Reach

    motorbike Senior Member

    It's all possible, but as PAR has pointed out, get a professional to design it. There is no way you are getting out of jail for less than several hundred k on a boat this size if it going to be liveable and last. Check out the guy who built a huge self designed cat on sailing anarchy on a budget, basically it still cost him70 plus k and its nothing more than a floating wreck.

    I also have a concern over using old petrol motors, especially given your disability and size of the boat. Why not use diesel then you can have a diesel stove and heater as well.
  7. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    My 50' design above uses twin well mounted outboards, which solves a lot of issues. As hinted to by others, I'm concerned about local and global loading concerns, being adequately addressed, on a vessel of this scale.
  8. Munter
    Joined: Jul 2007
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    Location: Australia

    Munter Amateur

    You comment on the value of planning and I think this is critical for a project like this. There is a mountain of work to do before lifting a finger on the construction. Many projects like this seem to start out of the notion that living aboard a vessel will somehow be cheaper than living ashore but I suspect that many don't end up that way (or at least not with a comparable standard of living). Have you considered slipping the vessel on an annual basis and the structural, timing and access requirements of this activity?

    Without doing a detailed plan and cost estimate for the project you may underestimate the amount of time and money required to complete the project and end up well short of your goals.

    As a final comment, be prepared to handle the innevitable negative feedback that you may get. People have differing experience and are always going to bring different perspectives to a project. Being determined is positive, but being stubborn, defensive and absolute may not be. Your project will be better off if you can bring yourself to take onboard the advice of others (as you yourself anticipate doing in the opening post).
    1 person likes this.
  9. Rowdy_Rebel
    Joined: Nov 2013
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    Location: Panhandle Florida

    Rowdy_Rebel Junior Member

    Respone #1

    First off, I very much appreciate everyone's hasty and courteous information. When I posted the first huge post, I didn't want to add anymore than information about the hull. Now that I have seen your concerns I can address the precursor to this situation, which fuels the endeavor. I would not have come this far if it wasn't for the people who are coming out of the woodwork to advise me with their experience. Hopefully I can condense it, but still address the good points everyone has brought up.

    I am graduating from college in December for CAD, Drafting, and CNC machining. The boat began in class to acquaint myself with the various drafting and 3d modeling programs. I have probably designed over 100 different vessels based on all the marine architecture I can find. My design may not look the same as professionally built boats, but it addresses all the same constrictions to prevent torsion, support sufficient loads, and suitable material performance. I am also a "test pilot" for a R&D company here> <. The link will give you a cool 3 minute video, but try to ignore my accent. It gets thicker when I'm nervous, and I hate cameras. I sound like Gomer Piles in the video, but I promise I am more intelligent than I sound.

    Professional support:
    Local fabrication company is providing free workspace, experienced craftsman to perform quality control, and electricity. Local aluminum supplier is giving base prices for material. Local fiberglass boat builder is helping me to build the seamless fiberglass cabin shell that will be mounted to a frame welded to the aluminum hull. I also have various engineers to help me build the electrical, plumbing, mechanical, etc systems. I provide the purpose and they detail the needed equipment to achieve the goals. I have been working with IHMC for four years. Me and the videographer have been building a documentary since 2009 based on IHMC's research, and day to day life as a paraplegic. The boat is going to be the final piece to the documentary before we make a final cut for the Sundance Film Festival. In my relationship with IHMC I have built a friendship with several people, but one in particular has taken an interest in this project. So much so, that he is funding it completely. I get the invoice, he picks up the bill. You may ask why he is funding it, the last paragraph explains.

    Design Process:
    I have made several designs the past year. I have singled it down to one. At IHMC there are several engineers that have proofed my designs in Solidworks using features that apply pressure/torsion/weight baring/etc as well as boat builders in my area. I am completely open to scrutiny, and I agree with your concerns. I have done quite a bit of consulting on every area of the project, and I am here to get more. I have also talked with ship builders in Pensacola harbor. I am going to post a reply with screenshots of the individual prefab pieces then a completely assembled shot.

    Planning and Cost:
    I have spent about 3-4 months estimating costs, pitching to companies for voluntary support, setting up all my ducks, logistics, coatings, & material selection. So far I have secured materials, equipment, plans for protective coatings, construction space, transportation, dry dock for finishing and launch, requirements from the USCG, and applications for HIN#. I have been following the directions of many people to make sure I am within regulations, safety, and efficiency. If there is a regulation/requirement you know I need to fulfill, in all seriousness make me a list, and I will look into it.

    Solar Panels, Aquaponics, Roof Access, and others:
    I will have roof access. One of the disability accommodations will be a small "elevator" with a lift system based on the pulley system on the front of a warehouse forklift. This will allow me to either go to the roof or into the hull without having to pick myself up. It is interesting how you bring up aquaponics, for I have been reading up on that system. To put the fish tanks in the hull and run plumbing to the roof for a small greenhouse. I plan on using solar panels in an adequate, but minimal way. I will need very little electricity for daily life, except when I use my welder and similar equipment, but a good generator will supply power. I first want to get settled on the boat, and see the clearances nearby for overpasses and such before placing the panels and greenhouse. I have also designed a 3' waterwheel generator I could build from aluminum to harness river power. I would have to use a step up pulley system. I drew it out, but I am going to build the boat before I start on these "invention" type jobs. I have so many little mechanical designs for later on its ridiculous.

    Anchoring and Docking:
    I have thought talked to the USCG a number of times about what I plan on doing, and their main concerns have been waste related. And I will be in Florida waters mostly, but I plan on cruising as far as I can. Had to ask myself if I am a boater, or a floater. I'm definitely a boater, this puppy won't be sitting still a whole lot.

    Gasoline Engines:
    I wanted diesel engines, but this is what I ended up with through a very good deal. I am a pretty decent mechanic. Gas or diesel. I actually have a diesel mechanics certificate. As far as running some appliances off of diesel, I am for it. I have a significant other that likes a certain range/stove though, so I gotta compromise for some things. I kinda see it like her house, my boat. I'm looking forward to the inboards. I know they are more maintenance than the modern outboards, but I prefer them in the hull where I can access them more on my level.

    I apologize, but I do not quite understand much of your second comment PAR. Could you spell out the acronyms, and expand a little bit.

    I hope I do not seem to be stubborn, or a know it all with this response. I am simply giving more information based on the concerns yall have referenced. There is one more detail I may or may not have mentioned. I will physically be a part of or totally responsible for everything to do with this boat. Not to say I won't have help, but I am not allowed to pay someone else to build it for me. Part of the funding stipulations require me to be involved in everything as much as physically possible. Several welders and fitters have already volunteered to work for barbecue lunches, and several companies are "donating" services. When I began this project for class, God started a work in me. For a year I prayed saying If He wanted me to build this, that He would have to send someone to me that tells me to build it, and then gives me the money to do it. I had nearly given up when I was talking to a man at IHMC, after our conversation he informed me that he was going to write me a check and I was to build a houseboat. The Lord, God answered my prayer with a booming BUILD! Many people will dismiss this, but this is how I have come to where I am today. God is raising up experienced people from all over my area to help me accomplish the project. I am looking well into this manner, but come hell or high water (preferably high water) this boat will be built. I have posted here to gain more insight.

    Please feel free to share general "useful" maritime information. I don't know a whole lot about boating. I have spent my whole life fishing and the like. I'm just not a sailor. I'm really just going on faith with everything. All the designs adhere to specifications given to me by professionals in fabrication/electricity/plumbing/marine mechanics/boat builders/ etc based on the goals I outline for them.

    I will post screenshots of the aluminum frame, nose piece, and full assembly. After we scrutinize that I will upload the cabin, floor plan, and different utilities. Please take a good look and leave your assessments and questions. Don't be afraid to get detailed. I know every inch of this boat, and want you to put me to the test. Thanks again for words of the wise.
  10. redreuben
    Joined: Jan 2009
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    Location: South Lake Western Australia

    redreuben redreuben

    Google "Flyin' Hawaiian catamaran", lots to be learnt.

    And I certainly do not mean to imply anything !
  11. Rowdy_Rebel
    Joined: Nov 2013
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    Location: Panhandle Florida

    Rowdy_Rebel Junior Member

    It's late I might have missed something or made it confusing. I had to take the "skin" off of it so you could see the layout. It is hard to see it all together unless you can rotate the models. I did the best I could to get them to make sense in 2d or somewhat explain the execution. Have fun deciphering my half asleep dribble. pictures are attached I hope.

    Attached Files:

  12. Rowdy_Rebel
    Joined: Nov 2013
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    Location: Panhandle Florida

    Rowdy_Rebel Junior Member

    that was a bad day. I would have to question how much time they took to actually design. wood and fiberglass on a structure that size is bound to have major problems just holding up its own weight. I appreciate that link, it will remind me to take my time.
  13. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Why are you limiting this design with such a restrictive hull form? I could understand this approach with a houseboat, who's role is essentially a static one, but if you'd like some efficiency underway and not to hear every passing wake slap under the bow or topside flare . . . Also the right most drawing on the top row, shows some sort of weird perspective, or is it just me? I also don't see and weeps or snips.
  14. pbmaise
    Joined: Jul 2010
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    Location: Cebu the Philippines

    pbmaise Senior Member

    These are just some thoughts off the top of my head.

    1. Head over to the Mississippi and pick yourself up a coal or grain barge.

    Converting that is going to be far easier then starting new. They are in fresh water and should be in better shape. Hual it out, repaint, check metal thickness, and replace bad plates as needed. I would check plate thickness before buying.

    2. Don't bother with an engine. It will be far easier and cheaper to pay for a tow once in a while.

    3. Four solar panels should do you. Don't bother with a fridge. I've lived without one. I can even get cheese in a box that needs not refrigeration. If I buy raw meat, I cook the same day. Man has lived a few years without it.

    4. A portable generator is good enough to recharge a modest sized battery bank on an overcast day.

    I did a quick search and came up with barge as a good fit for you.

    Engine/Fuel Type:
    Located In:
    Lake Charles, LA
    Hull Material:
    Current Price:
    US$ 139,000

    Custom commercial aluminum shallow water heavy hauler/work boat/passenger boat.

    "Mr. Randy I" is powered by twin Steyr 250hp diesels w/Mercruiser Outdrives for shallow water operations.

    Randy has been well maintained and is in excellent shape and ready to work today!

  15. motorbike
    Joined: Mar 2011
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    Location: Beam Reach

    motorbike Senior Member

    Nice barge, and at 139k about a third of of the cost of new. All the hard work is done and all you have to do is build a nice house on it. With regard to your ability to build, maintain and service aspects of the boat, no 50 footer can be looked after without some help, and given your disability you will need more than most. Put simply that means cash. There is no way a boat like this is cheaper to live on than a house, what you save rates and yard care you pay many times over in routine maintenance.

    Its a great project and has many benefits for you but just because it can be done doesnt mean it should be done, my questions relate to the economics of it.

    If you cant afford to spend 80 plus 50 then you cant afford this project. Because a new build will eat 130k before the superstructure is even started. I suggest spending money with a qualified naval architect getting your brief sorted and an estimate of costs. Have a look at the labour portion and see how much you can do personally or get donated, deduct from the total build estimate, add 30% and see if you can realisitically fund it. There is no "cheap" in boatbuilding, the least expensive boat is the very best one you can afford, large home builds (this is a big one) that end in a pile of half finished detritus are all too common.

    This is also a warning bell, unfortunately divine inspiration and boatbuilding do not mix as all too often reality and divinity do not agree.

    Its all about the money
    1 person likes this.
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