DIY Aluminum Houseboat to fit inside shipping container

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by neville9763, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. neville9763
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    neville9763 New Member

    I am planning a DIY houseboat as I cannot find any standard houseboat design which will accommodate my 'wants and needs'

    What I am planning to do is build an aluminium houseboat which I want to be able to fit inside a standard 12m/40' shipping container. As a result the houseboat will be long and narrow. (The thought of building two and bolting them together has also been considered - may be built later).

    I envisage an aluminium, fully sealed, punt type hull of depth approx 300mm/1' with the houseboat built on top of this. So the houseboat will, in effect, be build in two discrete sections ie. hull and living quarters, with the living quarters being spread over almost the entire area of the hull section.

    I would like to accommodate a total weight of approx 3000-4000kg/6000-7000lbs with the houseboat being driven by a single 40-60hp outboard.

    Being of an engineering background, but having no experience in naval design/engineering, the 'long and narrow' disturbs me as it feels like it will twist and bend.

    My questions are:

    1) Is the idea of a aluminium houseboat to fit inside a shipping container structurally unsound?, and

    2) Where can I get design help with is the hull as I am not able to design a structurally sound and manoeuvrable hull?

    Thanks

    Neville
     
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  2. nimblemotors
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    nimblemotors Senior Member

    search on beau's boat, I heard it was for sale too.
     
  3. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Hi Neville,
    Welcome to the forum. I have often been approached by people wishing to do what you want, and the idea usually focuses around two hulls, a deck connecting them, and a house on top of the deck--a catamaran houseboat. A single hull can be built plenty rigid so that you don't have to worry too much about twisting and bending if the design is done properly. But a single hull will be very limited in stability. To fit through the doors of a container, it can only be about 7.5' wide (2.28 meters). But, if you put two hulls together and spread them apart by 20', you can have a two-story house on it--it will be very stable.

    You don't have to make just one hull to fit in one container. You could have two smaller hulls that can fit one atop the other in the container (wide and long, but not very deep) and put the deck in there to boot, and you can then assemble them as a catamaran houseboat. This means that the house on the deck can, indeed, be made bigger and roomier. There are lots of possibilities.

    You should consult with a naval architect for design help. He/she will be able to design the structure so that it is easily built, has enough room inside for floatation, stability, etc., the furniture, appliances and all the mechanical/electrical services, and that will fit inside containers.

    You can see a video I did a few years ago called "Modular Catamaran Houseboat" which I pitch to developers (and anyone else who is interested) who want to build marinas devoted strictly to houseboats. Housboat living is a popular desire amongst the aging baby boom generation particularly who are looking for nicer ways to live closer to the water. Link: tp://www.sponbergyachtdesign.com/MODCATHOUSEBOAT.wmv.

    I hope that helps.

    Eric
     
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  4. FAST FRED
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    The word houseboat covers a lot of ground.

    The older Trumphys were considered Houseboats , as well as the std house trailer style box dumped on something that floats.

    The actual USE of the houseboat will decide how it could be constructed.

    IF the use would be as a roomy boat , perhaps one of the Atkin Sea Bright designs would work.

    These were designed to be efficient , and beachable, so a small ramp and pipe rollers would get it into the shipping container with no hassle or damage.

    My favorite is RIVER BELLE - 35' 3" Tunnel-Stern River Cruiser ,,,,,http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Cruisers/index2.html

    This could be slimmed to fit in the box and stretched a bit so it would just fit with the door closed .
     
  5. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    I wonder if you could build a Bolger State-esque boat that could be split in two for transport like some giant take apart boat (the split below a pop-up camper style pilot house?)? Possibly with stabilizing outriggers given an LBR that could approach 10:1 when assembled?

    Edit: didn't say it'd be a good idea, only wondered if it would work.
     
  6. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Yes, you could. I think most of Bolger's designs are for plywood construction, so if you want aluminum construction, you are faced wtih converting the plans to same. Not a difficult task, but not trivial either. That begs the question, why start with Bolger if all you are going to do is to convert the plans with all the changes and details that that involves, including figuring out new weights, hydrostatics, and stability? Why not start from scratch with a boat design that is purposely designed and built to do the job you want--which, while not unheard of--there have been a number of "boats-in-a-box" designs, as they are called, over the last 30 years or so--is nonetheless still a little unusual.

    Remember that a very long, narrow boat less than 8' wide is necessarily going to be kind of cramped in the living quarters. It suffers from lack of elbow room. If you are OK with that, fine. A catamaran type of arrangement with two hulls, a main deck, and a house on top does allow the possibility of a much more convenient living space.

    What is the purpose of your idea? Do you intend this houseboat only for yourself, or would you like to make many of these houseboats to sell to other people? If only for yourself, the need for getting it to fit into a shipping container seems kind of moot--why would you do that if your intent is to live on it yourself? Once it is in the water, and you have an outboard motor, it moves by itself, so perhaps the need for a shipping container is not there. Or perhaps you want to send the houseboat overseas, to some other locale for living in another country, for example, then that might make sense.

    If you are designing and building this houseboat for other people, that's fine, but you have to consider: what is the desirability of living on such a craft? Would people really want one? There seems to be a "tiny house" movement in the US right now, and perhaps elsewhere in other countries, so maybe your houseboat would fit that bill. On the other hand, there are probably a lot of potential customers looking for houseboats on the water, but would not like the cramped narrow space of such a boat. Therefore, your marketing plan should be so directed to whom you think your potential customers are, and design accordingly.

    Eric
     
  7. Skyak
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    Skyak Senior Member

    Eric,
    I am glad to see you have progressed even if the market has not. Your modular pontoon system makes perfect sense. With utility gear (tanks, batteries, heat pump, generator) mounted in the hulls the living space could be built to any style by many sources.

    The tiny house movement is huge in mind-share but it has many of the same type of regulation concerns as houseboats. Many of the most attractive ones even make great use of yacht parts. The allure is a simple life with zero ecological impact in a desirable location. The trouble is most of these desirable locations want to make sure 'undesirables' don't move in and that everyone pays their 'fair share'. Building codes, zoning, and taxes keep the riff-raff out of upscale real estate, but what control do communities have over floating homes and how do they collect taxes?

    My idea is that we need to create a class of houseboat that is certified ecologically (zero impact) and then communities could lease resources to them (docks, anchorage, wifi, water and waste). The community gets revenue without adding much infrastructure and buyers get great locations for their eco-homes. The Erie canal and ICW strike me as fertile ground for such communities. I am sure there will be opposition and debate but when you consider the high cost and foolishness of current coastal development this is very attractive.
     
  8. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Thanks for the compliments on the Modular Catamaran Houseboat. Still working on selling the concept.

    I was approached a few weeks ago by a TV production company for hosting a new reality series on the tiny house movement. (This is not the first time, by the way--last year I had two approaches from TV producers to do something with similar reality shows regarding the design and construction of houseboats, and one got so far as me filiming an audition--that was a hoot. But I guess I am not sexy enough, didn't get chosen.) Anyway, this reality TV show wanted to focus on people who would like to buy or build tiny houses--focus on the design, film the build, and cover the placement, wherever it ended up. I did not think that was a really good idea for a reality show, at least from my point of view (design) because people who build and live in tiny houses don't have any money--certainly not for design, and most assuredly not for a lot of structure--that's why they are being forced to consider tiny houses--at least in part. So for TV, you are not going to attract any really elegant part of the market, at least that would be good enough to show on television. You also touch on the local ordinance/regulation part of the problem--they can be real stumbling blocks.

    Local communities can have tremendous influence over the design and construction of "floating homes," but little influence over "houseboats." There is a difference: According to the US Supreme Court this past January, a "houseboat", to be considered a bona fide "vessel" under federal law, must have a means of propulsion and a means to steer. If it has those things, as well as other features required by Title 33 of the CFR, or 46 CFR as they may apply, then houseboats fall under federal control and local communities cannot say a thing about how they are built, and maybe not even where you keep them. They come under Admiralty law. On the other hand, if the living units are floating homes, then local authorities can have all sorts of control over how they are designed and built and where they may reside. For the houseboat or floating home owner, it can work either way to his/her advantage--it just depends on the reception of the local community as to whether they want to accept houseboats or floating homes. Every place must be considered on a case by case basis.

    You are correct that having zero environmental impact is highly desirable and certainly achievable. Electric generation on board with both solar and wind power with genset back-up is done every day. Self-propulsion, if provided, should be part of that electrical system. Water makers and rain catchers can easily be installed. And there are a number of self-contained black water systems that use recirculating water and biodegrading mechanisms for zero waste discharge wherein the only effluents are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen.

    Certainly, there are places all over the country, including, as you say, the ICW, the Erie Canal, and just about every other waterway, river, and lake in this country where you could put houseboats or floating homes. I had one guy in Jacksonville who was considering putting some small floating homes in a small retention pond that was near the intersection of two major interstate highways. And another inquiry was from someone who knew a neighbor with a 1-2 acre pond in her yard here in north Florida where he wanted to put 16' x 30' (480 sq.ft.) pontoon floats with deck and a small 10' x 12' house (120 sq.ft.) on it. That's about the size of a dormitory room at college (at least it was at my college). He thought that you would only need to use the enclosed room for sleeping and that the rest of the living area would be screened in and you'd actually be "outside" more than you would be "inside". Surely, north Florida is warm enough for that?! Uh, no it's not--we do get freezes here in the winter! That's pretty cold living, in a very small space, no less. And there would not even be enough private space to run around with your underwear on!

    If it floats, people will try to put the anywhere. But you have to do it smartly and with some consideration for the neighbors and the community at large. I see plenty of opportunity all over the country. All it takes is someone with enought money, fore-sight, and a commitment to good design and construction to get it done. I would think that there are enough 1%ers who wod just love to let go of some of their money to do good things with houseboats and floating homes. The possibilities are nearly endless.

    I'll get off my soapbox now.

    Eric
     
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  9. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    I was posing a question, not even making a "hey, this is an idea", relative to the OP and the requirement he set forth, even if it exceeded them because -two- containers would be needed.

    While my own dream boat has Bolger's houseboats as part of its inspiration, particularly the stated mission, it would not be a Bolger copy by any measure because of what else has inspired it, obviously including stabilized monohull but there is more.

    The difficulty of course is reducing something like what I would want into a relatively small package: for some reason it's a lot easier to draw the lines for an attractive BIG boat. So my own efforts thus far have been to first find something I like and then try to make progressively smaller versions of it work. So far I've been able to get it down to 39'11" and while "sleek" is no longer applicable it seems like it would be a nice looking boat. Rather than resemble a Wyoming it looks more like, though not as curve-lacking as, a Champlain. Naturally so too ... as LBR has gone down the relative roofline has gone up.

    There is a lot of Industrial Age in the concept and, recently (while reflecting on my original train-wreck of inspiration), I may have realized a way to tie the amas to the main hull that is not either sleek or "modern" and which would work well both in context of the "what-if" narrative that describes it all and also seems suited to a boat concept that is not particularly 21st century itself: a riveted (aluminum) truss with its backbone over the roof, I would like to avoid running structural bit through any roof for obvious drips, er, reasons (trusses, as you will recall, were used to help early paddle-steamers grow long).

    I know that's not much of a description, sorry.
     
  10. neville9763
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    neville9763 New Member

    Hi Eric

    Thank you for your reply - and very informative 'rant'.

    I was struggling with the idea of a single hull so the catamaran concept was a bit of an epiphany for me.

    To give a little bit more background on this project, the houseboat is for my use only, and I do not need a lot of indoor space - I really like minimilism.

    What I also envisaged was a largeish outdoor area - maybe some type of cantilevered shaded balcony type of deck, hung with steel cables (with the single hull concept) which, for me at least psychologically, would increase the available living space - which would be in addition to the indoor living space. This balcony should be easily removed and reassembled for road transport.

    So the catamaran concept would allow a largeish outdoor living area surrounding a single (or more) living area container placed in the middle of a reassembled catamaran frame.

    The container concept was so that the whole (disassembled) houseboat could be moved maybe once or twice a year - again, psychologically, I like the thought of being able to move at whim.

    Anyhow the catamaran concept is excellent as I can envisage with a ilttle bit more disassembly/reassembly I could fit the whole (dissassembled) houseboat into two shipping containers, instead of just one, which, whilst very simple conceptually, was a big intellectual leap for me.

    (ATM, I am seeing the two cat hulls joined by a number of bolted beams, which would allow easy disassembly/reassembly after the living area container was removed from the structure.)

    Thank you very much.

    Best

    Neville
     
  11. mattotoole
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    mattotoole Senior Member

  12. WestVanHan
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    WestVanHan Not a Senior Member

    Very few people realize that there are oversized hi cube containers-up to 10'6 high,and there's 48' and 56' lengths mostly in N America, and IIRC Australia uses "pallet wides"
    Hope this info helps.
     
  13. FAST FRED
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    .Remember that a very long, narrow boat less than 8' wide is necessarily going to be kind of cramped in the living quarters.,

    A one week rental of a narrow boat in the UK or on the Erie canal will show how 150 years of design can make a very comfortable narrow vessel.

    Unless the vessel will be shipped internationally , a boat that can be hauled on a flatbed trailer (rather than a specialized boat trailer ) will cost less to move than having a box moved.
     
  14. The Loftsman
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    The Loftsman The Loftsman

    Hi,
    May be of some interest as there is very little new in building boats/ships or such and taking them apart then re-assembling them some place else, the shipyard that I used to work in Scotland was building ships and river barges of 600 to 700 tons taking them apart and shipping them to South America and such where they were then put back together again and plied the rivers and Oceans of South America for many years, I hasten to add that this was before my time there and they were riveted.
    Ikea came along 70 years later and done the same with furniture!!!

    Cheers and good luck,
     

  15. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    Which brings up another thing: having systems in place to make sure for sure that you leave nothing to of the box before shipping. ;)
     
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