Houseboat from scratch - Ideas?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Benonthelake, May 21, 2015.

  1. Benonthelake
    Joined: May 2015
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    Benonthelake New Member

    Hello forum, I'm in the early stages of taking on the onerous project of building my very own houseboat. I'm not experienced at all in ship building, but I have worked with pontoon style houseboats (39' and 53' for anyone curious) for a few years now at the marina I work during the summers. That's not saying I could I could re-build an outboard or anything, I just have a basic idea of how to set one up and I don't have trouble driving a boat that size or weight.

    I need some help with the design, I have no clue how to build this thing. Should I go with an old pontoon boat and build on it (I'm guessing weight would be a big thing)? I've also seen plans and videos of people building plywood hulls and making houseboats from that, are they any good (they seem like they would be kind flimsy to me)?

    So far I'm still in the research and budgeting phase of my project, I've mostly been asking my co-workers for opinions and looking at other home-made houseboats. My ideal houseboat is a small vessel to be used for personal vacations. I'd like a boat no larger than 25ft, that could comfortably house 1-2 people giving room to walk around without feeling so cramped, with enough room to hold maybe 3-4 people on a day cruise or maybe for an overnight stay.

    I live on a large lake (500 miles of shoreline) tucked away in a cove near one of the lake's points. The main channel can get rough during the summer, but my cove and up to a few miles up the channel stay relatively calm year-round. I don't plan on taking my houseboat more than those few miles during the peak season, but during the off-season when the lake is calm I don't see a problem with making trips 15-20 miles out so long as I have the gas.

    Considering my remote location on the lake I doubt I'll have a septic system fitted, maybe just a portable toilet and a sink that draws lake water. I would like to have a small refrigerator as well as houselights and a tv so I'll need battery power, and I'm considering solar panels. The lake gets hot during the summer so I would have to figure out something for a/c and maybe heat if I plan on doing winter cruises.

    Any advice guys?
  2. philSweet
    Joined: May 2008
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    Location: Beaufort, SC and H'ville, NC

    philSweet Senior Member

    Sounds like a "shanty boat", which is basically more of a camping boat than a house boat as far as amenities are concerned. There's a forum and books and quite a bit of info out there.

    Of course, you can buy a well used 30' sailboat for the price of a new toilet and sink.
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    The biggest power hog is the reefer. Bite the bullet and purchase a RV propane unit.

    A month of ice cream from a single propane tank is the norm. If you want to use less gas , check out the Servelle brand , bigger thicker insulation.

    With LED lights most any solar of 200W or so will do a car radio , 12v TV and water pump.

    Range should also be propane , 3 - 4 months per bottle , unless you bake daily.
  4. Rurudyne
    Joined: Mar 2014
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    Location: North Texas

    Rurudyne Senior Member

    Something I would consider as an option would be a catamaran with proper hulls rather than pontoons. By using these you can put a cabin sole on either side of the boat, just much lower in the boat and place your bunks, counters/galley, etc over the bridge deck. You could still have a full width space for a exterior fore/aft deck, lounge or pilot house set up higher if that was desirable and use the space in the hulls beneath then for tanks, floatation, or storage as desired.

    The hulls don't have to be super slim.

    Doing this could somewhat reduce your windage, place your berths in a better location for comfort if the weather got rough, and even if you used merely slim hulls (not the truly slender hulls popular with sailing cats) you might still see better economy than pontoons.

    You might think of this as a compromise between pontoon and monohull construction.
  5. Kevin Morin
    Joined: May 2013
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    Location: Kenai, AK

    Kevin Morin Junior Member

    Design Cycle Sequence for House Boat

    Ben' I suggest that you postpone the hull discussion until you've made some fundamental firm decisions about volume and space needed.

    I'd suggest you go to the local RV trailer sales WITH the first mate in tow, and walk through those "highway caravans" and establish what is the minimum cabin volume the First Mate can live in? Maybe write a full statement of requirements?

    If you find one model camper trailer, lets say its 25' LOA front wall to back bumper- for boat you'll have to add a few feet on both ends realistically so the lenght figure may be unrealistic at this stage of the design cycle?

    You know some people will say that they'd get buy fine in a little 12' long tear drop camper trailer? But they plan to walk around that back and forth and you'll have to add all that deck space to your project!

    I believe you have a much better chance of making wise choices about the realism of building this boat if you're firmly decided on the real volume and space needed BEFORE making any hull decisions.

    In my thinking about this boat design- the primary reason to build the boat is living space; so I'd have to make that volume decision matching first priorities. That will imply the hull's approximate displacement and from that figure ... then pontoons, catamarans, scows or whatever hull form is implied can be evaluated.

    How do you know (not asking to be argumentative just illustrating that critical path information) the size? Until that's firmed up the entire hull discussion is perhaps a little premature?

    Kevin Morin
    Kenai, AK
  6. Petros
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Petros Senior Member

    it is usually far cheaper to buy a decent used boat than to build one. or even better, buy someone else project that they gave up on, usually you can get those for a small fraction of the material costs they have spent on it, just to get out from under it.

    Be wary of any project boat however, even "free" boats could become something you can not afford. Better to get one that is already restored by someone else, who has to sell it after he spent too much money or time on it.

    I have built over 20 small boats, mostly with salvaged materials, mostly own designs. Even paying myself minimum wage would have been cheaper to just go out and buy a brand new one, but I do it because I like the creative act of working with my hands to make something attractive and fun to use. I earn a decent income as an engineer, but I am mostly dealing with "paper" projects (I am hired to design items for other people), and though satifying, I am much happier cutting wood and handling tools than createding plans. But there is not much money in such careers, so I build boats as a fun hobby, not becasue I have to to earn a living, but as a break from my normal work.

    You will not save money building it yourself, material costs along will be higher than you can buy a sea worthy boat for on the used market. You build because you like the act of building, or because you want something you can not buy. And likely you can find a good hull for next to nothing, and rebuild it and alter it to what you want, for less than you can built it from scratch. Less risk as well I would guess, using a proven hull.

    So you have to be honest with yourself on why you want to build it yourself. If you like the idea of building, how will you feel $60,000 and 10,000 hours down the road and you still are not done? You spent 6 years worth of spare time NOT cruising, NOT talking vacations, NOT spending your weekends doing fun family activities, and so fourth. it would be faster and more pleasant to take on a part time job for a year or two and just buy what you want and go sailing.

    good luck.

  7. Markmysite
    Joined: Jun 2015
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    Location: Stuart, FL

    Markmysite Junior Member

    Interesting project. Have you started the build yet?
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