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Houseboat Vacation Tips

What You Need to Know About Taking a Houseboat Vacation


The Houseboat Vacation Experience

Think of a houseboat as a large RV that runs on water instead of the highway. You move in, set up housekeeping and use the houseboat to get around. If you've never been on one before, read our novice's houseboating guide to learn more about it.

A houseboat vacation is relaxing, with little to do all day but swim, cruise around exploring the area, read, play games or take a nap. It's not a good choice for anyone who likes to be on the go all the time, but it's a nice change of pace if you want to slow down for a while.

What's Included

Most houseboats have a generator and heater. Some also have air conditioners or evaporative (swamp) coolers. You'll find taps for hot and cold lake water as well as fresh water. Often, there's a gas-powered barbecue chairs on deck.

Most houseboat rentals have fully-stocked kitchens with a refrigerator/freezer, gas stove, microwave, oven, blender, coffee maker and toaster, along with dishes, silverware and plenty of pots and pans. They even provide the dish soap. If you need extra storage for cold foods, make sure there's a supplementary ice chest.

Sometimes you can find restaurants at marinas around the shore, but it's more fun to eat on the boat. Plan simple meals that everyone can help prepare, or make them ahead at home and freeze them. Bring ready-to-bake cookies or a cake mix, especially in cooler weather.

Things to Bring on a Houseboat Vacation

Know what's provided. You probably won't need to bring your flyswatter or toilet paper, but you will need to bring your own bedding. Don't make any assumptions. If you have any questions about what the rental company does and does not provide, don't assume - ask.

Think through what you'll be doing and what you'll need to do it and make a list. Check with each person who's going to see what they might want to bring. These are some of the things everyone will need:

  • Towels: Bath towels, hand towel for bathroom
  • Bath mat
  • Bathroom air freshener
  • Bath soap
  • Sheets and blankets for the beds or sleeping bags
  • Pillows
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Earplugs (to block water noise for a better sleep)
  • Games, cards, books
  • Slippers or warm socks to wear inside (in cooler weather)
  • Binoculars
  • When you go on shore, you'll pick up a lot of mud on your feet that's easy to track inside. Bring a doormat or an extra pair of shoes so you can change at the door and keep the place clean inside.
  • Two phones that use different service providers are a good idea. They'll come in especially handy if you forget something or get in trouble.
  • Mobile phones can be very handy to help communication when trying to maneuver or anchor, but you may need an earphone so your hands can be free.
  • The on-board refrigerator runs on propane and has only eight cubic feet of capacity. If you're taking a lot of food, you'll need ice for the auxiliary ice chest.
  • Butane match (the kind you might use to light a barbecue), cigarette lighter or kitchen matches
  • Wood for a shoreline bonfire if they're allowed

Clothing you might not think of:

  • Waterproof pack for your wallet (or a zipper-lock plastic bag)
  • Warm clothing for the evening. It can get quite cool on the lake any time of year
  • Water shoes that are also suitable for light hiking. Closed-toed ones are better than sandals.


Orientation will take about an hour. Pay close attention, ask questions and take notes. It all sounds easy until you're in the middle of the lake and forget how something works.

  • If you have a digital camera along, take pictures to help you remember
  • Don't stop at listening to instructions about how to drive the boat. Ask if you can back it out, go in a short circle and come back in with your instructors. It's harder than it seems, and you may be able to avoid what happened to us when we ended up stuck against the dock going the wrong way.
  • Practice tying and untying the boat with your instructor.

Boating Tips

Try to keep track of where you are by matching the landmarks you pass such as marinas and boat ramps to the map.

Before you try tasks that require a lot of coordination like tight maneuvers or anchoring, appoint one person to be the only one who makes decisions. This one can be a relationship-saver: Discuss every step in detail before you start, and once started, obey your leader.

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