What is a houseboat? Definition of a houseboat

What is a houseboat? Good question!


Quite often we get the question what the exact definition of a houseboat is. An interesting question, because the answer is less simple then you might think. Around the world there are various classifications for these floating homes. As far as we’re concerned a houseboat is any boat or barge that has been modified or designed to function as a house.


The reason for this broad definition is that houseboats are used, designed and modified different all over the world. In France you will mostly find modified freight boats (or péniche as the French call them), in Germany and the United States it’s common to cruise the rivers with a pontoon boat (Hausboot in German), India is known for it’s traditional spice boat cruises and in the Netherlands you will almost only find houseboats that are moored to the shore.


Houseboat rental Surrey


However, despite this variation there are four types of houseboats that we can use for pretty much every houseboat around the world. Let’s have a closer look at these four categories.


1. Modified ship - traditional design

The most common houseboat is without a doubt the modified ship that has been modified so it can be used as a real home, yet the design on the outside has not been changed. In Amsterdam, Paris and Scandinavian cities along the coast it’s very common to find steel freight ships that are transformed into the most beautiful houses. Some of them are even over a 100 years old. Thus most of them have found their final destiny as a home for their owners, long term renters or tourists. On the other hand, others are actually still able to function as a real boat. Just disconnect the electricity, water, gas, start your engine and off you go with your floating home!

A beautiful example of a traditional freight ship is this unique barge on the Seine, Paris, and the MS Luctor in Amsterdam.


Houseboat rental Amsterdam


2. Modified ship, new design

Another type of houseboat is the ship that has been modified into a house in such a way that the design has been adjusted to this new function. This can be done by removing the upper part of the ship and replace it by a completely new house. The result is often compared with an ‘ark’ and this combination of a ship and an ark is referred to as a ‘shark’. A typical example of a shark is the Canal-du-midi Houseboat in Languedoc-Roussillion, France. And of course there’s the amazing modified San Francisco houseboat called '1888 Sausalito Ferry'.  

The benefit of a ‘shark’ is that you can gain quite a lot of useful space – and space is really something you can’t have enough when living an a houseboat!


Houseboat rental France


3. Non-motorized ship on a barge

Now we’ve come to a category that might raise the question: is this still a boat? Well, it’s floating, so we call it a boat. And it’s functioning as a house, so it’s a houseboat too. In the US, Canada and Australia the non-motorized house on a steel or concrete barge is often referred to as a floating home or a boat house. We prefer not to use this last definition because a boat house is often referred to as a large house on the waterside with the opportunity to have a boat in front of it. Also the term boathouse is used for a ‘floating garage’, a building especially designed to store one or more boats, usually for leisure or sports and to protect it against the elements.

There is practically no limit on how large and luxurious a non-motorized houseboat or a barge can be. However, most of these boats are not larger then 50 – 100 sqm due to limited space and regulation in crowded urban areas. But of course there are exceptions, some boats are larger than 200 sqm.

If you’re looking for a typical urban style houseboat on a barge, check out the Houseboat Van Gogh and the overwhelming Float House in Bayview, Idaho, USA. 


Houseboat rental Berlin


4. Motorized pontoon boat

Completely the opposite from the moored and non-motorized barge-based boats are the motorized pontoon houseboats. These vessels are really designed to be used as a boat, in general with all the amenities of a modern apartment. Especially area’s with large lakes and/or rivers are a popular destinations for houseboat lovers who look for the best of both worlds. Some of these pontoon boats are small and very easy to drive. Others are massive and can only be rented with a captain and sometimes even a whole crew.

Without a doubt the Axiom Star on Lake Powell is the most amazing, over the top and unbelievable pontoon boats on the planet. 


Houseboat Lake Powell


As you can see, there’s a lot of variation when it come’s to houseboats. But the thing that all these vessels have in common is that you can have a great time with them on the water with friends and family!



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