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13 Things You Need to Know Before You Get on a Houseboat

Updated on February 3, 2018

Whenever I travel – which is probably far too often – I’ve learned to check out AirBnB to find someplace interesting or weird to stay. Hotels are okay, but staying in cabins and RVs and treehouses makes any business stay a bit more interesting.

This time, when I put in the zip code, something unexpected showed up in my list.

A houseboat.

It wasn’t big, but it was only me, it was convenient, and I’d only been on two boats before in my life.

This was my chance.

I loved it, but there are a few things I wish I’d known before I’m climbed aboard.

One. Get over your fear of falling.

I discovered that nothing made me feel less steady than walking down that thin dock to the boat. It didn’t help that I’m afraid of falling into the water, and that I don’t know how to swim. I felt myself longing for a life jacket when I took that long walk, especially when my hands were full.

The final step onto the boat wasn’t too bad since the owners had installed a little step, but even with that, I looked down into that sliver of water and knew that, somehow, I’d fall down there, get trapped between the boat and the dock, and drown.

The one thing that stuck with me was the fear of dropping my phone. They keys were on a floater, but if my phone fell into that water…

Two. Be prepared for movement.

I knew that boats moved. They’re boats. They move.

But what I didn’t know was that it moved all the time. When the winds picked up, which they did, the more it bounced and swayed. The bumpers between the boat and dock are there for a reason.

At first, I liked the constant movement. I’d never had a problem before with seasickness, and this boat was docked. No problem.

Except that when I sat at the table to get work done, I could see the constant movement of the water next to me. It felt like sitting on a plane, and it looks like the place is moving, but then it turns out it’s the plane next to it. That feeling. All the time.

I regretted not having anti-nausea drugs.

Three. Learn to enjoy the spooky noises.

Boats move, and boats are not silent.

There is movement in the water, movement in other boats docked nearby, movement of other boats docked nearby, movement of the wind, and movement of the boat itself against its bumpers.

The movement noises on a boat are not the same as the movement noises in a house.

Sometimes, when it’s late and dark and there aren’t really any people wandering around on their boats or the dock…it’s super quiet. Except for the occasional spooky noises that made me flash back to all those paranormal shows that I’m addicted to.

Four. Bring clothes for all four seasons.

It gets cold.

It gets hot.

I kept all the doors open. Abaft, aboard, aft, alee, amidships, aport, ashore, astern, athwarships…really, I have no idea how to describe them. They were at the front and back, and they let in a lot of air. I also kept all the windows open.

It was nice and chilly (for Texas). With all that fresh air coming through, it was nice and pleasant. I didn’t have to turn on the AC. I didn’t need a sweater.

Now, logically, when it gets colder outside, it should get colder inside, right?

Not on a houseboat.

Since it had been so nice all day, when I went to sleep, I didn’t turn the AC on. Mistake.

I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, soaked through with sweat, having escaped from a nightmare about being in Hell with Dante.

Word to the wise: turn on the AC before going to bed. Especially if it’s Texas.

Five. Don’t be afraid of the dark.

Or bring some flashlights.

It gets dark. Really dark.

Not all boats in a marina are occupied, especially at night. There aren’t many live-ons. While a lot of those people show up during the day to clean their decks or fix their bumpers or attach the drugs they’re going to smuggle out, at night, there aren’t many people there.

There aren’t any streetlights because it’s not a street – it’s water.

The only lights that are available are on the boat; they aren’t too bright. Now, I’m not sure if this is normal, but the boat I was on had lights that flipped from clear/semi-bright to red/ not at all bright. I still don’t know why the red options existed, unless they were meant to signal the sailors around that the boat was open for business.

Six. Play hide and go seek.

Everything hides from you. Which is actually kind of cool.

Pop-up drawers. Sunken sinks. Tables that transformed into beds.

I appreciated the fact that space was so well used, and it gave me something to explore. The owners told me that it was like a floating RV, but I thought it was more like an IKA mini house. Except the boat didn’t have people wandering through eating Swedish meatballs.


Seven. Avoid touching things if you don’t know what they do.

In the little kitchenette area of the house boat, there was a mysterious panel.

I was afraid to pull on/touch/move any of the switches because I was afraid I’d be summoning something or someone from the deep.

If I could have figured out which one called for Aquaman…

Eight. Keep clean and practice your contortionist skills.

The shower, like everything else on the boat, was meant to save space. To be fair, it’s big enough for two…anorexic midgets with agoraphobia. I’m five foot two. The shower head was an inch over my head.

I accepted the size of the shower, but I thought that the water pressure would be good. The boat is in the water, right? Wrong. The water came out with all the force of a 75 year old man with prostate issues.

To be fair, having weak water pressure was probably a lot better than showering with marina water.

Nine. Leave your gag reflex on the dock.

Howard Hughes would not have been able to handle the head. (That’s toilet to all you land lubbers.)

The bathroom was nice and tiny, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was saving the toilet paper. The used toilet paper.

The toilet tank couldn’t handle anything that hadn’t been eaten first. Anything and everything else had to be put somewhere until it could be properly thrown away.

In the case of the boat I was on, they provided a little metal canister next to the toilet to toss the used toilet paper into. It only felt gross the first time, but I’m not sure it ever became normal.

If I knew it was going to be something I really didn’t want to save, there was always the marina toilet.

Ten. Bring sneakers if you need a land-locked bathroom.

When it came time to use the toilet in a way that would not have made for a later bathroom experience, it became time to use the marina toilet.

The marina toilet was all the way down the dock.

It was bad enough to rush down there during the day, but at night, the only lights are along the dock. There aren’t many of those. They aren’t very bright. And they don’t give enough illumination that I could see the causes for the creepy noises in the water.

Once I got there, I had to unlock the main door with a code. It took me four tries to get it to work. Not the situation I wanted to be in because by the time I’d taken the long walk down the dock, I really needed to get in there.

To make it better, the lights were on one of those spinning timers. I’d set it, and then go sit on a toilet in a windowless room, wondering if I’d accidentally set it for too few minutes, if it was broken, if, at any second, I’d wind up sitting in the dark.

Eleven. Set your alarm to wake up. Then set a second alarm. Setting a third alarm isn’t a bad idea, either.

On a boat, sleep is not for the weak. It’s for everyone.

Yes, the boat is rocking a lot, but when it comes time to sleep, it’s very calming. I have a friend who lives on her sail boat, and she told me that she never has insomnia. I can believe it.

But the bedroom amenities are interesting. Like the weirdly shaped bed. It started its life as a block of thin foam. It was a full bed, but someone cut a chunk off it, thinking a complete bed is an extravagance.

Twelve. Sex!

Unlike the beach, sand doesn’t get into hard to reach places, and there are plenty of poles for those who want to get their kink on. ‘Nuff said.

Thirteen. Resist the urge to take it out to sea!

Resist that urge.

Resist it.

Maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t help but feel that taking it out into the open sea would be cool. But I have no idea how to drive a boat (or is it steer a boat? navigate a boat? make a boat go putt-putt?).

Then there were all these rules and laws and police officers and coast guard responders and…well.

Trust me on this one.



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