What it needs to start living on board a houseboat or floating home
Mobile or stationary?
A houseboat moored permanently in a fixed location is technically easier to maintain, especially if it is connected to the supply and disposal network on shore. However, it is a lot harder to find such a mooring. Navigable ships can more easily find or change berths, not to mention the feasible option of holiday cruises.
Where do I want to live? Are berths available there? How to apply?
This question should be answered before actually buying a boat. Often it helps to show a photo of the boat you intend to buy or, at least, the type of ship - especially with berths in city or museum harbours where aesthetic issues are important.
What are the limits in terms of boat size or draft?
This question concerns the actual mooring place or the waterways you want to navigate. For example: Most locks on the smaller canals in France are 5 meters wide, at the most. A ship intended for travelling on European inland waterways should therefore not be wider than just under 5 meters. There are also restrictions concerning maximum draft on the inland waterways. Smaller canals often have little more than one meter of depth.
If I want to stay mobile, which waterways do I want to navigate?
An important question to answer at an early stage as it determines the kind of boat you are looking for: a boat for navigating inland waterways, coastal waters or the open sea.
How much space do I need?
Try to determine your requirements as exactly as possible beforhand. Then check again: how many people will be living on board? How many rooms / cabins are required? Is office space required if you intend to work on board? What about storage space? And so on. The answers depend hugely on individual needs.
What is the budget available?
On top of the actual price of the boat additional costs have to be taken into account: an expert's survey of the boat, which may require to take the boat out of the water. Costs connected to the actual acquisition like insurance fees, berthing or, finally, transfer to the new home port.
What are the running costs per year?
How much can I afford on a regular basis - berthing, insurance, maintenance and repair, consumption of electricity, fuel and water all have to be taken into consideration.
If the ship's home port is further north and the intention is to live on board all year, this is a crucial issue. For smaller vessels a heater (hot air, diesel or gas operated) or a radiator on a diesel heater may often be sufficient. An oven (a ship stove for diesel such as "Refleks" and "Dickinson" or for diesel and petroleum such as "Taylor's" or even a small stove) spreads a cozy and, above all, dry heat.
For larger ships it is an option to use normal home technology, for example, an oil burner as central heating. Or even modern systems: electric, if you generate enough electricity yourself (with solar and wind), or pellets or many other things - whether, for example, a water heat pump would work on ships, has yet to be tested.
How to cook?
Gas is the easiest and is preferred by many chefs, but not everyone wants to have a gas system on board. The best alternative for permanent living is electricity; again, best if you generate enough electricity or are mostly stationary at your mooring and connected to shore power. Some boats have kerosene or alcohol stove, but they are rather tedious in daily operation and not recommended for permanent living on board.
Supply and disposal?
The capacity of the water tanks on board determines how often you have to take on water. Is there a separate tank for heating oil? If not, as is often the case on boats from abroad, a tank may have to be installed. And what about disposal? Into a black water tank which needs to be pumped out regularly or install an onboard wastewater treatment plant? boot exhibitors Tom Logisch,Hamann Wassertechnik and others have such plants available. If the boat stays in its place permanently the best option is a connection to the local supply and disposal networks. All connections, however, have to be protected from freezing.
Telephone, Internet, TV: What is cruical is good mobile connection via an appropriate outdoor antenna that may be combined with an on-board WLAN. This way communication in such close proximity to land - we are not talking about ocean crossings - will be no problem nowadays: Most coastal waters are already covered mobile networks. Many ports and marinas have their own WLAN you can log into, although data speed can be far from perfect that way.
How much boating know-how is required to live on board?
No, you do not necessarily have to be raised on a boat, although, of course, it would also not be a disadvantage. With common sense, a willingness to learn and a bit of flexibility it is well possible to acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills needed for living on a houseboat. The only thing that really matters is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for this kind of life, even when there are setbacks or uncomfortable situations, because they are part of the process.
Visit boot Düsseldorf and discover your future floating home!
Detlef Jens was sailing long-distnace for several years - and published a book about it: "Land's End" - before he and his family spent a total of six years living on a houseboat in a small harbour on the river Elbe near Hamburg.
Just recently, he has published a book on the subject of living on the water called "Port Years", which contains not only narratives from everyday life on board but also many practical tips and information about living on a houseboat.