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What Is a Houseboat?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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A houseboat is a floating structure designed to be used as a residence, often including typical home amenities such as kitchens, bathrooms, and ample floor space. These structures differ from boats designed for transportation or sport in that they are often modified in ways that limit their ability to navigate water and are usually moored. Some houseboats even lack motors and are designed only to float, not to move. It is possible to live on a houseboat in the ocean, but the tide makes these houseboats move constantly, so still waters or gentle rivers are generally preferred docking sites.

The construction of a houseboat is largely dependent on where it is located. In many countries, houseboats that resemble houses with windows, doors, and decks are the most popular. Some locations have traditional houseboats with their own designs, which may not have a direct connection with land housing styles in the area. Almost all houseboats are built with stability in mind, often including broad bases to minimize movement. It is important for a houseboat to be stable because, as a primary residence, it will often house furniture and breakable objects that should not roll or move around.

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In many locations, a houseboat is moored directly to a dock, allowing easy access to land. Some houseboats are anchored in the middle of lakes or simply too far from land to jump, and these must include a way of getting to and from shore. A smaller boat is usually attached to the home for transportation. This smaller boat must have a place where it can be kept on the shore when the houseboat's inhabitants are not at home.

There are also boats that function as residences that are not considered houseboats. For instance, it is possible to live on a luxury yacht, but this is considered a different type of boat. The identifying features of houseboats usually include limited mobility, although this is actually a matter of use, not potential. In essence, a houseboat is a structure that is used as a house rather than a boat, not a boat that is also a house.

While these boats are considered acceptable primary residences in many areas, they are often also used as seasonal or holiday housing. Renting a houseboat may be a vacation in itself, or it may be used to travel around on a river or lake. One of the most appealing features of houseboating is the potential for escape from the troubles of land, such as work. Living on such a boat and bringing those troubles home may defeat this purpose. For this reason, many people who use houseboats continue to keep a land home and use the boat mainly for recreation.

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