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How Much Does It Cost To Live On A Houseboat?

The budget tool we used to estimate the cost to live on a houseboat for a year.

This is the second blog post about the costs associated with buying and owning a houseboat. In our first blog post, we introduced a houseboat budget tool to help you estimate the cost to BUY a houseboat. In this second blog post, we’ll pick up where we left off in our fist blog post, diving further into the budget tool to show how we estimated the cost to OWN a houseboat for our first year.

If you missed our first blog post on the cost to BUY a houseboat, that’s OK. To catch you up, we view buying and owning costs as different, yet critical to think through before buying a houseboat. Figuring out the potential costs to buy and own a houseboat is something we’ve been researching and planning against our budget for a long time, and isn’t a decision we made last minute.

And buying a houseboat is the easy part. It’s like the saying goes: “the two happiest days of a boat owner's life are the day they buy the boat and the day they sell it.” We think that’s mostly because the boat buyer doesn’t have an accurate view of how much it costs to buy and own a boat.

So we want to share with you the actual tools we used to estimate the potential houseboat buying and ownership costs to see if we could afford houseboat life and boating on a budget. Hopefully this will give you a more accurate view of what it takes to own a houseboat, and will give you tools to make it happen, too. This is where it starts to get good!

Houseboat Budget Tool

If you’re just joining us, we’ve built a houseboat budget tool to help visualize different scenarios for houseboat buying and ownership costs. You can access this houseboat budget tool for free by clicking on the below Google Sheets link, creating your own copy, and using it for your own boat cost calculations.

Houseboat Budget Tool

There are two tabs in this free houseboat budget tool. Our previous blog post covered the first Cost to Buy Houseboat tab, and this blog post will go through the Cost to Own Houseboat tab. Though, feel free to explore both on your own.

Owning Costs Overview

Let’s just focus on the Cost to Own Houseboat tab right now. You’ll notice two of our major buckets from the Cost to Buy tab are still in our Own tab, houseboat price and loan options and marina slip prices. This will still be key to calculating the monthly houseboat payment and monthly slip payment.

The values in these cells are actually linked to the Cost to Buy tab, so you don’t have to update anything here, as long as everything in the Cost to Buy tab is accurate. The new costs to OWN to think about in this tab are gas, maintenance, miscellaneous expenses, and what we call unknown costs for when things go wrong or need repairing that you don’t anticipate.

Gas, Maintenance, & Miscellaneous Expenses

When it comes to some of the variable expenses, here is how we estimated each:

  • Gas: we budgeted to completely fill our tanks (300 gallons total) two times at $3.75 to $4.50 per gallon, which tends to be more than enough. The price of gas is usually more expensive on a lake than at a gas station, so we advise even overestimating here just to be sure.

  • Property taxes: we pay 1% of the houseboat's value in property tax each year in Georgia. This may vary based on where you are located.

  • Winterizing: it doesn't get cold enough for long enough to fully winterize our houseboat in Georgia on Lake Lanier. We only need a bilge heater to winterize our houseboat, so we lumped our winterization costs in with our power costs. If you are located in an area that gets very cold and further winterizing is necessary, you'll want to account for winterization in your budget.

  • Oil change: our houseboat has two engines and a generator, which will need to be serviced annually to keep them in tip top shape. We've estimated that to be about $750 per year, and will be variable based on labor costs in your area. You can opt to do this yourself, so check out how to change your houseboat's oil in our below video.

  • DNR registration: you'll need to register your houseboat with the Department of Natural Resources in your respective state. Our registration is roughly $200 per year.

  • Insurance: this is a hard and fast requirement when owning a houseboat with both the company you finance through and with your marina. We pay roughly 1% of the houseboat's value in insurance every year.

  • BoatUs membership: while not a requirement, we highly recommend a membership with unlimited towing because you never know when you'll blow an engine and need to be towed back to your slip (true story for us). That yearly membership is $100 for us.

  • Detailing: washing the exterior of your houseboat is certainly something you can do yourself with a power sprayer, boat soap, a lot of time, elbow grease, and beer. We tried this once and decided we'd rather have someone from our marina do it for us, which is about $1,000 per detailing. We find that once per year is enough.

  • Power, water, and pumpout: our houseboat pulls shore power and water directly from our marina. We budgeted about $60-80 per month for power, and water is a flat fee of $5 per month. Pumpouts are absolutely necessary as we are unable to dumb sewage in our lake, and for good reason. Pumpouts are about $50 each time at our marina, which is usually one a quarter for us.

Unknown Expenses

There is a rule of thumb that it takes 10% of a houseboat's value to keep it running and maintained every year. We used this rule of thumb to help us estimate our unknown, black swan expenses. To figure out the unknown expenses, we subtracted the total annual slip payment and total gas, maintenance, & miscellaneous expenses from the 10% total number that is costs to run the houseboat. The remaining number should give you an idea of what the total unknown expenses of own a houseboat could be per year. If this sounds confusing, check out minute five of the below video where we further explain this concept.

Final Costs to Buy

Once you have the four major cost areas filled out, you can calculate the final costs to own your potential houseboat each year. So, we added the annual houseboat payment, annual slip payment, annual gas, maintenance, & miscellaneous expenses, and annual unknown expenses to get the number in darker purple in cell I19. We then divided it by 12 to get our monthly cost to own in lighter purple in cell I20.

Thinking back to our previous blog post on the cost to buy a houseboat where we recommended having at least six to nine months of boat ownership expenses already saved up and ready to go in case of emergencies. You can now easily see in the orange cells, I23 and I24, what these six to nine months of boat ownership expenses will be so you can plan to have this saved up before buying your houseboat and accounted for in your total cost to buy the houseboat. You can also now see where we’ve brought these six to nine months of boat ownership expenses in orange into the Cost to BUY tab, in cells D25 and D26.

So, How Did Our Estimated Budget Work For Us?

After our first year of owning and living on our houseboat, we analyzed what we actually spent to see where we landed with our houseboat budget tool. Of course we don't want to spoil the surprise, so check out our full analysis video on our Deep Houseboat Life channel.

If you've found this blog and video series helpful to your houseboat buying process, it would mean the world to have a LIKE or SUBSCRIBE from you on our channel. It lets us know what houseboat tips, tricks, and advice are useful so we keep creating more of it. As always, please leave us any questions you may have in the comments section on this blog post.

Until next time...peace, love, and houseboats.

Deep Houseboat Life

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