A Guide To Houseboat Maintenance

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If you are considering buying a houseboat, whether it is a new boat or a used one, it is important to understand your options for different models and materials. Some hulls are constructed of low maintenance materials and some hulls require a higher level of periodic maintenance. Be certain you understand the difference before choosing a houseboat.

Aluminum, Fiberglass, Steel, or Wood Hulls

Aluminum hulls are the most common on today’s houseboats. It is a popular choice for construction because is offers a lightweight and strong hull that is fairly easy to repair if damaged. These hulls are resistant to problems with corrosion or rust and the hulls are durable. They should have a yearly checkup of the anode system. One drawback is aluminum is susceptible to electrolytic corrosion or galvanic corrosion.

Fiberglass hulls are also very popular. Fiberglass has very few problems requiring maintenance. It does require waxing, and cleaning compound to keep it new and lustrous. Age, water, and storage conditions can affect the life of fiberglass. So, proper care is encouraged.

Steel hulls are less common in today’s houseboat hulls. But the material is common among older houseboats still on the water. Steel is very strong and difficult to damage. It is easy to repair but maintenance will be higher to protect the hull against corrosion and rust. Anticipate higher periodic maintenance for paint and rust prevention.

Wood hulls have been popular since the beginning of the boating industry. Wood hulls are clearly the most beautiful of all available materials, but the maintenance is defiantly not for the timid. Think of wood as the most difficult hull material to keep looking good and watertight. Yearly maintenance requires a significant investment in time and tools.  

Houseboat Maintenance Issues

Maintaining a houseboat is a constant issue for most boaters. Not only do they have the normal house issues to contend with such as wind, rain, and weather, there is also the added hull maintenance and water leaks to worry about. Houseboats have hundreds of electrical and physical components that need to be regularly monitored. Most maintenance issues seem to fall into three categories: bilge pumps, battery banks and water leaks. Here’s what to watch for and what to do.

Houseboat Bilge Pumps

The bilge pump may be the most important component on a houseboat. If it fails the houseboat could wind up at the bottom of the harbor or lake. Most boats have several bilge pumps installed. How many pumps should a houseboat have? It depends on the size. A 20 to 40 foot houseboat should have at least two pumps. Larger houseboats of 40 feet or more may need as many as five. The pumps should be mounted in low spots where water accumulates while moored or while under power. Regularly check that debris has not clogged intakes or damaged fixed float switches in the on or off position. Damaged float switches can prevent water from being pumped out and can burn out pump motors.

Houseboat Battery Banks

Houseboats need to have the correct number of batteries and the correct type. Check the mountings to confirm they are secure. The two most common problems with battery banks are: inadvertent discharge and inadequate charges. Check the battery-voltage switch when you climb aboard and before starting the engines. If the voltage switch reads 13 volts or less the charger isn’t working or there is an electrical drain. Then, check for a stuck bilge pump or stray current. Also check for contamination such as accumulated dirt and corrosion on the battery surface, around the terminals and at the battery cable terminations. If the batteries are still partially discharged after cruising under power for some time, the problem may be an engine alternator. If you are unclear about the houseboat’s starting circuits or charging circuits, this is a job for the marine mechanic.

Houseboat Water Leaks

Leaks can be the bane of every mariner. Aluminum windows and doors are the biggest culprits. Water can damage a houseboat’s interior and also degrade the boats structure. If a window leak is discovered, remove the frame, check it for corrosion, and then re-bed and refasten the window frame.

Checklist For Houseboaters

  • Pumps: Make sure the houseboat has enough bilge pumps and in the right place.
  • Clogs: Regularly check all bilge pumps for clogs and debris.
  • Voltage: Check the battery voltage before start the engines.
  • Charging: Understand the houseboat’s charging system.

Leaks: Address leaks immediately. Don’t wait for damage to occur.

Last Updated: June 7, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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