Is That a Houseboat? Different Styles of Liveaboards Defined.

As most of you know, I live on a boat.  I have been living aboard on Lake Union for 6 years, and I have two other houseboats that I rent out as little floating apartments.  I love life on the lake!  I have been lucky enough to have several clients recently that are thinking about embarking on the liveaboard lifestyle, and it has become clear to me that it can be difficult to understand the three different styles of homes that float.  Here is a breakdown of the three styles of liveaboard vessels, as defined by the City of Seattle.  (See official DPD document here.)

The Floating Home: Think of the Sleepless in Seattle boat.  These are homes that are built on a floating hull.  These homes are required to adhere to the traditional building codes of homes on land.  These floating homes are permanently connected to city water and sewer and must be moored in an approved floating home marina.  These floating dwellings are most like real houses inside.  They have real toilets, standard appliances and feel like the houses you grew up with.  There are only 500 floating homes in Seattle, and the scarcity of these homes is a driving factor in the high prices to purchase, but on the same side of that coin, they hold their resale value.  The floating home pays property tax, but it is immune to paying vessel registration fees.  These homes are also the only homes on water that qualify for traditional 30 year mortgages.

Floating Home


House Barges: These are the rarest of the liveaboard vessels.  There are only 33 (as of today) of these types of vessels on the lake, and no more will ever be permitted.  Seattle changed the laws around barges in the 1990’s and at that time, only existing barges were grandfathered in.   If an existing barge sinks. or is no longer used as a liveaboard, it loses its barge designation and no new barge can be built to replace it.  The barge is a vessel built primarily as a place of residence, but has the ability to navigate waters but has no means of self propulsion. That is a long winded way of saying that barges can act like boats, but they have no motors and need to be towed to get around on the lake.  Barges are not connected to City water and sewer, but are still required to pay property tax.  The good news is that Barges do not have to pay sales tax or vessel registration fees and can qualify for financing much easier than Houseboats.



Houseboats:   These are the most common types of liveaboards on Lake Union (and the type of boat that I live on).  A houseboat is an actual boat that is used as a residence.  These types of boats come in all shapes and sizes.  From motor boats, to sail boats to luxury yacht cruisers and everything in-between.  Houseboats are defined as being designed and used for navigation, have a seaworthy hull, and are able to navigate under their own power in open waters.  In short, they have to be able to withstand navigation on the lake and do so under their own power.   The DPD and the City of Seattle are in the final stages of refining the definition and regulations surrounding houseboats, so stay tuned for updates once the law revisions are final and published.  Buying a houseboat is a lot like buying a car.  When you purchase your houseboat, you pay sales tax and a vessel registration fee (and that fee has to be paid annually as long as you own the boat).  Houseboats are not subject to property tax.

Houseboat Cream Cheese

As you can see, life on the lake comes in many shapes and sizes.  Us liveaboards trade square footage for million dollar views.  We forgo some of the conveniences of life of land (like a driveway and a yard) for the privilege of  having mother nature rock us to sleep at night.  We spend more time on the outside spaces of our boat than we do inside.  We know our neighbors, we respect the amazing nature we so closely share space with and we know that the little moments in life are often the most amazing.  If you want to know more about this funny little lifestyle, feel free to contact me.  I would love to show you some liveaboard vessels, or just have you over to my humble houseboat for lemonade and to watch the sunset.


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