Tips for First-time Houseboaters

houseboat6A few weeks ago, my friends and I were invited by Forever Resorts to take a spin around Lake Mead and try houseboating as their guests.  I never thought I would go houseboating.   Then again, I also never thought I would use saliva to clean another human being or own the complete Captain Underpants boxed set.  Life  is surprising like that.

We picked up our 70′ Millenium Houseboat with equal parts glee and trepidation.  Glee because our home for the weekend had four bedrooms, a water slide, a wet bar, and a hot tub that seated six.  Trepidation because, well,  it looked really hard to drive.

We managed to navigate without major mishap, and had more fun than I would have thought possible.   When we weren’t gawking at the mind-boggling beauty around us, we were dog paddling in the 85-degree water and counting falling stars on the top deck.  If you go houseboating yourself—and you totally should—here are some tips to ensure smooth sailing.

houseboat2Learning the ropes

The Forever Resorts people assured us that with a little instruction piloting a houseboat would be a piece of cake, but I was dubious.  Beyond the basics (starting, steering, navigating, and anchoring the boat), there are special instructions for operating the radio, the barbecue, the toilets, the hot tub, the water slide.

Have at least two or three adults watch the video and listen in on the 45-minute pre-launch orientation.  It’s a lot of information, so the more brains you put on it the better.

What to pack (and what to skip)

If you go houseboating in the summer, you’re not going to need a lot of clothes.   Like none.  Bring plenty of hats, bathing suits, and towels, and leave the cute matching outfits at home.  Temperatures on Lake Mead are extreme (this is the Mojave Desert, after all), so you’ll probably want to spend most of your time in the water.  For comfortable aquatic lounging, bring lots of things that float.

houseboat5If you don’t own a waterproof camera, now might be the time to remedy that situation.  Between the lake and the slide and the hot tub, you’re going to need one.  If a new camera isn’t in the budget, pick up a couple of disposables.

For a break from the relentless sun, you’ll probably want to enforce a daily siesta between the hours of noon and 2pm.  Bring lots of games, toys, and DVDs, so the kids won’t pester you to go swimming every six seconds.  The boat comes equipped with CD players on the top deck and in the main cabin as well, so bring plenty of CDs too.

Finally, bring less food than you think you need and more drinks.  Even if you don’t normally allow your kids to guzzle gallons of juice, make an exception on this trip.

houseboat3Where to stop

The best piece of houseboating advice I can give you is this: park more and drive less.  Not only is fuel expensive, you can’t swim or slide when the motor is running.  Try to do most of your driving during the heat of the day (when your kids are inside resting anyway).

When choosing an anchorage, try to find a secluded beach and park on the side that gets afternoon shade.  The larger coves often attract fisherman and day trippers in speedboats.  Your instructor can help you choose places that are quiet, beautiful, and comparatively easy to navigate.

Anchoring (and casting off again) are the trickiest part of houseboating, so don’t do them more often than is absolutely necessary.  Once a day is more than enough.

Who to invite

houseboat4On any group vacation, it’s important to choose your friends wisely.  On a houseboat vacation, it’s critical.   Beyond being fun and up for anything, these people should share not only your travel but also your parenting philosophies.

Do you see eye to eye on bed time?  Junk food?  Manners?  Discipline?  Gameboys?   PG-13 movies?   You don’t have to agree on everything, but in tight quarters your differences will be amplified.

Consider a short trip for your maiden voyage—three to four days is perfect.  If it goes well (and it will), you can always book a longer trip next time.

Houseboating: A Mockumentary from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Consider Turkey Day afloat with the Bird and a Boat houseboating special.  This holiday adventure offers a 40% discount on a trip to one of the great Western lakes.  That’s five days of houseboating for the cost of three, plus a free turkey!



  1. says

    DARLING video! Did you bring your laptop AND printer on the houseboat?! Or plan the signs beforehand. Too clever.

    Great tips, too. From someone who has houseboated nearly every year since 1998 (at Lake Powell), we prefer to dock the houseboat once for a 4-night trip, and take “scenic drives” to canyons, hiking spots, etc. in a ski boat. Of course, that necessitates a) having a motorboat or b) renting a boat (extra $$).

    Don’t forget to pack horseshoes and stakes! Great beachtime fun.

    Oh, and we prefer an iPod w/ plug-in for music playlists, over multiple CDs that can scratch. :-)

  2. says

    I’ve heard about houseboat vacations before. Now I may need to add it to our to-do list. Sounds like a great time!

  3. michele says

    As one of the families that participated (and were skeptical going into it), it was truly a blast. Another hint: our houseboat came with a full sized kitchen and a water dispenser in the fridge. As newbies, we brought a ton of bottled water that we didn’t use.

  4. cara madansky says

    Loved the commentary, advice, and pictures. I saw that my contrarian grandson only rated the trip a 9 1/2. For Ez, that’s good. Do you know if there are larger houseboats for a family vacation? Thanks again for sharing.
    Cara Madansky

  5. cara madansky says

    I found the answer to my questions, there are interesting places to rent large houseboats for a large family.

  6. says

    If you’re going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you might as well laugh about it now.

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