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On the water

Houseboats offer a unique vacation experience


There are boaters and there are RV'ers, but did you know there are people who combine the best of both worlds to plan memorable family vacations?

The houseboater is able to get out on the water just like the boater, but with all the comfort of a full-size upscale RV. The combination makes for an exciting yet relaxing vacation that is appealing to all members of the family.

The Pacific Northwest offers plenty of opportunities for houseboating and among the most popular places to go are Lake Roosevelt in North Central Washington and Shuswap Lake in Central British Columbia.

First you have to understand that houseboats aren't cheap. Chances are you'll rent a houseboat rather than buy one, but you'll still pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a day depending on the boat and especially the time of year. Prices are always much higher during the peak summer months in places like California and British Columbia where houseboating is particularly popular.

But another way to look at the cost is to amortize it – to figure out how much it would cost you to have complete accommodations for the same number of people in a hotel or other accommodation. A houseboat can accommodate a dozen or more people so let's see – two people to a room, $150 a night per room – suddenly you realize that, for families, it's certainly comparable in cost to other types of getaways. If it's just you and your wife, well that's another story.

Another big question that arises early in the discussion is: How do I rent a houseboat if I know nothing about boats? It's surprising for many people to learn they don't actually need boating experience to handle a houseboat. Of course it's probably better if there is at least some sort of small-boat experience by someone in the family, but the companies that rent houseboats to you generally can teach you the ropes in a few hours. They often provide DVD's ahead of time to let you learn some of the basics before you even arrive. And don't worry too much about docking – the rental attendants will take you into and out of the docking area. When you're out overnight you'll be beaching, which only requires you to learn a few basic techniques and doesn't generally require you to be close to other boats.

So what's the appeal of houseboating? Freedom. Once you get on your boat and are cruising up the lake you leave all your troubles and worries behind. Sit back and relax as the incredible scenery goes by and if you just want to sit in the middle of the lake, you can do that, too. Everything you need will be right at your fingertips including a full kitchen and living room area, bedrooms, bathrooms and often a hot tub and an elaborate entertainment system.

Often, houseboaters will also rent a small ski boat they can tow wherever they go, which opens the door for water skiing, boogie boards and lots of shoreline exploration. The big decks on top of a houseboat are ideal for sunning or just getting a 360-degree view of the scenery.

At night it's a simple matter of selecting a suitable beach and gently driving your houseboat onto the shore. Your first mate will help you tie a couple of lines from the stern of the boat to trees or stakes on the shore and you're good for the night. You can cook up a big dinner, do a hike or two to explore the surrounding area, or you can drop your fishing line in off the stern of the boat and enjoy fresh fish for breakfast.

If you want to book a houseboat for prime summer season, you'll need to make your reservations by early spring. Both Lake Roosevelt and Shuswap Lake are excellent locations for summer but weather can be quite a bit cooler in the shoulder seasons, reducing some activities such as water sports.

Shuswap Lake is nestled among the mountains of British Columbia and much of the houseboating is done out of Sicamous, B.C. The lake is popular because of the countless number of places to beach your boat and enjoy your own part of the lake. There are lots of beaches, waterfalls, great fishing and plenty of trails for hiking or mountain biking.

Grand Coulee Dam, when it was created in 1941, led to the creation of Lake Roosevelt, stretching 150 miles toward Canada. The lake is long and narrow, usually not wider than a mile, so this is more like river houseboating than lake houseboating. The southern end is drier, while the northern part of the lake is situated in pine forests. There is abundant wildlife and boaters especially enjoy the fishing.

For more information on Northwest houseboats, google Shuswap and Lake Roosevelt where you'll be able to learn more about specific rental companies and pricing.

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