September 2011 Boat Update – Cabin and New Crew Member!

Bryan of Shantyboat Living asks, “Hi… I’d like to feature your boat on Any updates?”

Thanks for featuring our boat! We sure have been busy, but lagging behind on posts. I really want to show the construction in order, but here is a look at where we are now:

smiling laughing baby on a roof

Our newest crew member, Avery Monk. Helping Dad with the roof of the boat.

Like I said, we’ve been busy! Avery joined us May 19, 2011 and he is a strict task-master, let me tell you. Than has just completed the exterior walls, roof, and moon-roof before the rain came howling back into the Pacific NW.

faux planks

Port wall, note the drip edge on the roof that will be part of the water collection system.

shanty boat roof rain

A beautiful and, more importantly, water-proof roof. Installing the clear acrylic moon roof was difficult...

tap plastics acrylic sheet moon roof house boat

...but totally worth it! Thank you, TAP plastics, for carrying what we needed.

View from the driveway. The outside will have to stay this way through this winter most likely, as weather drives the work inside.

So, there you have it. Quite different than the pile of lumber and chalk drawing with which we started! “The Recurring Dream” still has a ways to go – the interior is pretty bare – but with a roof over head and insulation in the walls, winter doesn’t mean we have to stop. 2 years down, 1 more to go? Stay tuned for more pictures of the building process leading up to this point!

Building Codes and House Boats (in Oregon)

Reader Courtney, asks “How’d you find out if what you wanted to build/live in was legal?” Great question, and probably one of our first concerns when planning the boat design! A great resource was reading fellow Oregonian, Richard Trachi’s “Return of the Brandy Bar Houseboat” Article (You’ll hear me mention the Brandy Bar a lot). He says:

Here in Oregon, as in most states, a houseboat (as opposed to a floating house) is a vessel, not real estate. Thus Brandy Bar is subject to nothing other than a minimal registration fee, nor does she have to comply with the prevailing building codes. There are, of course, standards for vessels administered by the Coast Guard and state authorities and dictated by good sense. Brandy Bar‘s basic seaworthiness is guaranteed by my father’s expertise as a naval architect, and she does meet all Coast Guard requirements for personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, ventilation, lights, etc. Complying with boating regulations is, nonetheless, much less expensive than meeting housing stipulations, which-for one thing-often restrict the minimum size of a dwelling.

This was, in fact, part of the reason we opted for building a houseboat instead of a floating home or a house on land. If you look into electrical codes, plumbing codes, roofing, insulation and other codes, plus getting a permit, approval and certifications by various licensed professionals, even a small land-based shack can get quite expensive. Jay gets around this with his Tumbleweed houses; Mobile homes aren’t subject to building codes so he drops a mini house on a trailer and there you have it. A home you can build yourself.

With a houseboat, in Oregon, we are subject to the Coast Guard’s requirements ( and the Oregon State Marine Board. Here is a link to OSMB’s titling and registration. Every state is different so be sure to check codes where you live before building!

We also try to keep up to date on new laws and regulations to keep ourselves safe. Just this year an invasive species permit became required for almost all boats and carries a $142 fine. It also could have taken us by surprise if we’d been out in our little row boat without it. We had never heard anything about it! Coincidentally, if you hear something about a new law or if we’ve forgotten a requirement, PLEASE let us know!

So, anyway, I hope that answers your question, Courtney! Thanks again for asking, and happy boat planning! (And I’ll update the progress here soon, the rain is coming back to chase me inside!)


Who needs a truck?

Winter/Spring 09: We make sure we are truly committed to this idea… 2-4 years of building and renting the same space, financing possibly $5000 out of an already thin budget, preparing to live in much less square footage, trying not to lose our minds before we can escape the confines of land-locked living.

Than: “Can we do this? Can we actually do this?”

Michele: “We’ll never know until we try! Why not?”

First day of Summer 2009: We start work in earnest.

Than transfered an outline onto the carport to measure the actual size needed for sides of the boat hull.

Full scale plans for the rib uprights in sidewalk chalk

Here’s Michele for scale. In this one you’ll see our first boat, the Fat River Carp, standing on one end. It comes apart in 3 sections so as to fit through a normal sized door. We also haul that on top of the car.

Michele reviews the design

Than uses mostly mock-ups, like this paper and craftwood model, and bryce for the planning stages. After that, full-scale plans or direct comparison determines the final cuts.

Reference model in paper and sticks

We got 2×6’s and 2×4’s from PARR … although, as you will see, our plans sometimes change and cuts sometimes end up too short (wood gremlins or something…certainly not human error).

Wood stacked next to the chalk plans

I don’t know if you noticed, but the side drawn here is actually split into 2 pieces. At about 24′ long, our carport wasn’t quite long enough. The curved end at the bottom is destined to be the swim. Keep an eye on it though, because “How far will the plywood curve?” was a tricky variable in the design.

The Beginning

“You’re building a… houseboat… in your carport?”

Well, Yeah! Here are the basics:

It’s a 24′ long by 8′ wide, trailer-able wooden houseboat. We’re using lots of plywood and epoxy. LOTS of epoxy. It will have a flat bottom, decks fore and aft, an outboard motor, water collection, filtration and storage, solar power, a woodstove, on-demand hot water, self-contained marine toilet, a shower, large windows, an acrylic moon-roof over the queen bed platform with crank-operated plywood cover, Chinese flower boat aesthetic, antiqued hardware and finishes, propane powered stove and cooler, and a place to charge the laptop.

The plan that inspired the bones of this design is the Water Lodge Too (we had the plans up on the wall at one point).

Plans for the Water Lodge Too Houseboat

Our plans vary from the original design, but what a great starting place! The Tiny House Blog also has some of the other small dwellings that inspired the design, like Jay’s Tumbleweed Houses and the Millie Hill Floating Getaway. Here is the Tiny House Blog’s great post about the design.

Here is a little of what Devlin has to say about the Millie Hill:

Have you always wanted a waterfront getaway but couldn’t afford the luxury? This cozy retreat is our answer to the problem. Winter, spring, summer or fall imagine yourself anchored in some beautiful backwater in this little vessel. Equipped with a wood cook stove and galley you can catch or bring in the ocean’s bounty or something from Safeway.

Millie Hill Houseboat design by Devlin

These aren’t just inspiration on how to build, they’re proof that it can and has been done by countless others before us. Just like generations of families living on boats in Aberdeen Harbor. We can build and live on a little boat… with some modern conveniences (power tools, epoxy, solar power, plumbing, propane etc.)

Centuries ago, the boat city of Aberdeen Harbor was a haven for pirates, and the floating city itself hasn’t changed much since then despite the ultra-modern skyscrapers that have sprung up around it. Aberdeen’s “boat people” live here to escape the constraints of modern society… (

Life in the floating village. See the Laundry? Photo by Karsten Peterson

Whole families live on tiny boats

So where to start? In November 2009, we moved into a duplex with a yard, a carport and a very cool owner who wants to see us build this boat. After years of planning, dreaming and rendering… the dream takes a step toward reality.


This is the first post in a blog meant to keep track of an idea. The idea is to live simply, to build our own dwelling, to collect and filter water, harvest solar and wind power, to be mobile on land and water, to never be homeless and maybe someday, to make a living adventuring in our little houseboat.

There are many inspirations (Chinese flower boats, gypsy vardos, sheep wagons, canal boats, etc) and many techniques and materials to share, as well as fun gadgets and decor to consider bringing aboard!  We are taking pictures the whole way to document this DIY houseboat project for anyone and everyone to see how we did it. Hopefully, we can find all of the receipts and get a materials list and price estimate too!

Coming to a river near you, the Recurring Dream…