A beginner’s guide to houseboating: how to rent one without getting that sinking feeling

A beginner’s guide to houseboating: how to rent one without getting that sinking feeling

Bonnie Henderson

How to rent one without getting that sinking feeling

Wandering up remote canyons in your waterborne home. Staking a claim to your own private cove. Days of water play. “Camping” under the stars – with all the comforts of home – while lapping waters lull you to sleep.

Such are the dreams of first-time houseboaters. The reality? Well, that depends a lot on your planning. These tips from experienced houseboaters will make that dream vacation fun the first time around.

Be prepared to spend some money. The cost of renting a midsize houseboat (sleeps 6 to 10 adults) during high season ranges from $1,500 to $3,000 a week, depending on amenities. (Boats can be rented for less than a week, and off-season rates are available.) Gas alone will set you back $35 to $50 a day. Really.

Know the territory – -and the seasons. August days average 100 [degrees] at desert lakes in the Southwest – just right for some tastes, scorching for others. Northern California’s Lake Shasta has plenty to recommend it, but sandy beaches aren’t on its list of attractions. Do a little homework to avoid disappointments.

Assess your space needs realistically. A cute little houseboat may not be so cute with a half-dozen adults sleeping cheek by jowl in foldout beds, especially if you have to step among kid-filled sleeping bags to get to the bathroom. Maybe you shouldn’t invite that extra couple – or maybe you should rent the next size up. (Tip: A tent is handy for shore leaves.)

Tow an extra boat. A ski boat, a jet ski – or at the very least, a little aluminum fishing skiff – is an essential element of a successful houseboat vacation. The lake may be big, but that houseboat can seem awfully small if you never get off it. A boat not only gets you out fishing or skiing but also can zip you to the marina for more ice or groceries. Any marina that rents houseboats can also rent you a powerboat.

Stock up on groceries. Gas and groceries tend to be expensive at marinas, and the food selection may be limited. You can’t do much about the price of gas, but you can stock up on groceries ahead of time, including frozen foods to keep for later in the week.

Consider an upgrade. Sure, you could get by with a basic boat, and probably have a great time. But a swim slide might be the one thing the kids talk about all next winter. And two bathrooms could make all the difference in how well the adults get along. Hey, you’re in it this far – make it memorable.

Reserve your boat ahead of time. Way ahead of time. It’s never too soon to book that houseboat, especially if you’re entertaining thoughts of a holiday weekend on the water. Some companies require reservations as much as a year in advance. Here’s how to get information on houseboating at some of the West’s favorite houseboat lakes, listed south (best April through October) to north (best mid-June through mid-September).

* Lake Havasu, western Arizona-southeastern California. Lake Havasu Tourism Bureau, (800) 242-8278.

* Lake Mead/Lake Mohave, northern Arizona-southern Nevada. Alan Bible Visitor Center, (702) 293-8990.

* Lake Powell, northern Arizona-southern Utah. Page/Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau, (888) 261-7243.

* Lake Shasta, Northern California. Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 874-7562.

* Lake Billy Chinook, central Oregon. Cove Palisades State Park, (541) 546-3412.

* Lake Roosevelt, eastern Washington. Roosevelt Recreational Enterprises, Coulee Dam, (800) 648-5253.

* Lake Coeur d’Alene, northern Idaho. Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, (208) 773-9797.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Sunset Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group