Our Pontoon Houseboat Odyssey
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Our Pontoon Houseboat

We have now have had the opportunity to utilize our freshly rebuilt houseboat for its first full season on the water and are now looking forward to repeating the fun, quiet, and adventure again this summer. So far, the houseboat has delivered everything we had envisioned.

We boat on a river, which we love, but its 100 miles from where we live. It would really spoil the fun and relaxation if we could not stay overnight or longer, not to mention the expense and time of driving back and forth. Buying the houseboat has been the perfect answer to that problem. It is great to arrive at the river on Friday afternoon, load the provisions for the long weekend, and pull out of the dock. After that, we are "home" whether we are beached on the sandbar or tied to a friend's dock. We have enough of everything stored on-board, that all we have to bring is food and beverages. We can fuel the boat, store everything, and get the dog aboard in less than an hour. It took a few weeks of using the boat initially to get the must-haves situated into the storage areas and eliminate some of the things that were never utilized. We strive to keep the boat neat and in good order at all times, you never know when you are going to have guests aboard, but that is a large part of the fun. Usually we all gather on the front deck to socialize, but we have plenty of seating in the interior if the weather turns cold or wet. It is a great experience to have everyone inside, music playing and the sound of the rain on the roof overhead.

Our boat is fully self-contained much the same way any camper would be. We have two large bunks for sleeping that pull double duty as seating. We can seat 8-to-10 people in the cabin, without being crowded. We have the porta-potti located in a shower stall, which affords privacy and is simple to remove when we want to use the shower. The propane range and grill make it quick to prepare a hot meal, which saves a lot of money over take-out, plus we can have healthier meals.

My favorite times of the day are sunrise and sunset. Drinking the first coffee of the day and watching the sun burn the mists off the water is a wonderful way to start the day. Sitting on the deck in the evening and listening to the sounds of the river as the sun is going down is so peaceful. We have observed so many awesome sunsets that we would have missed if we did not have the boat; the colors can be simply amazing. We like to sit on the deck as the skies slowly darken and the stars start to make their appearances. They just seem so much brighter when viewed away from the lights of the city. Moonlight on the river is also another special sight; it reflects on the water and adds to the peaceful feeling. I always hate to light the tiki torches, but sometimes because of the mosquitoes feasting they are simply a necessity. It is a welcoming sight to view the boat resting peacefully on the sand, lit by the moonlight and the torches burning. We have spent many evenings with our music just enjoying being alive.

Both of us sleep so well on the boat, I do not know if is because we are away from the daily demands or if it is being on the river, perhaps it is a combination of both. There is nothing more peaceful than the sounds of the water lapping against the pontoons and the sounds of the frogs and night-time insects. Our dog really enjoys the nights on the sandbar; she goes into her guard dog mode lying on the front deck, believe me no self respecting critter would consider coming anywhere near "her" boat.

We always return home from our time on the river tired, but it is a good kind of tired. By Thursday evening, we are already beginning to gather things so we can leave ASAP on Friday for another glorious weekend of adventure on the river with all our "River Friends".

I would not trade our boat for the fanciest cruiser on the river.

Lessons Learned:

Houseboats, even pontoon houseboats like ours behave differently than the pontoon boat we were accustomed to. The heavier houseboat comes with a learning curve when you are learning to take it into the dock. The momentum generated by the weight requires good judgment and learning how to use reverse to get her to settle precisely where you want her. Practice is the only answer, but it is still a little scary.

It is not necessary to pack enough stuff for a trek to the Congo just for a weekend. The majority of it will never be used and it will have to be carried off the boat and unpacked again at home.

Books and the laptop are a good way to pass the time if the weather is preventing cruising.

Keep everything stored behind latched doors, the wakes from cruisers will rock the boat hard enough to throw everything off the counter and onto the deck. When this situation happens it can create a really big mess.

Houseboats moored in a sheltered cove for the night as a summer storm rumbles and approaches in the distance.”

In many cases if you should mention the fact that you own a boat, people will want to know about it. A lot of people are excited by the romance and adventures that boating represents. Despite the size or type of boat, many people will jump at the opportunity to join in a floating party. Getting guests may and can be easy but planning and preparation is needed to assure a smooth hassle free good time event for everyone including the hostess.

When preparing your boat for entertaining it's important to maximize all the space available. When feasible it's best and probably easier and less hassle to do a lot of your food preparation at home. By prepping at home you're also eliminating all or most of the associated clutter of packaging materials. We like to make items such as casseroles in advance. With some thought there are many easy to reheat and serve dishes. Often after pre-prepping our items to be served we'll vacuum seal them until ready to reheat and serve. A vacuum sealer is a handy because items sealed in bags can be handled almost carelessly in transit. There is a lot opportunity for a lid to come off of containers when packed in coolers so use caution when you utilizing them for your food items. Compared to your home, the cabinets in boats are usually but not always smaller in scale. So it's important to select pots and pans that will actually fit and store in available space. Fortunately the marketplace now offers a wide range of available cooking and oven ware that are nest- able that will probably fill your needs. There are small folding dish racks, and resealable bowls that can be used for serving. There are a lot of different options on dinnerware available that may fit your needs. Some boaters prefer to use plates such as you'd use at home to add a touch of class to the experience. However I'd suggest utilizing less fragile dinnerware such as melamine for example. It's virtually unbreakable and therefore more survivable in a marine environment. Another added bonus in preparing in advance it allows the hostess more opportunity to enjoy themselves also.

Our restored Crest pontoon house boat resting on a sandbar on the Muskingum River waiting for the Philo locks to open.”

Picture of our Pontoon Houseboat on the Muskingum River near Central Ohio

The one most utilized piece of outdoor gear that we use extensively is the often overlooked cooler. There are a lot of coolers available, and I have got a large selection of them in the basement we've found unsatisfactory. There is something about beverages kept in ice that refrigeration just can't duplicate even if it is available. And the best one we have found the extreme series of coolers they seem to keep ice well for days, rolls well on its wheels, and has a small footprint for the volume it holds. Another item that's almost as indispensable on all of our outings is our propane grill. Although we would actually prefer to use charcoal grill over propane for our cooking, in the event that the grill is upset for any reason the scattered charcoal could or would cause too much damage and be a real fire hazard. For our needs we choose a mid size Magma grill which we can stow in boat when not in use. But your choice in a grill may vary considerably from ours due to family size and amount of entertaining you may enjoy doing. One last point especially when you're planning on entertaining, always make sure there's adequate amount of propane for your needs.

There's also a few other things that's nice to have extras of on board in for your guests convenience. It's always nice to have some extra beverage cozies in the event someone needs or wants one. They are relatively inexpensive, and almost a necessity on a warm summer day. And should your entertaining go well into the evening because everyone is having such a good time and, enjoying themselves which is often the case you'd be surprised how many guests will forget or not realize how quickly it cools off after the sun goes down. We always try to keep extra, inexpensive sweat shirts and jackets on board for just this reason. After all when you invite guests aboard your boat it then becomes your responsibility for their health, safety and comfort.

Here are some items we find useful on almost every outing on our boat.

 A beautiful wooden trawler cruising near the shoreline on a beautifully clear early fall day.

Here's some insight that pertains to guest safety I learned shortly after we purchased out first pontoon boat. We were prepping our boat that morning for a day on the river when we received a phone call. While taking the call it was mentioned that we were going to take our boat out that day for a cruise. The individual then asked if would be O.K. for them to go along on our outing. We of course then encouraged them to come on along with us and share the experience. I was still a greenhorn captain at that time as far as the handling and some of the inherent handling qualities of pontoon boats. Anyway towards the end of a perfectly wonderful day on the water we encountered a huge wake from a commercial barge we couldn't avoid. We made it over the first swell all right the second one found bow down and it came crashing into and over the fencing of our boat causing us some significant damage. Only after returning to the dock after the mishap we were then informed that one of our guests did not know how to swim.

Realizing our event could have been even worse than what we actually experienced and we got off somewhat lucky. We now always now ask our guests in a polite way if they can or can't swim. And always leave an out for them to come to you discreetly and inform you also, for some people would rather others didn't know about their inability to swim to avoid embarrassment. When we have known non-swimmers aboard with us we discreetly make more safety items readily accessible than we normally would. And having the information as the captain of the boat will allow me to respond faster and better should in the unlikely event of my non-swimming guest(s) ends up overboard.

All craft are required to have a basic first aid kit stored on-board for emergencies. The basic legal kits can be deficient in some necessary supplies that are at times most needed. Should someone be wading around in shallow water for instance and cut themselves on broken glass. It can use up an extensive amount of sterile bandages and pads to get bleeding under control. And getting to transportation to get proper treatment can be lengthy on some waters. There are also some convenience items that also should be stored on boat both for you and your guests use or needs. An ample supply of good sunscreen is a must have for those who are getting a little too much sun. In some areas bug repellent is a real blessing to have available also. And a person should also have both some aspirin and non-aspirin pain reliever available for those who develop a need for some.

A beautiful wooden trawler on its way to some unknown destination.

As far as other features or conveniences you may want to consider for your boat there are many to choose from. But for us there is nothing more enjoyable than having good music on-board. On our pontoon boat we were limited to a CD player radio that came with the boat the first few years. But there is a lot of issues involved with carrying CD's around with you on a boat. The first and maybe the most concern is that while you go ashore for something to eat somebody is liable to borrow them from you. I have also had a few borrowed while partying and I have got no idea where they went. But if it is any consolation it is always the hardest ones to replace that go missing. Weather, water and sun along with mishandling can also really take its toll on your CD collection. For these reasons (and clutter) a few years ago we purchased a satellite radio subscription. The unit we got is a road ready unit that can be used on the boat, vehicles, or at home by using docking stations. Satellite radio resolved a lot of the issues for us but you all still at the mercy of their programming. For this reason we still carry a few but more manageable amount of CD's with us.

For practical purposes on our Houseboat we are staying with a 12v audio system. Owners of larger houseboats may choose to have home style entertainment system. The radio we chose for ours has all new to me technology that I have never used before. There is a port on this unit that you can plug a USB full speed connection or USB memory portable device into. This will allow me to download all my CD's into a thumb drive and plug it into the radio and play. This unit also has a RF remote available for it that allows usage up to 100 ft. away. I can see that feature alone as being extremely useful to have. The ability to be on the front porch or on the sandbar with my friends and make adjustments will be worth the price itself. Some of our cherished most shared memorial moments of boating have been good music, friends and new acquaintances.

There are also satellite systems and various other means for capturing T.V. signals. As for us we do not have any intention of putting a television on our boat. But I know others who prioritize having their T.V.'s over having a decent sound system it is really your choice on this. Since each style and model boat has its own unique layout it would be impossible to suggest what would work best for you. But in many cases wall mounts or a wall mountable t.v. such as sold for homeowners may be your best choice.

A loose peaceful gathering of houseboats with a view of the cliffs surrounding the shore

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