36' DRIFTER - Houseboat for Inland Waterways (2023)

Messing about in boats since 1975. Online Since 1997.

The 36' Houseboat-Yacht

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Copyright 1997 - 2015 Michael Kasten


The Drifter 36 design was created for permanent living aboard. While designed to fit a moorage in Seattle's Lake Union, the proportions would allow the Drifter 36 to be used in nearly any marina. The ability to be moved under its own power allows the vessel to satisfy marina requirements, and to actually be a navigable vessel so it can be easily moved to a new location as needed.In this case the available slip on Lake Union was quite narrow... but the requirement was to create adequate living space for a single person or couple, to have two stories, and to also include a roof garden...!

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The size of the slip was the most challenging restriction. Here is why...

In order to gain sufficient interior space for the requested accommodations, our only choice was to build vertically, which created weight up high as well as windage.The windage created by the height of the 'house' combined with the weight of the house combined with the potential weight of party goers on the roof combined with the limitation of 12 feet of beam gave us quite an interesting puzzle to solve.

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Difficult..? Yes. Impossible..? No.


After experimenting with several monohull shapes, it became readily apparent that no matter how deep we would make the hull it would not add appreciably greater stability. The reason for this is not so intuitively realized: By adding depth we were also adding volume, so yes we could add ballast and yes that weight could be located lower down thus lowering the center of gravity - both of which are righting forces - however we also were adding buoyancy low down - an upsetting force! It quickly became evident that with a mono-hull shape, we were chasing our tail...!

Then we investigated a 'tunnel hull' or semi-catamaran hull form and quickly realized we could add depth without adding very much to the total immersed volume. This allowed a deep location for the ballast, allowing us to lower the center of gravity without adding too much buoyancy where it was not wanted - i.e. low down.

A further benefit of the 'tunnel hull' form is that yet another requirement of the design could be accommodated: That the house boat be able to move around under its own power. The 'tunnel' thus allowed us to place two outboard motors aft and on center, and still have reasonably good water flow to the propellers.

Within the parameters set forth, the tunnel hull was the only way improve upon the stability results without seriously degrading one of the stated parameters. Due to the combination of 'tunnel hull' and deeply located ballast, we were actually able to exceed the IMO stability requirements for ocean going motor vessels. That's quite an achievement for such a structure! Thus I’m certain we converged upon the best solution.

As designed, the benefits of the resulting semi-catamaran tunnel hull are:

  • Draft is not excessive (vs a true catamaran)
  • Roll accelerations are gentle (vs a true catamaran)
  • Course keeping stability is vastly improved (vs a simple barge shape)
  • Large angle stability resulting from variations in the vertical center of gravity is excellent (vs a simple barge shape)
  • Grounding on an uneven beach is not at all problematic (vs a simple barge shape)
  • When grounded at low tide most of the bottom is accessible for inspection / maintenance / painting (vs a simple barge shape)
  • Propulsion using one or more long-shaft outboard motors is favorable with regard to water-flow to the propellers (vs a simple barge shape)
  • Wake under way is significantly reduced (vs a simple barge shape)

Although this is not a vessel that was planned for travel over great distances under its own power, it certainly would be capable of doing so. For example anywhere in the Pacific Northwest from Olympia Washington to Juneau Alaska. The structure and stability are up to the task.

The more modest objective has simply been to allow the owner to move the vessel without a tow boat - basically in order to have "portable waterfront property" during the mild summer months - a really great concept! Thus, the houseboat has a steering station on the roof with controls for the outboards, running lights, anchor, and so forth. A perfectly secure and safe motor home on the water.

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With a beam of only 12 feet, the hull itself can be transported by highway without much fuss, and it is of a proportion that would fit into most marina slips without paying a premium for extra width as is customary for a multi-hull boat.

The drawings shown here were developed to show the original concept to the owner. A separate and fully detailed set of Building Plans have been developed for actual construction which further detail the interior, the structure, tanks and ballast. If they are of interest, please see ourPlans List web page, and look in the Power Boats section for theDrifter 36.

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The interior is on two levels, and the entry is halfway between the two accommodation levels. A stairway is located at the bow end, which leads from the stateroom (bedroom) below, to the saloon (living room) and galley (kitchen) above.

The stateroom on the lower deck has a walk-in closet, plus an ample head (bathroom) with a big combination shower / tub. One of the best features of the stateroom is the fireplace at the bow-end, enclosed by the wrap-around stairway. There are plenty of windows in the stateroom for sunlight and views.On the second deck, the saloon is intentionally quite open and has several big windows. The galley is large - actually bigger than many house kitchens! A breakfast bar is at one end of the galley. At the forward end, the saloon looks down through an open bannister - handrail into the stairwell and entry.

An interior landing is located half-way up the stairway, and is at the same level as the exterior fore-deck (entry porch). On the foredeck, the entry porch has a small seat opposite the ladder. The fore deck is covered by a balcony above that is large enough for two chairs and a small table - a good perch from which to keep an eye on the antics of dockside neighbors... A ladder leads from the fore deck to the balcony, and a second ladder leads from the balcony to the exterior top deck where a roof-garden is located. The top "garden deck" is really the crowning glory of the whole affair. Wildflowers, green onions and cherry tomatoes if in the Pacific Northwest...

If it were my own houseboat, the top deck would have a dining table with a large umbrella and a several comfortable chairs for nice weather, then maybe a small potted tree or two. In warmer climates maybe a Sago Palm or Pygmy Date Palm... In all likelihood, that would be my favorite spot aboard.


The "house" part is detailed for construction using typical high quality dimensioned lumber and plywood, with either drop-siding or sawn cedar shingles. The floor and house top make use of BCI joists in combination with standard lumber (#1 tight knot Douglas Fir or Larch). In other words, the house structure is basic and economical yet very durable high quality house-type construction.

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The houseboat hull and exterior decks are intended for construction in fiberglass, which offers the lightest overall structural weight combined with high strength, freedom from corrosion, and long life in the marine environment. Given that the hull shape consists of all flat panels, the construction is very simple, easy and fast.

As designed, the hull scantlings are fully compliant with the ABS rules for ocean-going fiberglass vessels.As a result the hull structure is robust and very rigid. This is quite intentional, since one further requirement was that the houseboat be able to be beached during low tides - mainly just for fun, but also for periodically cleaning the hull.


Due to the extreme limit on beam imposed by the specific marina for which the Drifter was designed, we had no choice but to limit the design to a maximum beam of 12 feet. However it would be a very simple matter to widen the hull, say to around 14 feet. To accomplish this, we would simply add a 2 foot slice right down the middle. The Drifter is robustly designed to exceed ABS standards for ocean-going yachts, so this would not require any change to the structural specification.

Widening the hull would greatly improve stability and would therefore require less ballast to achieve the same stability compliance. As a result of having less ballast the hull would ride higher in the water, opening up a wider range of cruising grounds. And of course a wider hull will provide considerably more living space inside. All to the good..!


I have been asked whether one would be better off to build a houseboat as a starter project, or to just go straight for building "the yacht". If one envisions a life on the water with occasional travel on an ocean-capable boat, then my own preference would tend to favor building the houseboat as a first step. This is so for reasons of mitigating the long-term damage inflicted upon one's personal finances by regulations, rent, mortgage interest, property taxes and shore-side utility bills.

It turns out that since a houseboat of this type can qualify as a self-propelled "boat" it need not be considered under building codes applicable to fixed or floating homes. The result of this loophole is that construction can proceed without undue interference or government red tape. What I mean is that as a boat, local building department officials need not be involved since code compliance for self-propelled marine craft is not within their purview. This is not to say that the vessel should be built without standards...! As designed, the Drifter's house structure is considerably over-built versus the dwelling codes for houses.

With the burden of 'building inspections' relieved, another less obvious benefit is realized: The project can proceed at its own pace as time and finances allow. As a result, it shold be unnecessary to involve a bank for financing. Without a bank involved, the project will not be subject to periodic 'progress inspections' by bank minions, which tend to force a rigid time-table upon your project.

The upshot of these subtle but important factors is that a houseboat project is able to be accomplished in relative privacy without undue external interference and unnecessary expense. The objective after all is to achieve a perfectly viable, robust, safe, self contained personalhabitat... not to line the pockets of bureaucrats and bankers...!

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Once settled into the houseboat, organizing the build of a modestly sized sailing or power yacht as a second step would be a natural. In this way you would have a comfortable and economical place to live whilst constructing the yacht. When completed, you'd have a portable houseboat as a home base... plus a capable small yacht for traveling. To me, that would be ideal...!


We have an excellent story from the 'Cabin Boat Primer' - a guide to shanty boating during the late 1800's and early 1900's. It was written with drifting in mind - primarily drifting down rivers, and especially along the Mississippi River system. The 'Cabin Boat Primer' describes a way of life in such a way as to put you already on the path to making it your own - a particular gift of the author. In that sense, the book is very much in the vein of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. It is also the spirit of Laubin, Whitman, Kazantzakis, Fletcher, Slocum, Moitessier.

Certainly things have changed since the beginning of the 1900's but the spirit of 'cabin boating' remains the same. There is much among the following brief words that can be equally well applied to all of our boating pursuits... Shall we listen...

  • The main thing is patience; the next observation; and last of all, skill.
  • There is no reason why life on a cabin-boat should be lived in rags and tatters. They do not lead to comfort.
  • The boat will cost from $25 up, and a fit one for two persons $50 or more, in all probability.
  • One should look further before paying more than $100 for an ordinary river house boat, unless it is new, in first class condition, of good wood, and far up the stream.
  • The true cabin boater is also a philosopher.
  • Troubles come to mean something in the way of a cause for congratulation rather than dismay.
  • Reasonable care should be taken to ward off trouble.
  • Always find a good landing, as regards wind and water.
  • Never tie to a wobbly stake.
  • Never let the wood pile or oil can get low.
  • In one sense of the word, shanty boating is simply finding new lands to travel and a new view-point from which to see the land.
  • To no-one does the mockingbird sing so beautifully, or the huge trees seem so majestic, or the geological formations appear so attractive as to the man in a cabin boat.

- Raymond Spears, 1913

It is interesting to note that those words from 'The Cabin Boat Primer' were penned during the very same year as the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. It was also the year of enactment of the US Income Tax. Shiver me timbers, what a horrid year...! Soon afterward came prohibition and the first world war... Clearly an inauspicious time! Much has changed since then, not least of which has been the value of our money....! And so it goes.

Think of the Drifter as an affordable habitat for our troubled times...

For more information about this or any of our other yacht designs please inquire.


What is a houseboat for Class 1? ›

Houseboat is widely used in Kerala. It has attached roof covers over wooden hulls. It looks like a house inside a boat. It is mainly used to promote tourism in Kerala.

How long can a houseboat stay in the water? ›

A continuous cruiser can usually moor in one spot for up to 14 days. You may only be able to moor for 48 hours in some areas. This can be difficult if you need to live in the same area because of work or school. Boats are allowed to moor at most places on canal towpaths.

Where are houseboats found in India? ›

India. In India, houseboats used as accommodation for tourists are common on the backwaters of Kerala, see below, and also on the Dal Lake near Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir.

What it's like to live on a houseboat? ›

You will get to enjoy the benefits of living on the water. While most people enjoy boating, tubing and fishing during their vacations, these can be your usual afternoon or evening activities. There is no yard maintenance when you live on a houseboat. You won't have to shovel the snow or mow the lawn ever again!

What is houseboat called? ›

A caravan is a house on a boat.

Where are houseboat used? ›

Houseboats are found in great numbers on small rivers or streams—especially where there is good fishing—on the shallow waters of inland lakes, and in harbours along coastal regions.

Can you shower in a houseboat? ›

If the houseboat is of the cruising variety, additions usually need to be made -- a water tank for drinking, showering and washing, and a separate sewage tank, or holding tank, for waste.

Is it cold on a houseboat? ›

The answer is pretty simple: no, of course not. The reason for this is that these floating homes are designed to accommodate people all year round.

Do houseboats keep their value? ›

A Houseboat Won't Appreciate Like a Normal Home

Floating homes, unfortunately, won't do that. In addition to an array of maintenance costs, you can also expect the resale value of that home to inch down year after year once the wear and tear of living on the water slowly devalues the asset.

What is a houseboat for Class 2? ›

Houseboat – A houseboat is a house built on a boat where people can live. It is also used by people to spend relaxing time over water.

What is a houseboat for Class 3? ›

Houseboat – A houseboat is a floating house. We can find the houseboat in the Dal lake of Kashmir. 2. Igloo- Igloos are made of ice blocks.

Can you live on a houseboat? ›

Unlike many other types of boats, houseboats are meant for spending extended time aboard. Most people choose to use their houseboat for vacationing and weekending, but some do live aboard their houseboat full-time.

Can I retire on a houseboat? ›

For many sea-loving seniors, retirement houseboats are an option. In fact, statistics show that as many as 9,000 people in the United States and Canada have chosen retirement houseboats. You still eat, sleep, and shower there. Instead of a lawn, you have water all around you.

Can you sleep in a houseboat? ›

Gather everyone you know, because most houseboats can sleep over 10 people while maintaining a cozy, small-house feel—without feeling cramped. There are showers and kitchens on almost every house boat, and some vessels come with hot tubs, wet bars and multiple TVs.

What are houseboat answers? ›

A houseboat is a small boat on a river or canal which people live in.

Why are houseboats used? ›

Houseboats in Kerala, south India, are huge, slow-moving barges used for leisure trips. They are a reworked model of Kettuvallams (in the Malayalam language, Kettu means “tied with ropes”, and vallam means “boat”), which, in earlier times, were used to carry rice and spices from Kuttanad to the Kochi port.

What is houseboat simple? ›

: a boat fitted for use as a dwelling. especially : a pleasure craft with a broad beam, a usually shallow draft, and a large superstructure resembling a house.

What is houseboat made of? ›

Eco-friendly and easily available materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc are used for constructing these boats. The boat is made by tying together (rather than nailing) planks of wood, generally anjili (wood of the jackfruit tree) with coconut fibre.

What kind of house is a houseboat? ›

What kind of house is a “houseboat”? It's a typical kind of house usually found in Brasil, specially in Southeast. It's a very big ship where thousands of people can always live and travel together. It's a small boat which people live on and which usually remains on a river or canal.

Who built a houseboat? ›

However, the famous British explorer, Sir Francis Younghusband, is known to have credited one MT Kennard with the idea of a 'floating house' between the years 1883 and 1888.

Where does the toilet water go on a houseboat? ›

Waste Water

All of the sinks, showers, and toilets on your boat drain into a common waste holding tank (The capacity of this tank will vary depending on your houseboat type). None of your wastewater goes into the lake. This tank is emptied back at the marina when you return your houseboat.

Can you flush toilet paper on a houseboat? ›

Never flush anything that didn't come out of you.

Hopefully you already know that the only thing that should go down your marine head is human waste and toilet paper — with no exceptions.

How do you empty a toilet on a houseboat? ›

Holding tanks are usually emptied out at the harbor, if it's close, or at sea, depending on the location. At a harbor, the tank is emptied by connecting the holding tank with the harbor sewage system through a sewer hose. The valve is opened when the connection is complete and the tank is empty.

Do houseboats make you sick? ›

No movement, no sea sickness

Most houseboats we rent are moored, fixed to the canal walls. They will hardly move or not move at all, even with severe winds. Please bear in mind that most houseboats are very heavy and therefore won't really be affected by waves.

Is driving a houseboat easy? ›

Driving a houseboat is a lot easier than you might imagine. Many vacationers renting houseboats are beginners. Houseboat manufacturers are aware of this. As a result, they've created a control system that is simple to use and intuitive, so you won't ever have to stress while you're on the water.

Are houseboats hard to drive? ›

Driving a houseboat is not much different than driving a car. The marina staff goes over all instructions in an orientation upon your arrival, and they'll typically help you pilot the houseboat in and out of the marina itself; you just take over on open water!

How long does a boat house last? ›

Even without maintenance, a professionally installed dock and boathouse will last an average of 15 to 20 years.

Can you live on a houseboat in the winter? ›

They sit at the margins of land and sea. But while many houseboats are kept for occasional use, some are home to a hardy breed of year-round residents.

Does a houseboat qualify as a second home? ›

Boat as a Second Home Tax Deduction

A boat is considered a second home for federal tax purposes if it has a head (bathroom) a bed (sleeping berth) and a galley (kitchen). You'll need IRS Form 1098 to deduct the interest and also any points paid to secure a loan.

What is a good house? ›

The home should be airy and well-ventilated

A home must reflect good vibes, and well-ventilated homes are ideal for living. Dwellers stay happy and healthy in a well-ventilated home where ample sunlight comes in and air flows well. Good ventilation is important for several reasons.

How big is a houseboat? ›

The majority of houseboats are between 30 and 100 feet long and 8 to 20 feet wide. The 40′ and 50′ versions are two of the most popular houseboat sizes. That's a huge range, but there are a lot of different manufacturers and many people who are looking for a houseboat with a variety of features.

Where houseboat is found? ›

About Kashmir Houseboats

Better known as the floating houses, houseboats in Kashmir provide a unique staying option. Anchored on the banks of the two beautiful lakes in Srinagar, Dal and Nigeen, houseboats tour are perfect for people of age and traveller of all types.

How is a houseboat different? ›

How is a houseboat different from other houses? Answer: Houseboats are different from other houses because houseboats don't stay at one place, they keep moving unlike other houses.

How does a houseboat work? ›

Think of a floating home like a condo, but rather than a unit in a building, it's a unit on the water with HOA dues paid to maintain the dock and slip. Floating homes are permanently connected to sewer, water and electrical, built and moved into place just once.

Where are houseboats found in India Class 2? ›

Answer. Answer: In India, houseboats as accommodation for tourists are common on the backwaters of Kerala, see below, and on the Dal Lake near Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir.

How deep does the water need to be for a houseboat? ›

Between Three and Nine Feet

Just about any boat lift system or port can work in the three- to the nine-foot range. At this point, it depends on other waterfront conditions.

How many people can sleep on a houseboat? ›

Coast Guard Regulations mandate a maximum of 12 people on the houseboat anytime you are moving on the water. When you're beached and anchored you can have more than 12 on the boat.

Can you get WIFI on a houseboat? ›

Do houseboats have Wi-Fi? The good news is that houseboats do, in fact, have Wi-Fi. You basically attach an external antenna to the outside of your boat and link it to a router inside your boat via Ethernet cable to amplify the Wi-Fi signal. Alternatively, you can even use your phone to provide data for other devices.

What is a good size boat to live on? ›

Experts in this area recommend a yacht that is at least 30 feet long for one or two residents and 50 feet or more for families or those who want excess space. When choosing a yacht to live on, you must consider how much room you will need to accommodate the items that you need.

What type of house is good for retirement? ›

Townhouse. Buying a townhouse is a good retirement option if you're looking to own property smaller than a house, but want more control than what a condo provides. If you buy in a community, you'll pay homeowners association fees, although they're typically lower than condo HOA fees.

Where is the best place to sleep on a boat? ›

You should find a cozy, protected area that provides you with calm waters. A cove or inlet is a great place to sleep in your boat. You should avoid any heavy-traffic areas or spots that will be hammered by heavy winds. To find the best spot, you'll want to do some research, using maps to find a good location.

Is it better to sit in front or back of boat? ›

This is where you should be on a boat, car, plane, and train to avoid motion sickness: If you're in a car, you should choose the front seat. On a boat, ask for a cabin at the front or in the middle, close to water level. You should also be on the upper deck of a boat to avoid seasickness.

Is it hard to live on a boat? ›

Boats are a lot of work, far more than a house. Stuff breaks all the time and you'll need to be a good problem solver and ideally handy with tools. It's hard work, but on the plus side, you'll develop a whole bunch of new skills.

Can you go to the bathroom on a boat? ›

Boat toilets (commonly known as “heads”) allow you to go when you need to go, no matter where you are out on the water.

Why cant you sleep on boats? ›

Under normal conditions you may find it difficult to sleep due to the unsteadiness of waves, lack of ambient noise or even because of the boat creaking in the waves. Yachting Monthly suggests sleeping three hours at a time by taking shifts with someone else.

What is a houseboat for kids? ›

Picture a boat with all the comforts of a small home, gliding along a river. That's a houseboat holiday. Houseboats can range from ultra-luxury with onboard jacuzzis and multiple bedrooms that can fit many families, to smaller, more intimate boats.

What is a houseboat Class 4? ›

a large, flat-bottomed boat with a superstructure resembling a house, usually moored and used as a residence. Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition.

How is a houseboat made? ›

The hull is made of wooden planks that are held together by ropes of coconut fiber; the usual wood is 'Aanjili'. The roof is made of bamboo poles and palm leaves.

What is a Class 1 boat? ›

A "Class 1" boat is a recreational vessel that is 16 feet (4.9 meters) to 26 feet (7.9 meters)in length.


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