Houseboat/Shantyboat Updated

I’ve been doing a lot of  thinking about what a design to use  for my prospective houseboat/shantyboat. I’ve been disappointed in the number of suitable designs available for one reason or another, and the selection isn’t very large. Years ago I had purchased the plans for GlenL’s Mark Twain 32 for several hundred dollars.



I don’t remember exactly how much the plans cost since it was  nearly 30 years ago. At that time I was really enamoured on the pontoon idea and the plans had full-sized drawings for the framing. But the plans are long gone and these days I’m leaning much more towards the barge hull designs.

Whether barge or pontoon building the houseboat/shantyboat has several advantages over more conventional boat designs in power or sail. Houseboat/shantyboats are much simpler to build. A barge is basically a box and the pontoon boat is basically two narrow boxes, and material costs are almost identical. There are no complicated compound curves to deal with in the process of building these designs. The “house” is bult like a regular shoreside structure so constructing one of these can fairly easily be done by almost anyone who got out of their high school shop classes with all fingers intact.



Think you could put that together? That’s basically how a barge hull is built.

In my previous post I said I rather liked the Bolger design.


I joined the Yahoo Group Bolger Boats and found that someone in Canada had actually built one


I think it certainly falls into the shanty boat category. But I’m not sure I care for the overall look. But the “house” can be built in so many different ways depending on one’s imagination and creativity. The pictured one is just one way of doing it. Never the less this design is a weak “maybe.”

I also said I liked the Evening Song


and I still do like the look. The drawback to this design is that it’s not self propelled.

I like the looks of George Buehler’s 25′ River Walker. There’s a nice web site on this, and other Buehler designs at:

The pictures of the barge hull above come from his site as do the following pictures that show a completed River Walker:




I think this is a very attractive boat and well executed. A big step up from a shanty boat.

I also am drawn to Beuhler’s Rufus:


This is 33′ long with an 11′ beam. What intrigues me about this is the SAIL!

Back into the more “shanty boat” theme is the Atkin & Co. design Nautilus;


This is a 32′ design with an 18′ beam. For complete information on this go to their site:

Plans for this boat are $75.00

The leader for possible build at this time is the Brandy Belle:


She’s 25′ with a 10′ beam and self-propelled.

There’s an excellent article in Mother Earth News’s site:

Warning: The story is excellent and you can purchase the plans in PDF format for $20. The article is five pages long and there’s an extremely irritating pop up that appears every time you access the page. I wrote to Mother Earth News’s support team and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s worth closing it out just to read through the story once.

I am most likely going to go with the 25′ length for several reasons, the pocket book being the motivating factor. While The Rufus and Nautilus are only7 and 8 feet longer and a couple of feet wider, it takes a lot more lumber, plywood, fiberglass, epoxy and paint to build them adding greatly to the construction costs. Though the size difference seems small the increase in costs are exponential. There would also be a heavier hit to the pocket to buy the larger outboard that would be necessary to power the boat and a lot more gas as well.

Now, as I said, what really interests me about Rufus is the sail! I am going to investigate the possibility of adding one to the boat I build, and the Brandy Belle seems the most likely candidate for doing this. Don’t scoff at this idea. There is a long history of sailing barges and scows (the difference between a barge and a scow is little more than semantics). If you’re interested Google Thames Sailing Barges or San Francisco Hay Scows. There is even a class of racing boats known as scows and they are very fast.

The sail would be an auxiliary power source and used primarily with the wind abaft the beam. Motor sailing has a lot going for it: it can increase speed and it saves fuel.When I was bringing the 85′ Jolie Aire across the Atlantic we motor sailed quite a bit. We ran the engine to keep the battery bank charged up and while we always had the sails up if the engine was off and our speed dropped to seven knots we would hit the starter button. We sailed from Grand Canary Island to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 13 days, six and a half hours at an average speed of just over 10 knots which is a very acceptable speed.

The addition of a sailing rig would necessitate the design and installation of a rudder for steering rather than relying on the outboard power for steerage. Having the outboard offset from the centerline really doesn’t effect how the boat operates as long as it’s not too far off the center. My Nancy Dawson had windvane self-steering gear on the centerline of the transom so the outboard bracket was on the port side out of necessity. One advantage I found with this arrangement was that when I had to make a really tight turn putting the tiller hard over and turning the outboard in the direction of the turn she’d turn in almost her own length and turn fast.

I’m sure that auxiliary sail power would greatly save on fuel consumption when there was enough wind in the right direction.

In a future post I mean to address dinghies and the addition of a mast will mean I’ll be able to lift one out of the water and carry it on the cabin top rather than towing it behind. I towed my dinghy behind Nancy for hundreds of miles and never had a problem, but it does have a drawback on speed due to the drag. Additionally when you’re anchored out a dinghy stored on the cabin top is pretty hard to steal in the middle of the night.


Filed under boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat

3 responses to “Houseboat/Shantyboat Updated

  1. I like the interior of that one boat. I’m trying to sort out interior design for the Aqua Home. I’m going to be adding a small wood stove of some sort. I have a small wood heater and even a small wood cookstove. Since this has an electric stove, I’d sort of like to minimize use of this. It’s hard to know what will look good on a boat like that. You don’t want to make it look like a trailer, but you can’t make it look too boaty either.

  2. Nice, concise discussion of shantyboat designs. I’ve been a big fan of Brandy Bar and Evening Song for their classic looks. Hadn’t seen Rufus, but I’ve built and sailed Quarter Sized (16 ft LOA x 4 ft beam) wooden scows with a single mast and sail and leeboards very successfully, and I’ve seen Thames barges in action. The trick is to spill air before she starts to heel more than a few degrees, staying mostly on an even keel rather than going fast.

    I’m planning a similar arrangement for my 24 ft LOA x 8 ft beam Shantyboat, with the mast in a tabernacle so it can be lowered and stowed along the cabin top when anchored.

    • oldsalt1942

      Hadn’t thought of the tabernacle idea but it’s a good one. I was thinking about doing that with my Nancy Dawson which had a deck-mounted mast, and living here in south Florida there are a ton of bridges. But I never got around to it. There aren’t any bridges down in the Bocas del Toro area but being able to lower the mast would certainly reduce windage while at anchor.

      On the other hand, one reason for having the mast in the first place is to be able to haul the dinghy out of the water. I don’t know the state of dinghy theft in the area I plan on being in but I do know from what I’ve read and heard about in other cruising areas that dinghy theft is common and it is generally a crime of opportunity. Especially in an area where even a shanty boat represents the acquisition of wealth which the majority of the local population will never achieve. So, with a sail or without one I’d still have some kind of a mast installed in for that specific reason even if it ends up simply being a gin-pole.

      I’ve only been thinking about adding auxiliary sail for a couple of days. Specifically after seeing the Rufus design. I don’t think I’d go as far as adding lee boards. To my way of thinking it turns the shanty boat into a sailing craft and I’m simply thinking about using sail for a little extra ooomph and would keep the sail itself rather on the small side.

      My first thoughts on the addition of a sail is that I’m inclined to a sprit rig. The sprit’s mast would be shorter than that of a marconi rig. So would a gunter or gaff rig’s. With them but then you get into all the gear hassle and expense of standing and running rigging. I think that a small, loose-footed sprit rig might even be employed with a free-standing mast. Again, the sail isn’t there to be the main source of motive power.

      The first thing is to get the boat built. A sail can be added later as time and money allow.