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Not to be confused with boathouses, which are building structures for the purpose of storing boats, houseboats are designed and/or modified boats for the purpose of being mainly used as a home, and a boat or ship second. Depending on the design layout, some houseboats may have a motor, but some do not due to being moored, and being affixed and stationary to a specific location, while being tethered to a dock or land to receive utilities.

Although, houseboats are often able to be operated as a boat using their own power. In both America and Canada, a float house is a term that refers to houses on a floating device, where a rougher house design is also known as a shanty boat.

Houseboats in Western countries are commonly owned either privately by an individual, or rented to vacationers, holiday-goers, etc. There are locations in Europe, along certain canals where people live within houseboats year-round. For instance, locations such as Paris, Amsterdam, and London commonly have individuals that live in houseboats full time.


Houseboats have been used around Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe since the lake was developed in the 1950s-1960s. The Zambezi basin can be experienced easier with a houseboat, and experience the wildlife coming to the water for drinking.


In Hong Kong Island’s southern side, fishing communities and houseboats can be found, referred to as the Aberdeen floating village. In addition, there had once been a similar community located in the Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter.

Within India, tourists commonly use houseboats for accommodation when visiting Kerala backwaters, as well as on Dal Lake in Jammu and Kashmir, near Srinagar.


Houseboats of commonly accommodating tourists visiting Mekong river, commonly called a ‘slow boat’, and come in wood or steel designs.


In Germany, the large water community of Port of Hamburg is a popular houseboat community. There are houseboat neighborhoods in Berlin as well, such as Landwehrkanal.


Some of the most expensive and finest houseboats can be found in Europe, along Amsterdam canals, even having houseboat hotels.

Types of Houseboats

There are several types of houseboats, from wood to steel. Below are a couple variants:

Kerala Houseboats

The houseboats found in Kerala (southern India) are large, and slow barges style designs that are commonly used for leisurely trips. The modern design originates from traditional Kettuvallams, which translates into boat tied with ropes and were historically used for transporting spices and rice between Kochi port and Kuttanad.

Kashmir Houseboats

These houseboats from Srinagar, Kashmir and Jammu are typically stationary. The design is often moored at edges of the Nageen lakes and Dal Lake. Some of the existing Kashmir houseboats was built in during the early 1900s, and still rented by tourists for a memorable experience.

Gabor, M. (1979). Houseboats from Floating Places to Humble Dwellings – a glowing tribute to a growing lifetsyle. Toronto: Ballantine Books.