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On our recent trip to St. Thomas, USVI, we decided to veer away from the traditional resort or hotel stay and instead booked a stay through Airbnb on a houseboat. The boat we stayed on was a 36′ boat docked in Vessup Bay next to Latitude 18, a chill and fun restaurant/bar in the East End of St. Thomas near Red Hook. We had never stayed on a houseboat before and thought it would be a fun adventure. We were right about that, but there was so much we didn’t know about staying on a boat before we booked our trip. Hopefully we can spread the knowledge so you can make an informed decision about whether boat life is the life for you and be more well prepared on your first houseboat stay. Here are 40 things you should know before living on a houseboat.
1. The boat is docked, but its steadiness is highly weather dependent.
The first day we arrived, our boat was relatively calm with just the occasional larger rocks from the choppy waters. Day 2 brought much higher winds and, with that, much choppier water. The rocking inside the boat was nonstop and made it difficult at times to even stand without losing our balance.
2. With that said, being docked is still steadier than being out in the middle of sea.
Given how rocky the boat was moored to the dock, we can only imagine what it would feel like out at sea. As much as it may feel like the boat is being blown over, rest assured you are safe as long as it’s docked.
3. But when the storms come, the boat can still become extremely rocky.
You know that dropping feeling when you ride the Tower of Terror? We felt mini versions of that on the boat at times. The boat WILL be rockier than you think.
4. Which means you should carry dramamine with you if you think you have any chance of becoming seasick.
Other medications that are known to cure seasickness include Marezine, Transderm Scop, and even Benadryl. Try to stay hydrated and lay off the caffeine and alcohol. We found it also helps to lay down and try to fall asleep or go for a walk outside on land.
5. Storms can also cause power on the boat to disappear.
Bring backup power sources, like flashlights, for emergencies. Generally, you’ll be fine though. Go to the beach, lay outside on the deck and gaze at the stars, grab a drink from the local bar – there are endless options other than sitting inside your boat with the lights on.
6. So if you rely on wifi for work, you may not want to live on a houseboat.
But let’s be real, why are you doing work on vacation? The first rule of boat life is that you must turn off your real life when you jump into boat life.
7. When you want to use water from the sink or shower, you’ll need to turn on the water pressure valve.
If you want more than a mere trickle from the sink, you’ll need to turn on the water pressure which causes the water to come pouring out of the valve so you can wash your hands, shower, etc.
8. But don’t forget to turn it off when you’re done using it.
It takes a lot for the boat to force strong pressure out of the water valves, so make sure you turn off this valve when you’re not using it.
9. Or else you’ll find yourself without water very quickly (we learned this the hard way).
We had a hard time remembering to turn on and off the water pressure valve in the first couple of days and completely ran out of water after one day! We had to call our host who very kindly came and replaced our water tank so we could shower. Sorry, Jeremy!
10. Speaking of showers, there is no hot water on houseboats.
Yep, if you’ve never taken a cold shower before, you will experience it when you live on a houseboat. It feels quite good actually, since it’s usually pretty hot outside, but sometimes when we wanted to shower at night, we dreaded it a bit since we were already cold. Hint: shower during the day when the sun’s still out so you can just step outside and dry off/warm up.
11. And some boats don’t have separate rooms for the toilet and shower.
We rented two boats next to each other since we had five people total, and one of the boats did not have a separate shower room. Rather, there was a shower head next to the sink, and when we wanted to shower, we would just clear everything from the counter, close the toilet lid, and run the water in the bathroom.
12. You will quickly learn how to flush a toilet manually.
This was a first for us. We had never used a toilet without a flusher before, but basically the procedure is to turn the switch to the water filler function, pump the toilet until the water clears, then turn the switch to the drain function and pump until the toilet bowl completely drains of any water, then turn the switch back to the water filler function and pump a few times until the toilet bowl fills up a bit with clean water. If you don’t understand anything we just said – don’t worry – it took us a while to figure it out in person.
13. Which will in turn cause you to develop a newfound, bizarre love for toilet flushers.
I don’t think I ever thought about how lucky I was to be able to flush my toilet at home until I experienced living on a houseboat and having to pump my own excretions down the toilet.
14. And being able to throw toilet paper into the toilet bowl.
Do NOT throw toilet paper in the toilet. If you didn’t eat it, don’t put it in the toilet. Throw all toilet paper in the trash can and make sure to take out the trash regularly since it will smell!
15. But boy, will that fresh sea air feel good coming into your bathroom.
And remember to open the bathroom window to let in some fresh air.
16. You can also get more than just a whiff of that fresh sea air by stepping outside the boat.
One thing we loved about living on a boat was being just steps away from fresh island air.
17. At night, you can lay out on the boat deck and star gaze the night away.
Coming from the city, we hardly recognize stars because we never see them, so this aspect of staying in a boat house was really something we could appreciate.
18. And feel the cool evening air.
Speaking of which, it actually got pretty chilly on the water at night. Bring a jacket because the air over the water will be cooler than the air over land.
19. In the mornings, we woke up to beautiful sunny weather.
The sun woke me up every morning at around 7:00 AM, but you can also easily sleep through it as well. It’s definitely easier to get out of bed with the sun shining on you than in a dark room, which is pretty much all winter for me in Chicago.
20. At times we would simply move ourselves from inside the boat to continue sleeping out on the deck and get a nice tan while we’re at it.
If I woke up too early or was still tired when I woke up, I would simply get out of bed, change into my swim suit, and lay outside on the boat deck and continue to sleep in the sun until the rest of my family woke up.
21. If that’s too much work for you, you can also sleep outside on the deck at night.
Just remember to wear bug spray so you don’t wake up with mosquito bites all over your body.
22. Because it really is just that safe in houseboat communities.
While you may need to worry about bugs, you won’t need to worry about safety. Although we didn’t do it, it’s pretty common for people to sleep outside on the boat deck when the weather is nice.
23. Most people don’t board up their boats before they leave for the day.
There’s no door at the entrance of the boat. There are a few wooden planks that you can use to board up your boat, but most people don’t use them. We left the boat open while we were out for the day and never had a problem.
24. You’ll see valuables such as guitars lying out on the boat deck for an entire day unaccompanied.
I was surprised to see this at first but very quickly realized that I needed to change my mentality from the city dwelling crime infused ideology to the peaceful and crime-free boat community life.
25. We left our laptops, cameras, iPads, and other valuables inside our boat completely unaccompanied and open to the public and never had to worry.
We usually tried to stow them away in our backpacks, but we did leave them lying out a couple of times and it was fine.
26. With that said, I’d still recommend leaving them below deck inside the boat at least, rather than out on the deck.
Still, I would not recommend leaving your laptop out on the top deck for all to see while you’re away all day. You might actually be fine doing this, but just toss your valuables below deck to be safe.
27. People in houseboat communities are also extremely friendly.
Everyone’s operating on island time with not a care in the world. They’re more than happy to stop and chat with you or give you some advice for where to go that day.
28. Everyone will say hello when they pass by and maybe even chat you up.
While I was sitting outside on the top deck of the boat every morning, passerby would all say “hello” or “good morning” to me.
29. If you’re not much of a talker, at least flash a smile.
But really, would it kill ya to say hello?
30. Everyone knows everyone.
Hope met our host, Jeremy, at Latitude 18, the bar at the end of the dock, when she first arrived. She very quickly realized that Jeremy knew everyone at the bar and everyone knew him. In fact, people not only knew him but respected him enough to say that no one else would start a boat Airbnb business because that’s “Jeremy’s thing.”
31. All of the above make it very easy for you to make friends and integrate into the houseboat community like a local.
We became friends with the local houseboat residents, the bartenders, the musicians who played at the bar, and anyone else we happened to stumble across at the bar. Seriously, everyone is so friendly and it will be impossible for you to not make friends in this community.
32. Leading to a much more authentic experience.
These people were locals, not tourists. Most came from mainland US or nearby islands, but most of the people we met had been living in St. Thomas for years if not decades and by all accounts would consider themselves natives to the island.
33. Take advantage of the locals’ knowledge and ask them which sights to see, which beaches to visit, and where to eat and drink.
We got some great advice from Jeremy and others at the bar about which beaches to go to that weren’t extremely crowded, where to go for the best snorkeling, where to go for the best beach bar scene, etc., and all their advice was consistent. I’d like to think we experienced some of the best beaches because of their recommendations.
34. The water on the boat comes from a mysterious tank and while it’s technically “safe” to drink, we (and locals) recommend that you drink bottled water instead.
I drank out of the tap for the first couple of days and felt fine, to be honest. Nevertheless I was told that bottled water is still safer, so we went to the local supermarket and bought a big case of bottled water for the remainder of our trip.
35. Or if you don’t have that luxury, we were told that the water from the hose on the dock was cleaner than the water from the tank.
Even though it has to travel through a long rubber tube to your mouth…
36. If you don’t use the hose for drinking water, at least take advantage of it to rinse of the sand from your body before heading back onto your boat.
There was a hose hooked up at each boat station on the dock, and this came in extremely handy for rinsing the sand off our feet after going to the beach and before stepping back onto the boat.
37. Or if shower conditions are really bad on your boat, try showering on the dock with the hose (and your swim suit on, of course).
We didn’t try this, but you could even lather soap all over your body after the beach and rinse off on the dock with the hose. Remember, the “showers” on these boats are tiny and only let out cold water anyway, so you may actually be better off showering on the dock with the hose.
38. Despite having to rough it out a bit, we did adjust quite quickly and weren’t really affected by the surprising conditions after the first day.
Full disclaimer: we are very low maintenance individuals and prefer a unique rustic adventure like this over a 5-star luxury hotel any day. If you are a regular 5-star dweller, you may not enjoy boat life as much as we did.
39. The pros greatly outweighed the cons for us, and we would absolutely stay on a houseboat again.
I could actually see myself living on a houseboat for a longer period of time – a month, perhaps even a year. One week was nothing.
40. And would recommend the experience to any of you adventure seekers!
If you crave adventure and can rough it out a bit, we would highly recommend this experience to you! It’s an experience you’ll never forget!
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