Houseboat Living: The Return of the Brandy Bar

Living on a houseboat, including how to build a houseboat with diagrams and instructions.

| May/June 1989


The completed houseboat is fully capable of cruising sheltered waters.


During the summer of 1850, the American schooner Sam'I Roberts ran aground on a bar in the Umpqua River along the southern Oregon coast. While waiting for a high tide to refloat the ship, the crew broke into the captain's liquor locker to help pass the time. Thus, the bar appropriately became known as Brandy Bar. A century later, Brandy Bar became mobile when the name appeared on a towboat built for the Umpqua Navigation Company and used to work the waters of the Umpqua River.

Another three decades have since passed, and Brandy Bar has come to grace yet another hull. My father, a naval architect and designer, and I launched my little houseboat on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon, on September 21, 1988, and christened her as a tribute to the towboat of the Umpqua and the history that preceded her.

I built Brandy Bar as a low-cost way to live on the water near my other boat, the 27-foot sloop Kavik, and my work as a sailing instructor. With an overall length of 25 feet, a beam (width) of 10 feet and a 9-foot X 17-foot cabin, she provides a living space comparable in size to that of a 30- to 40-foot conventional boat. Yet the cost , time and skills required to build her were modest compared with the demands of building a conventional craft. What's more, though I'm accustomed to living on water — and, in fact, prefer it to the landlubber's life — I think Brandy Bar offers any single person or couple an attractive, economical alternative to terrestrial real estate. (And when you live aboard a boat, your back yard can be mighty extensive!)

Here in Oregon, as in most states, a houseboat (as opposed to a floating house) is a vessel, not real estate. Thus Brandy Bar is subject to nothing other than a minimal registration fee, nor does she have to comply with the prevailing building codes. There are, of course, standards for vessels administered by the Coast Guard and state authorities and dictated by good sense. Brandy Bar's basic seaworthiness is guaranteed by my father's expertise as a naval architect, and she does meet all Coast Guard requirements for personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, ventilation, lights, etc. Complying with boating regulations is, nonetheless, much less expensive than meeting housing stipulations, which-for one thing-often restrict the minimum size of a dwelling.

In terms of sheer economics, houseboat living is very attractive. A houseboat like Brandy Bar can be built for anywhere between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on the details (in 1989). Moorage in the Portland area runs $70 to $ 100 per month for a vessel of Brandy Bar's size, and her license costs $30 every two years. Property tax is treated as it would be for any boat. Utilities run less than for an average house, since Brandy Bar is small, insulated and tightly built.

But there's really a lot more to recommend houseboat living than mere economics. Anyone familiar with boats knows how a well-designed vessel makes efficient use of space. This is not only because there's so little of it but also because being at sea requires that everything be securely stored. Safe and satisfying seamanship necessitates tidiness and organization-form must first follow function. Thus one of the beauties of calling a good boat home is the order it brings to daily routine. Though there is often little sense of being afloat at a calm moorage in a boat as stable as Brandy Bar, living aboard is still distinctly different from life in the usual home.

jeff pockat_4
1/13/2010 12:21:16 PM

A Brany Bar would be perfect for Spring, Summer and Fall in Wisconsin. I would put in the Wolf River and either park or cruise all over eat central Wisconsin. I would carry a harp and have a taveling music show. Water Gypsy.

8/22/2008 2:50:30 PM

This houseboat would be ideal for me-I already enjoy kayaking so this would be great to *live *on the water. I know you have to pull the boat out of the water to do maintenance and up grades but still you can't beat it :)

1/22/2008 10:01:38 PM

I love your boat. I would love to live on a houseboat.Have stayed on one on the St. John's river in Florida. Only problem..the snakes. In a less warm and humid climate this would not be a problem. I love efficiency and being able to take care of yourself. No real estate taxes is the way to go. Thanks for your info.

11/28/2007 10:56:01 PM

Could someone please tell me if I'm able to successfully enlarge Brandy Bar both in the beam and in the oveerall length. I love the plans but need something larger for the family. I figure all I have to do is design the hull to be a few feet wider and also add to the length. Of course adding to the cabin as well. Thanks , Jerry

11/9/2007 9:49:51 PM

I purchased the plans for the Brandy Bar back when it first came out. I still have them and the original magazine article on it. I am now almost ready to begin building it but would like info. on ways to enlarge it. Length and the beam as well. I would like more info. as well on the actual construction tips too. I would like to see the changes Larry Sloan has made as well.

11/8/2007 4:40:32 PM

I would like to dicuss the building process of Brandy Bar and/or pictures What a great project! Thanx, H

heidi hunt_2
8/13/2007 1:51:18 PM

The plans are available again after being off the shelves for awhile. Here is the site to go to.

8/11/2007 5:39:44 AM

I'm from Australia and likewise I would like to buy the Brandy Bar plans. Is it possible to do it over the net [save greenhouse gases from the airmail]? Are they still $25 US and what is the postage if they must be sent?

6/18/2007 8:47:36 PM

I was wondering if the plans were still available to buy for the Brandy Bar. I'm interested in building my own houseboat and found this article very helpful. I can't tell how the hull is jointed together. I am willing to buy the plans if they are availbable. I wrote to Mother Earth about a week ago and still have not heard back. Thanks for any info, Chuck

5/21/2007 5:12:07 PM


5/18/2007 2:51:58 PM

Where are all the other commnents/updates that used to be posted with this article? Mother responds: We recently moved all of our Web pages to a new database system. The previous comments were not converted.

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