5 questions people ask about living on a houseboat

After battling the notorious Amsterdam housing market for months, despairingly feeling like we were never going to find a place to live, I was eventually put in touch with a landlord whose tenant had just moved out.

So desperate that I would’ve willingly settled for a gazebo in Vondelpark, I couldn’t believe our luck when he showed us around his houseboat.

Now, picture the next few months of idyllic canal life: a boat passes you by filled with jovial Amsterdammers eating olives on cocktail sticks and sipping prosecco.

The native city wildlife surrounds you and, just like in a fairy tale, a band of squirrels sweeps the deck, as a heron obligingly does the washing up. An expedition of stoned tourists on pedalos crashes apologetically into your boat with a look of regret.

photo-of-boats-and-houseboats-on-amsterdam-canal
The idyllic houseboat life. But where does your poo go? Image: Pexels

Whilst these are all notable and welcome features, what I love most about a houseboat life are the questions that people ask about it — so here are the answers to some of the gems I’ve collected. 👇

1. Where does your poep go?

Ah yes, the burning question. Do you have to pump out your own poo? Or does a person come and do it for you? Does it just go straight in the canal? Or does it get stored inside the boat?

No, my dear friends, this isn’t Kevin Costner’s Waterworld as we are connected to mainland Europe via a sewage pipe. 💩

Although, I prefer to let people envisage me heaving a putrid bucket of faeces through the boat, over the drawbridge, and tipping it into the street like a medieval chambermaid.

2. Do you get internet on a houseboat?

Yes, but it’s dial-up. I’m joking, of course. The gap between the boat and the land is about a metre — if the conceptual being that is the internet can cross the Atlantic, you would have thought it could just about reach us on our canal boat. 🕸

3. Can you just drive to England?

Surprisingly enough, it has been done before! Pensioners Terry and Monica Darlington and their dog, Jim, successfully crossed the English Channel in their canal boat named Phyllis May in 2004.

This quote from Terry summarises the mild peril they experienced on the voyage: “The dog [Jim], who was on tranquillisers, howled like a drunk.” 🧭

photo-of-houseboats-in-amsterdam
Waking up in Amsterdam and enjoying dinner on the other side of the Channel without having to leave your bedroom. Image: Pexels

4. Do you get seasick?

The majority of the time, movement-wise, I forget entirely that I’m on a boat. However, occasionally some reckless hooligan comes hurtling down the canal, breaking the speed limit which sends all houseboats into a frenzy.

I once woke up with an aggressive start and thought my world was crumbling down as I rocked like a baby in a 30 ft cradle, with possessions falling to the ground all around me. ⚓

5. Will you be friends with all your boaty neighbours?

Sometimes, people immediately assume you are part of some quirky little club. Having said that, though, I would love to make friends with my boat neighbours and be able to hop over the stern to borrow a cup of sugar.

modern-houseboats-in-amsterdams-ijburg-area
Some houseboats have sleek modern design. Image: Depositphotos

Unfortunately, however, houseboats are by nature are quite long. The neighbour’s front door may be as far as 100 m away, so I have a higher chance of bumping into my land-dwelling neighbours.

But sure, I can check with my little houseboat club whether or not we water-dwellers are allowed to mingle with land-dwellers. 👀

Do you have any other burning questions about living on a houseboat? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2015, and was fully updated in May 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Pexels

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7 COMMENTS

  1. “Although, I much prefer to let people envisage me heaving a putrid
    bucket of faeces through the boat, over the drawbridge and tipping it
    into the street like a medieval chambermaid.”

    😀 GOLDEN

  2. Hi! Thanks for your nice article! Indeed we have some more complex questions about living on a boat in the Netherlands and no clue on how to get the answers (we still don’t speak dutch). If we have a recreational boat in a marina can we live on board (i mean permanently and legally)? Would that address be acceptable to request the BSN number? Can we use a post box instead? Only boats that already have a permanent mooring (like the ones in amsterdam) are legally houses?
    We are seriously considering to change to a life on board but we have too many beginners questions..any tips on who to contact for an introduction to this world?

  3. Hi! Thanks so much for your article; I thought it was a lot of fun. I have a couple of really basic question about boat living, and can’t find the answers anywhere.

    I’ve been told that you can’t (at least without a huge amount of trouble getting permissions) move a newly built boat into Amsterdam, but I’ve seen new ones in other cities, so presumably that’s possible? Is there any way to find out where it’s easily lawful to move in a new boat and where it’s not? Also, do you happen to know what the size and draft limits are on houseboats? Is it the same throughout the Netherlands, or different city by city?

    We’re planning to have our own houseboat built for us, because we’re a weirdly configured family and most used boats don’t have what we need for long term living. So I’m trying to learn the rules for what you can build and how to move it in but they don’t appear to be anywhere online! I would be super grateful if you have any idea where I can find them? Thank you!!

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