The Mothership Has Landed

By Michael Vatalaro
Published: August/September 2013

Charter a houseboat, bring your trailerables and PWCs, then go explore and play in some of America's most beautiful inland waters.

Photo of houseboating on Lake Powell
Photo: Aramark Parks & Destinations
Kick back and relax on the upper deck of your houseboat while you take in the stunning vistas of Lake Powell. The 150-mile-long lake that spans the border of Utah and Arizona is one of the most popular houseboating destinations in the world.

Growing up in a waterskiing family, we got to take the occasional skiing-focused vacation. We'd rent a lakeside cottage for a week and hit the lake early each morning. My sister and I would ski, wakeboard, and tube until our "raisined" fingers and blue lips would convince my parents it was time to go in for the day. But as more and more boaters are discovering, a water-focused vacation doesn't need to be interrupted by those pesky breaks on land.

A houseboating vacation offers the chance to spend nearly every minute of your trip where you want to be — on the water. By anchoring out and using the houseboat as a mother ship, you can spend the day on your smaller boat, either trailered or rented, and return to a secluded cove each evening without having to run all the way back to the dock. And with modern houseboats easily accommodating eight to 12 people or more, you can also "leap frog" down a lake and see parts you might never make it to otherwise.

Photo of 70-foot houseboat on Norris Lake in Tennessee
The author's aunt and uncle rented this 70-foot houseboat on Norris Lake in Tennessee for a family vacation. The boat accommodated all 14 members of their group, while a bass boat and pontoon boat rounded out the flotilla.

For decades, my uncle and aunt vacationed on Norris Lake in Tennessee for a week in July, trailering down one or two boats from their home in Brimfield, Ohio. Typically, they would rent rooms for the week at one of the marina resorts and tie up the boats each night. But for the last two trips, they rented a houseboat.

"We thoroughly enjoyed it," says Barb Vatalaro. "It gave us great access to the water. We parked it in a cove for the week, away from boat traffic, and it never left." Over the years, their children have had kids of their own, so on their most recent adventure, the crew of 14 required a 70-foot houseboat, with six staterooms, two heads, and a pull-out couch for the kids. The upper deck had a bar, hot tub, and a slide to the water below. "The kids went down the slide 100 times a day," says Barb.

In the morning my cousins took the kids fishing in the bass boat they'd brought down. Later, they'd kneeboard or tube behind the pontoon boat. Besides being the allaround watersports boat, the pontoon boat also served another, more crucial purpose. It allowed my grandfather and late grandmother to participate in the vacation. The level deck of the pontoon made it possible for my mobility-impaired grandmother to walk from the pontoon right onto the houseboat and back, so she could still be at the center of the action.

Photo of a pontoon boat seving as a water taxi
The pontoon boat served as a ski boat and water taxi.

Bringing the whole family along made the experience special. Perhaps that's one reason houseboating destinations often lead the nation's lakes in visitor hours logged each year.

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