Gail Buckley: [Summary Here]
You’ve probably heard it said that if you want to keep the peace among friends, avoid discussing politics or religion. Some people would like to add “houseboat finances” to that list, but I couldn’t disagree more.
Yes, this is a sensitive subject. But it’s an essential one to gain consensus on if you’ll be joining friends and family for an outing, so you want to not only address it, but get it right.
Here’s a secret: It’s actually not that scary! In fact, it’s pretty logical and painless, when you do it right. Take some tips and advice from me. I’ve been houseboating for decades, and have spent the last five-plus years on the business side of it here at Bullfrog Marina at Lake Powell. So I can weigh in on the do’s and don’ts.
First of all, there are generally two types of houseboat rental offers you can take advantage of here at Lake Powell. First, there are standard reservations; these must be paid 60 days in advance, and have (understandably) steep penalties for cancelling a reservation with less than 45 days’ notice.
The other type of reservation is the special. These include really deep discounts (we’re talking a double-digit percentage off), so they’re a fantastic value. The trade-off is that they must be paid in full at the time of booking, and there are no cancellations. If you cancel, you lose the boat and your money. Those are serious terms, but most people that we see are happy to abide by them. Most of our rentals are discounted specials.
Payment is by credit card or certified check. Personal checks aren’t accepted.
You can call our Central Reservations office in Phoenix[KC1] or visit this page to get an idea of pricing and availabilities and check out our houseboat planner. And you can sign up to get email notification of specials when they’re available. All of these are great tools.
A Word About Inventory
We have lots of houseboats to rent. But some times and some boats are more popular than others. If your dates are specific, you’ll need to reserve far in advance—anywhere from three to five months. If your dates are more flexible, you can cut it a little closer and still get what you want.
Who’s in Charge?
Despite the fact that you may have a dozen people on the boat, only one person has their name on the contract. They’re what’s called “the responsible party.” That’s the one who sends in the payment. That’s the person who comes into our office on arrival day to complete all the necessary paperwork.
“Responsible party” is a good title. You’ll need someone in your group to play that role. That’s the one person who’s in charge of making the actual reservation, collecting the money from everyone else in your group, and making the payment up front. This is not a job for a committee.
Making it Painless
Like any decent investment, a houseboat rental is best accomplished over time. Prior to the payment due-date, have everyone in your group make monthly payments to a rental fund. Assign a president (or “responsible party”) to be in charge. The further in advance you start collecting, the lower the monthly payments will be. Houseboating is never a spur-of-the-moment decision, so you’ll have ample time to plan and spread out the payments.
In our groups, we let the kids do chores to earn credits to rent the water toy of their choice. It works well for us—and may for you, too.
The Slush Fund
As I wrote in my article about planning meals, I think it’s essential that you and your group create a cash slush fund (of about $100 per person) from which you can pay for things like fuel, ice, and incidentals during the vacation. It boosts “the fairness factor” and virtually prevents misunderstandings, delays, or (worse) arguments during your outing.
How would you like to load your boat the night before you set sail—and sleep aboard it, with shore power, like a hotel? Imagine how much time that will save you the following morning! It’s little wonder so many people take advantage of this option. It does cost a little more, but for big groups, it’s more economical (and a lot more fun) than booking a separate hotel, not to mention all the unpacking and re-packing that that would require. If you’d like to do it, add that new amount into your total.
Pre-boarding is limited. We can only do so many each day. So be sure to book yours well in advance.
Dividing the Space
By design, a houseboat is not divided into evenly-sized rooms, like a dormitory. Rather, it has bedrooms and various decks and often deckside sleep cushions. So therefore you should map out the square footage and desirability of each space, and divide up the share of the payment for each member of your party accordingly, right?
Wrong. That might look simple on paper (okay, okay, it doesn’t), but it doesn’t work in the real world. In the real world, some people don’t even sleep on the boat: they’ll pitch tents and camp on the beach. But everyone uses the boat. Everyone relies on it for dining, for bathrooms, and so on. You can’t divide it up unevenly, in terms of money. Just divide the total by the number of people.
That said, the accommodations will still vary. Some people will want more privacy than others—but then again, it’s a boat! There’s only so much privacy to be had in the first place. Which leads, nicely, to the final topic:
Choose Your Shipmates Carefully
Spending a week together with friends and family in the intimate setting of a houseboat can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, it can also do the opposite, if the members of your group aren’t inherently compatible in the first place. So I guess this is my single biggest piece of advice for the newbie houseboater: Choose your group wisely. Keep the lines of communication open. (In my group, we hold monthly meetings/potluck parties.) Remember: You want to spend your precious time at Lake Powell strengthening bonds, not straining them.
Jim Knapp: [Summary Here]
I know that a few of my colleagues here at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas have contributed articles to this series that deal with the fine points of splitting the finances when you rent a houseboat (here’s one, for example). So while I’ll defer to their wisdom on those particulars, I’d like to take this opportunity to weigh in on my particular area of expertise, when it comes to the expenses of houseboating.
I’m the Director of Boat Rental Maintenance. I’m the one in charge of keeping our rental fleet ship-shape. And I can tell you some things that other people won’t.
Are You "Fuelly" Prepared?
When you rent a houseboat here, it comes fully fueled. When you return it, you need to fill it up. Sounds simple, right?
Well, too many guests don’t realize that the fuel is their responsibility, even though it’s spelled out clearly in the rental agreement.
But that’s not the part that surprises the guests. Our houseboats run on 87 octane unleaded fuel, similar to what most cars use. But we’re pretty far removed from civilization here, so it costs more to get the fuel to our docks. That means the prices will be a little higher than what you pay at home.
Still, it’s not the price-per-gallon that sometimes catches people unprepared. It’s the sheer amount of fuel these boats drink up. A mid-sized houseboat, such as our 59-foot Somerset, has two 140-gallon fuel tanks, plus a 100-gallon toy tank (for things like powerboats and jet skis). That’s 383 gallons. Our big Axiom boat has a single 600-gallon fuel tank. It takes almost an hour to fuel it from empty, using two different pumps. Now of course that’s extreme, but please don’t think of a houseboat like a Toyota Camry.
Get Your Deposit Back
All boats require a damage deposit as part of your pre-pay. The amount varies with the size of the boat. When you return the boat, you get that deposit back, if the boat’s in good shape.
That’s an “if” I don’t think you should risk. Which leads to the most important part of this article, and my advice to you:
When you rent a boat, we offer what’s called a waiver of liability. It’s insurance. It covers the structure of the boat, not the occupants. It’s about $27 a day.
In my opinion, this is the best money you will ever spend at Lake Powell.
Put it this way. Let’s say your houseboat has a damage deposit of $1,000.00. And let’s say you (inadvertently, of course) incur some damage to the boat. It costs almost $700 just to lift the boat out of the water to inspect it—and that’s before any repairs begin.
So the waiver of liability is similar to what you’re offered when you rent a car. But there’s a big difference. Your auto, homeowner’s, or renter’s insurance won’t cover it. Nor will your credit card. So get it. Please. For your houseboat, for your powerboat, even for your personal watercraft. You don’t want to have the end of your vacation marred by a major expense.
A Cautionary Tale
Not long ago, a gentleman rented a powerboat and declined the waiver of liability. The sun was in his eyes as he sped along, and he ran the thing right into a wall at the edge of the lake.
Fortunately, the guy was okay. But the boat wasn’t. It was totaled. And it cost $28,000 to replace. Guess who got charged for it? You figured it out: The guy who was kicking himself for not spending 27 bucks a day.
No Matter Who Signs
As you may know from reading these articles by me and my colleagues, there’s only one person who signs on the dotted line when it’s time to rent a houseboat. That person is described as “the responsible party.” But here’s one more great thing about that waiver of liability: It covers anyone in your party who’s driving the covered craft at the time of any incident. Of course, there are exceptions, but they’re sensible: for example, underage operators aren’t covered. So while you can keep your kid away from the helm, you can’t always avoid that maritime mishap.
Go for that waiver. I know it sounds like a sales pitch, but it will guarantee that your happy times on the lake come complete with a happy ending.
Robert Knowlton: [Summary Here]
Relaxing aboard your very own houseboat is fun. Paying for the privilege… not as fun. Still, you might be surprised how many ways there are to make this supposedly painful process as painless as possible for you and your group.
For the most fun (and the least friction), consider some of these pointers from someone who lives and breathes Lake Powell all year round:
Pay Full Price—or Not
Many people who are new to houseboating are surprised to learn that there’s not a fixed price to rent a given houseboat. The prices actually go up and down, in sync with supply and demand.
It’s pretty simple if you think about it. The highest demand comes during the three months of peak season (typically late June to late August); the “shoulder seasons” are on either side. So expect to pay full price during peak season—and be prepared to grab some great savings before or after.
Full price isn’t as horrible as it sounds. It comes with distinct advantages. One, you get to houseboat during the prime weather and vacation time. And two, you are able to cancel your trip if something comes up, and only forfeit your deposit.
To get a discount, you must pay the full amount of your rental in advance, and there are no refunds. Those are some pretty tight restrictions, but plenty of people jump at them. And you can get even deeper discounts by booking during a shoulder season of either fall or spring. Is it worth it? Just ask any of the happy guests I see here!
To Front or Not to Front
There are different ways to divvy up the costs among your group. When I houseboat with my friends, I front the money for them, and they pay me what they owe me at the end of the trip.
That doesn’t work for everyone. (I’m lucky: I have good, responsible friends.) I confess I’ve seen too many arguments here at check-out time over who-pays-what. If it helps, you can split a payment in half (either half credit card and half cash, or between two different credit cards). Or to avoid disputes altogether, you can use “the Gail Buckley method,” wherein everyone pays into a pot in advance and gets refunded afterward. (You can read about it in detail in her article on the subject.)
In any case, make sure you have one person who’s ultimately in charge of booking the boat, handling all the finances, and collecting (either before or after) from everyone else. The rental agreement calls them the “responsible party.” You can call them “treasurer” or whatever you like. If you’ve got one big family, it’s often the parents who play this role. The kids go free; aren’t you envious?
Cash vs. Credit
I’ve seen (and houseboated with) my share of college-age kids, and for all the high-tech ways there are to transfer money and pay bills with your smartphone these days, there are two things you can often assume about these young adults: 1) they’re broke, and 2) they live in a cash world.
Cash still works. I’ve seen groups of 15 or 20 people collect about $200 upfront from each member of the party, and take it from there. And cash can be easier when you’re trying to get a bunch of people together: “Hey, you need to bring $300 to the lake for expenses that come up.”
There’s more to houseboating than houseboating. Think of it this way: There’s more to a traditional vacation than the hotel. You’ll want to rent a powerboat, a jet ski, or a kayak. Or all of the above.
You’ll be tubing. Waterskiing. Wakeboarding. Unless you’re bringing your own, you’ll be renting them.
And then there are the expendables. Like ice, firewood, and fuel.
My advice: Don’t skimp. Houseboating is an adventure of a lifetime, so don’t mar your memories with what-if’s. I was on a cruise once, and they offered a per-person drink package. For one price upfront, you could just enjoy the whole cruise, without having to dig into your wallet every time. It was so worth it; I was care-free the rest of the trip.
Think of your water toys and expendables the same way. Budget for them. You’ll have the time of your life here at Lake Powell. I guarantee it.
[KC1]Include appropriate links for all underlined text.
About the Experts
Gail Buckley - Gail Buckley’s houseboating adventures date back to the 1980s, when she and her husband would visit the lake several times each year with friends. In 2010, she turned her love into a new career at Lake Powell; today, she’s the Boat Rentals Manager for Northlake at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas
Jim Knapp - Jim Knapp first moved to Lake Powell more than 25 years ago; today, he’s the Director of Boat Rental Maintenance for Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas. A factory-certified mechanic for numerous top marine powerplant brands, he’s also a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain for 100-ton craft.
Robert Knowlton -Robert Knowlton started his career at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas as a seasonal worker during college more than six years ago. Today, not only is he a full-timer—he’s the Director, Southlake Boat Rentals, based at Wahweap Marina.