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Adam Campbell relishes the harbor’s flat calm on a clear night when the stars reflect off the water and appear brighter in their reflection than in the sky.
He is one of a growing number of Mainers who get a much-desired water view, not from a home on the shore but by living on a houseboat. It is an option for those shut out of the real estate or apartment markets in the state by high prices or stiff competition. It is also becoming a more popular way to spend a short-term vacation. Either way, it’s not for the faint of heart.
For Campbell, the move was made out of necessity after his divorce. He wanted to stay near his children on North Haven, but there was nothing available on the small and wealthy island. He and his son each built their own houseboat and live near each other on a mooring in a quiet harbor.
“A houseboat is definitely a good option for people who get forced out financially,” said Campbell, 54, who fishes for lobsters, scallops and sea urchins and runs an oyster farm. “I wouldn’t recommend it to someone that isn’t experienced around the water, though.”
Being out in nature and having peace and quiet is amazing, he said, but it is not much fun lugging wood for heat and water for drinking to the houseboat, nor having to ride a skiff from the shore in harsh weather. His home isn’t winterized like his son’s, so he travels or lives with his girlfriend when it gets too cold.
But it is largely free living, though individual towns have varying ordinances for houseboats. He has solar panels for electricity and a composting toilet and does not need to pay a mortgage, property taxes or a sewer bill. Houseboat owners pay excise tax and registration fees, and those that are commercial enterprises are permitted through the Army Corps of Engineers.
Derecktor Robinhood Marine of Georgetown rents out three houseboats, mainly to people staying three or four days for $350 to $400 per night. This year rentals are filled up, and last year the houseboats were overbooked, company General Manager Neil Collins said.
Collins said it’s great to be on the ocean, but drinking water and waste can be big obstacles on a houseboat. If someone wanted to dock the houseboat for a season, it could cost up to $6,000, so he wondered if money would be saved over buying a house.
“I recognize the rents and mortgages are insanely expensive, but there are other hidden costs of living aboard, including maintenance,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a huge savings.”
Weather also is a big factor with breaking pilings and frozen pipes, Steve White, president of Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, said. He said he has been asked by people to rent out his houseboat, but he has declined.
“Houseboats are appealing to a lot of people, but renting a boat is more expensive than a house,” White said.
That shows in online rentals as well, with short-term rental website VRBO listing a two-bedroom, two-bathroom houseboat in Kittery for $415 per night.
Foy and Louisa Brown live six months out of the year on this houseboat they built on Perry’s Creek in North Haven. Credit: Courtesy of Louisa Brown
Foy Brown said he and his wife, Louisa, built their houseboat a few years ago for $60,000, and describes it as a tiny house built on a float with pontoons. They live there six months of the year until it gets cold.
Like Campbell, he loves looking at the stars through his skylight. Campbell said that when he gets dressed for work and has breakfast, he has to take a deep breath as he exits his houseboat.
“It’s hard to leave,” he said. “I feel truly blessed.”