What is a Floating Home?
A “Floating Home” is a legally-permitted structure, with no means of self-propulsion, which occupies a permanent berth and is subject to property taxes. It complies with all applicable codes and is connected to all utilities and services, including water, sewage, electricity, gas, telephone, and cable television. Floating home marinas are privately owned and charge homeowners monthly berthage fees. Our communities evolved from the free-spirited artists, shipbuilders and writers who lived aboard the arks and the various types of boats which were informally anchored in San Francisco Bay beginning in the 1800s. By contrast, today’s floating home communities are structured and highly-regulated.
The History of Houseboats on Richardson’s Bay
Waterfront living goes as far back as the 1880s, when colonies of “arks” existed off Belvedere and on the creeks of Larkspur. Arched roofs, sliding doors and decks fore and aft were hallmarks of ark design. Used chiefly as warm weather recreational boats in various quiet waterways, they were called arks – as opposed to houseboats — because they were designed to float on the bay waters at high tide and to sit on the mud flats at low tide. They were also pulled ashore during the winter. After the earthquake and fire of 1906, many arks were adapted for full-time residential use by families left homeless.
Shortly after California achieved statehood in 1850, Richardson’s Bay had been subdivided into underwater lots to create a West Coast Venice with canals and city streets. When the idea failed to materialize, the state sold the tideland lots into private ownership, but retained title to a number of the “underwater streets.” If you see what looks like a vacant berth, it’s most likely one of those mythical streets, since the original zoning remains in effect as a means of controlling the size of our community. Today, land swaps are being negotiated to clear up this regulatory ambiguity.
When the World War II liberty shipyards were returned to civilian use, free spirits, artists and philosophers like Alan Watts and Jean Varda began living on abandoned ferries and houseboats made from surplus military vessels such as landing craft and lifeboats. This artistic and cultural center greatly expanded during the peace and love era of the 1960s. The 1970s saw a period of houseboat wars pitting residents against County and State agencies to preserve their right to live freely on the water.
Approximately 400 floating home berths were eventually permitted in five designated residential marinas. The commitment of the floating home dwellers to their environment is evident. Artists, writers, photographers and entrepreneurs are inspired daily by the beauty of the waterfront. Some will be exhibiting their work on Kappas Green during the tour.
Our homes float because they displace their weight in water. Floatation is usually a concrete hull but can also be fiberglass, wood, steel or Styrofoam. Living dockside, residents enjoy all the creature comforts of land dwellers. Municipal utilities, cable television and broadband computer connections offer 21st century amenities.
FLOATING HOME RELATED BOOK LIST
Houseboats of Sausalito (Images of America: California) [Paperback]
by Phil Frank
The unique and colorful houseboat community has long been the centerpiece of life in Sausalito, and while these floating homes are well known, relatively few people know just how far back their history goes. Not a recent phenomenon, as so many assume, the houseboat community has a history stretching back to the 1880s and earlier. While houseboats once existed in nearly a dozen ports in and around San Francisco Bay and indeed throughout the West Coast the focus of this buoyant lifestyle is now the waters of Marin County, along the shoreline of Richardson’s Bay. Over the years, a variety of forces including the 1906 earthquake and fire, the building of bridges and the resulting decline of the ferryboat fleet, World War II, and legal pressures on waterfront property owners helped to shape life on the water, Sausalito’s houseboat community, and this fascinating tale.
Release date: October 27, 2008
Houseboats: Aquatic Architecture of Sausalito [Hardcover]
by Kathy Shaffer
Prepare to be wowed, amused, and inspired as you visit over 100 houseboats, inside and out. Architect Kathy Shaffer follows her bliss and explores the floating legacy of her Sausalito home. With an eye toward the artistic, Shaffer carefully documents the architectural evolution of this houseboat community. Learn the geography of the area, the developers who helped shape it, the history of the marinas, and the amazing evolution of houseboat design and construction. This book also reflects the lives of people who choose to constrain their home to a hundred square feet or so, and how they’ve engineered their surroundings to their spatial restrictions. This book is a celebration of the refreshing, inspiring forms created in the free-thinking spirit of houseboat architecture. It is a must-have for all who love architecture, handmade houses, and inspiring homes.
Publication Date: July 1, 2007
Staying Afloat: Life Aboard Houseboats, Barges, and Liveaboards [Paperback]
by Jeri Callahan
This charming book sails away from the typical photographic tours found in most houseboat books, focusing instead on the stories of the enchanting people who dwell by the docks. Undoubtedly, Seattle’s Lake Union is a stunningly beautiful area. But it is the marvelous mishmash of freshwater folks and the unique community they create that makes living off-land so intriguing.
Publication Date: May 1, 2005
The Houseboat Book [Paperback]
by Barbara Flanagan
Jump into the cold water, right off the front porch, for an early swim; take hot coffee alfresco in a rooftop deck chair as the sunrise lights a panorama of sea birds and skyline; then, kayak off to a meeting downtown.
Live on a houseboat and you see wildlife and city life converge to make every day feel like vacation. That’s what they say. Thousands of permanent water citizens-ranging from young tycoons to elder hippies-have rejected big houses, chattel, and land for the rich neighborhood life of dense residential marinas. This isn’t a lifestyle look, it’s the real thing. Adventurous living: independent, expressive, and fun.
The most comprehensive book on the floating dwellings of North America, The Houseboat Book reveals intriguing villages (floating on century-old cedar logs, concrete barges, Styrofoam blocks, plastic barrels, fiberglass, and painted wood) in British Columbia, Canada, and in Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey. One sees wonderfully inventive architecture-a thatched cabana in paradisiacal Key West, a barged train car (as family home/circus stage) in industrial Brooklyn-imaginative design at its best.
Release date: January 3, 2004
At the Water’s Edge, Muskoka’s Boathouses
by John de Visser and Judy Ross
While not truly about houseboats or floating homes, this is a beautiful photo journalistic view of living on the water in refurbished boathouses.
The Boston Mills Press- Ontario, Canada 1993
ISBN 1-55046-082-x (hardcover)
HOUSE BOATS, Living on the Water Around the World
by Mark Gabor
Again dated, this book provides a pictorial history of houseboats in Seattle, California, Florida, Louisiana, Hong Kong, Thailand, Kashmir, France, England, Holland,Turkey and Italy. Numerous color photos of boats make up the majority of the books contents.
Ballantine Books-New York 1979
ISBN 0-345-27312-5 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-345-28117-9 (paperback)
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 77-6136
HOUSEBOAT, Reflection of North America’s Floating Homes…History, Architecture, and Lifestyles
by Ben Dennis & Betsy Case
Although dated, this book gives a history of houseboats in both Seattle and San Francisco Bay. Photos of boats in both areas make up the majority of the books contents.
Smuggler’s Cove Publishing 1977
ISBN 0-918484-00-6 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-918484-01-4 (paperback)
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 77-2404
PRODIGAL LOGIC: A Ray Gabriel Floating Home Mystery
by Paul Petrucci
Experience the floating home community from a different, more
sinister angle! In this mystery novel, protagonist Ray Gabriel not
only lives and works from his floating home on Portage Bay in
Seattle — he investigates murders. The computer entrepreneur is
building a smart computer program, named Sherlock-in-a-Box, to help
unravel mysteries. Unfortunately, a bug could mean murder…. Check
out http://www.paulpetrucci.com for more information.
Booklocker- Bangor, Maine 2002
ISBN 1-59113-112-X (hardcover)
Available through http://www.booklocker.com
WATERHOUSES, the romantic alternative
by Ferenc Maté
The personal story of building and living on a houseboat. Primarily made up of color photos of boats in Seattle, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, Vancouver, and backwaters.
Albatross Publishing House – Vancouver, BC 1977
ISBN 0-920256-01-5 (hardcover)
Water Squatters, The Houseboat Lifestyle
by Beverly Dubin
A documentary of handmade houses afloat, with photographs mainly from Sausalito, Seattle, the Sacramento Delta, and foreign lands, with information on marinas, galley recipes featuring houseboat soup, how to cope with children and animals aboard, remembering that it all began with Noah. Photos are in black & white.
Capra Press – Santa Barbara 1975
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 75-6693