It’s relaxing; just don’t think about gas prices

Times Staff Writer

MOTORISTS who complain about the high price of gasoline get no sympathy from houseboat owners.

Sure, it stings when the cost of filling a car’s 15-gallon tank jumps from about $23 in 2003 to about $47 today. But it really smarts when you have to fill a 200-gallon gas tank on a houseboat that only gets about 1.5 miles per gallon. And don’t forget that a houseboat generator burns about 2 gallons of fuel an hour, depending on the size of the boat and the appliances that are plugged in.

Even worse, marina operators typically charge 40 cents to 50 cents more per gallon than the prices at the roadside pumps.


Phil Smith, who owns a 56-foot houseboat on Lake Shasta in Northern California, recently paid $1,000 to fill his tank, shelling out $4.55 a gallon at the marina. To make his fuel last longer, he says he shortens his trips around the lake and often spends the weekend with the houseboat docked at the harbor, where he has an unobstructed view.

But like most houseboat owners, he is not being kept off the boat by higher fuel prices. “If you can afford a houseboat,” he says, “you can afford the gas.”

A survey of 1,900 U.S. boaters last month found that 75% said the higher prices had not forced them to cut back their boating activities. Instead, most said they had curtailed other expenses, such as dining out, entertainment and driving, according to the poll by the National Marine Manufacturers Assn., a Chicago-based group of recreational boat builders, and West Marine, a boat-products manufacturer with headquarters in Watsonville, Calif.

“For some people, it’s their big hobby or big vacation for the year, and the price of gas isn’t going to noticeably affect what they are doing,” says Terry Tjaden, show manager for the Southern California Marine Assn. in Orange.

Jeff Pauli, who owns a 46-foot houseboat on Trinity Lake in Northern California, says he fights higher fuel costs by buying about 25 gallons of gasoline for $3.45 a gallon at a roadside gas station and hauling it onto his boat instead of paying $4.25 a gallon at the marina. And instead of cruising around the lake all weekend, he moors his houseboat at a small cove only three miles from the harbor. By doing that, he estimates he burns only 5 gallons a weekend. “It keeps the family happy, and it’s cheaper than a divorce,” he jokes.

Houseboat manufacturers and vendors say Pauli’s tactics are typical.

But for some wealthy boat owners, the price of gas is relative.

Some of his clients pay more than $500,000 for a houseboat and are not put off by a $1-per-gallon increase in gasoline prices, says John Sturgill, chief executive of Fantasy Yachts by Botewerks, the Kentucky-based manufacturer of luxury custom-built houseboats. “In the scope of things, over a few weekends a year, that’s just no money,” he says.


For houseboat owners who don’t have money to burn, John Woolridge, managing editor for Yachting Magazine and Motor Boating Magazine, offers these tips:

* Install an electronic fuel management system that shows consumption rate under various conditions.

* Tune your engine to optimize gas use.

* Carry only the fuel you will need plus a reserve. Too much unneeded fuel can increase the drag on the boat.

* Don’t load the houseboat with unnecessary items, such as extra furniture or a full Jacuzzi.

* Keep the hull clean of underwater vegetation and growth, which can increase the drag.

“We may not make the same long-distance trips that we did last year, or we may take fewer trips, but it doesn’t mean we are just going to shut the boat down,” Woolridge says.

“It’s a lifestyle for these people.”