From the Boathouse: Houseboat now a true home


Good news for permanently affixed floating homes. The Supreme Court issued a decision Jan. 15, in a 7-2 vote, that a floating home is not a boat, hence is not a vessel.

U.S. Code defines the word "vessel" as including all means of water transportation. The code continues, "The word 'vessel' includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water."

A floating home does not have any means of propulsion or steering. Therefore, such a home is not readily capable of being used for transportation on the water.

I think Justice Stephen Breyer takes a common-sense approach. He wrote, "To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels,' even if they are 'artificial contrivances' capable of floating, moving under tow, and incidentally carrying even a fair-sized item or two when they do so."

Boaters, floating-home owners and thousands of others need to send him thank-you cards. This ruling will affect everyone who lives in a floating home across the nation.

This all began when the city of Riviera Beach, Florida, initiated a lawsuit against Fane Lozman (Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida). Lozman protested that his almost 60-foot, two-story floating home was not a boat (vessel), and therefore was not subject to maritime laws after he had towed the home to a marina in the city.

However, the District Court agreed with the city that it was a vessel, and further, the court gave the order to sell the floating home. The city destroyed the floating home after buying it at a court-ordered auction.

This decision by the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court's opinion will have positive effects on insurance coverage, registration regulations, owners of various types of floating structures such as homes, water toys, and permanently moored museums and casinos.

Now, I wonder if we can have stand-up paddleboards declassified as vessels. The Coast Guard has ruled that when someone is using a stand-up paddleboard in the surfline, then it is surfing, and not subject to maritime regulations having like a PFD onboard. However, if you are paddling outside the surfline, like cruising the harbor, then the board is now classified as a vessel, and subject to maritime laws, and a PFD must now be aboard. Justice Breyer, we need some common sense applied here too, so please help.

Lastly, the sewage spill by Newport Aquatic Center that closed Newport's Back Bay's North Star Beach should be reopened by the weekend. Approximately 1,000 gallons for anything you can imagine that goes down a toilet or shower drain was spilled into the bay.

According to reports, only a couple of hundred gallons was cleaned from the water, but that leaves 800 gallons of raw sewage floating in the bay. Thankful that the spill was not accidentally leaked from a boat, as that would have resulted in massive fines to the boat owner.

Tip of the week is to be cautious while boating in the Pacific Ocean this time of year off Southern California's coastline. We are in winter season, which means storm season and large swells from the north and from the west. Combine the swells with strong winds and you have a recipe for disaster.

I cannot emphasize enough that every boater needs to check the weather and sea conditions before leaving the dock, especially if you are going seaward of the line of demarcation. There are apps for smartphones, so download a few like NOAA forecasting, weather radar, ship finder's AIS, and many more.

I hope everyone has a safe voyage, as this is also a great time of the year to go boating when the weather and sea conditions are calm.

And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed three times during the weekend.

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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