A house on the water

Renting a houseboat, like this one on Lake Oroville, can make

Sleeping beneath the stars, fishing from the deck and taking a
cool dip under wide-open skies are a few reasons Gilroy resident
Chris Yacenda and his wife think houseboating is the perfect summer
vacation. Each year for the past decade or so, Yacenda and his
family of four
– along with several close friends – head north to stay on a
houseboat on one of California’s several expansive lakes.
Sleeping beneath the stars, fishing from the deck and taking a cool dip under wide-open skies are a few reasons Gilroy resident Chris Yacenda and his wife think houseboating is the perfect summer vacation. Each year for the past decade or so, Yacenda and his family of four – along with several close friends – head north to stay on a houseboat on one of California’s several expansive lakes.

“It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do if you enjoy being out on a lake. It’s living good,” said Yacenda, a 45-year-old carpenter. “It’s very relaxing. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a big thing for our family. We just enjoy camping and being out on the lake and being on the water.”

Although it requires advanced planning and a considerable amount of money, houseboating can be a relaxing and refreshing change from the typical land-locked vacation.

Yacenda’s trips usually include between six and 12 people – “the more, the merrier,” he said – and are planned six months to a year in advance. One of the first steps to mapping out the trip is deciding when to go, because no matter where you decide, once peak season hits, rates jump significantly.

Generally, the most popular time to houseboat is late May to early September, essentially Memorial Day to Labor Day. Off season – when the weather still partly lends itself to houseboating – is early April to late May, and winter season – the least popular time to houseboat – is late October to early April.

Mid-season, which leads into and caps off peak season, is considered the first few weeks of June and the middle two weeks of September.

Rental prices for houseboats vary depending on the features included. For example, the most basic houseboat offered at Lake Oroville Marina near Chico, deemed the leisure craft, is a 56-foot-by-15-foot pontoon-style houseboat with basic amenities including beds, baths, propane refrigerators, a microwave, television and air conditioning and heat. It costs $1,195 to rent the boat, which sleeps six to eight, for a three-day weekend or a four-day week in the winter season and $2,195 during the peak season.

Go up four notches and you can rent the marina’s so-called VIP houseboat, a 65-foot-by-14-foot vessel that sleeps 10 to 12 and includes a full wet bar, fully furnished kitchen, hot tub on the top deck and waterslide.

Renting the VIP for a three-day weekend or a four-day week in the winter season is $2,395. In the peak season, it’s $3,195.

On top of the cost of rental, houseboaters have to shell out money for food to last them through the trip and also for gas for the boat, roughly $250 to $300 for a 100-gallon tank, Yacenda said.

It may sound like a lot to spend for a summer vacation, but splitting the cost among multiple families can make the total bill more manageable.

When Yacenda and his family and friends go houseboating, for instance, they all sit down and decide the fairest way to divvy up costs.

Once the approximate dates for the trip are penciled in, houseboaters should decide where they want to go. Along with Lake Oroville – one of Yacenda’s favorites – popular houseboating spots in the state include Shasta Lake or Trinity Lake, both near Redding, Lake Don Pedro near Modesto and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta. Each of the lakes offers miles and miles of shoreline for camping as well as opportunities to fish, wake board, windsurf, sail, jet ski and, in some cases, explore coves.

Among lakes closer to the South Valley are Lake San Antonio in Monterey County and the San Luis Reservoir near Pacheco Pass, where houseboaters are not allowed overnight but can stay for day-long trips.

Whether the trips are for one day or several, houseboating is gaining popularity, said Darla Cook, public relations manager for Forever Resorts.

The Arizona-based company manufactures houseboats for a number of marinas around the country, including Lake Powell in Utah and Lake Amistad in Texas.

The company’s California locations include marinas at Lake Don Pedro and the Delta. Last year, Cook said Forever Resorts increased its rental business 14 percent, with the average houseboat carrying eight to 10 people.

Since Forever Resorts launched in 1981, its fleet of houseboats has grown from 20 to 200, Cook said. In February of 2004, the company began supplying houseboats to the Lake Oroville Marina.

“We went in with one houseboat. Now we have 20 at that location, and we keep busy,” Cook said.

If you’re not sure if houseboating is for you but want to find out, rent a houseboat for a couple of days in the off season or mid-season, when rates are lower and the weather still is warm.

Another tip is to buy food for the trip ahead of time at a bulk retailer such as Costco, and be sure to buy food that will appeal to everyone who’s going on the trip.

“If you like soda, bring a lot of soda. If you like beer, bring a lot of beer,” Yacenda said. “Anything you run out of, you have to buy (at the marina), and it’s going to be more expensive.”

Also, do your homework and research the best locations and prices for your particular outing. And, Yacenda added, don’t overlook the fact that you’ll be in close quarters with whoever else is on the houseboat.

“You’re basically living in a mobile home on water,” he said. “Until you tie (the boat) up to shore, there’s not a lot of places you can go to get away from someone. There could be someone who drives ya nuts, so you have to make sure you all get along. … There can be some awkward moments.”

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