Houseboat-Housebarge Update from Special Agents


Dear Special Agents Subscriber (fellow live-aboard)!

The Seattle Shoreline Management Plan (SSMP) has been approved by the Seattle city council and has been forwarded on to the Department Of Ecology (DOE) for review. This process is expected to take anywhere from 6 months to a year to complete, during which time there will be additional opportunities for comment and public involvement with DOE.

There are two sections in the SSMP that relate to liveaboards. The first section deals with regulations that affect NEW liveaboard vessels (after the SSMP is put into effect).  We refer to this section as “Rules Going Forward.”  The second section deals with existing vessels that were on the water prior to implementation of the SSMP and that do not meet the new “Rules Going Forward.”

The changes for NEW liveaboard vessels are pretty significant and can be boiled down to:

If you are not a pointy shaped vessel (trawler, yacht, sailboat) you cannot live aboard.

The changes for EXISTING liveaboard vessels can be boiled down to:

If you are not a pointy shaped vessel (trawler, yacht, sailboat), but are a navigable vessel (i.e. power, steering, etc.), you can continue to live aboard but cannot alter the exterior dimensions of your vessel.

What does this mean for you?
If you own a houseboat that is not one of the 34 grandfathered legal house barges (if you are unsure of this, it is likely you are NOT one of those) and your vessel is NOT “designed and used for navigation” then you are at risk of receiving a Notice Of Violation (NOV).  We have always encouraged our clients to meet the requirements as stated in the Client Assistance Memo (CAM 229) which is a clarification provided by Department of Planning and Development (DPD) of the SSMP from 1990. Based on advice we have received from attorneys that are currently involved in defending against these NOV’s, we are going to offer some recommendations to our clients that own Houseboat Style vessels.  We encourage everyone to “Vessel Up.”

Vessel Up

While DPD has made claims of 150 illegal vessels, this is being disputed and a Stakeholder group has been formed to:

Develop and consider alternatives for an orderly process to establish the status of residences on the water that are not identified as legal floating homes or legal house barges and are not clearly identified as vessels. For the purposes of this memo, these structures will be referred to as “on water residences”.

We have coined the term “Vessel Up” as the activities that you should strongly consider to assure you meet the CAM-229. We will be quoting from this document as it is the ONLY published clarification of the 1990 regulations.

Boats, ships, barges, or other floating craft that are both designed and used for navigation and that do not interfere with the normal public use of the water are classified as vessels.

Vessels must be designed for navigation, including having a seaworthy hull design that meets U.S. Coast Guard standards for flotation, safety equipment, and fuel, electrical, and ventilation systems. They are capable of being used for water transportation, and if they are used for residential purposes they must be able to travel under their own power to open water, including a method for steering and propulsion, deck fittings, navigational and nautical equipment, and the required marine hardware.

Finally, vessels must be registered with federal, state, or county agencies.

Specifics – Checklists

We have created a document that reflects the CAM 229 requirements that we believe would be a reasonable checklist for demonstrating compliance with the CAM 229 (Live-Aboard Vessel Certification). This is NOT an official document, but we are hopeful that something like this will be used as an administrative solution for providing certainty to existing vessels and that it can be documented by a qualified surveyor or naval architect.

The City (Department of Planning and Development) has used a checklist (City Inspectors Recreational Vessel Checklist) in that past for evaluating vessels that have been served a Notice Of Violation. We are going to contest this in the Stakeholder group as it contains requirements that were never published, nor are standards for being a “recreational vessel.”  Our philosophy is that you cannot expect a person to have clairvoyance to comply with regulations. You can use this document to “Vessel-up” and the city would be hard pressed to call you anything other than a vessel as they have set a precedence using this in the past.

Legal House Barges and Grey Water

Through research performed by Lake Union Liveaboard Association we were able to discover a document from 1996 that indicates that all but 2 housebarges (Decals 940025 and Decal 940030) are in compliance with grey-water requirements. If this reaches one of those house barges, they can contact us and we will show them how they can easily come in compliance.

If you need help getting “Vesseled up” we have resources that we can refer. Jonathan Modesitt is very experienced with houseboats, engines, and their systems and can help you get it done.

Let us know if you have any questions. We have great resources and we are here to help!

Vessel Liveaboard Certification

DPD Inspection Checklist

DPD Housebarge Grey Water

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