New Houseboats in Seattle are Not Permitted!


Seattle Department of Planning and Development proposed the new Shoreline Master Plan to the Seattle City Council in January 2013. This proposal was accepted and approved by the full council to be submitted to Department of Ecology.

The Review process for Department of Ecology can take 6 months to a year to review the hundreds of pages of proposed changes to Seattle Shoreline management areas.

As a part of this proposal:

NO NEW HOUSEBOAT STYLE VESSELS are permitted in the Seattle Shoreline Management areas as a liveaboard vessels.

New houseboats (includes rectangular shaped houseboat style vessels) of any kind or manufacture are banned as liveaboard houseboats in the SMP areas.  If you have a houseboat under construction, if you are looking at the cheaper houseboats in the Olympia, Portland or Vancouver areas – we strongly recommend that you do not bring them into Lake Union, the Ship Canal, or the Duamish river marina, Shilshoe or  Elliot Bay. You may receive a Notice of Violation and will be required to remove it from the SMP areas.  We urge Brokers to advise buyers they cannot use NEW Houseboats as liveaboards, that they may not be legal for living aboard and encouraging this could be a disservice to your buyers. Buyer’s should check with DPD before making the investment as a liveaboard in the Seattle waters.

Existing Houseboat Vessels in the SMP areas continue to be the subject of controversy with DPD.  DOE (Department of Ecology) has stated that they did not task the city of Seattle to remove houseboats. DOE tasked DPD with addressing “Overwater Use”, rather than a particular style of vessel.

With the thousands of trawlers, yacht style and sailboat liveaboards the miniscule number of existing houseboats likely make up less than 1% of the greywater that goes into the water. It is important to note that houseboats are not designed to be able to pump Sewage into the waters, while pointy bow yachts, trawlers and sailboats are frequently designed to allow this. We do not believe a responsible person would pump sewage in our waters.

There have been comments made that make it seem like Grey water is the issue (water from showers, sinks, and washers).  However, greywater is NOT addressed in the SMP other than through Best Management Practices (BMP’s). These BMP’s apply to ALL vessels regardless of shape. With houseboat style vessels comprising a very small percentage of liveaboards, the contribution of grey water from houseboats is miniscule when compared to all liveaboard vessels.

We applaud Department of Ecology for contributing $20,000 to Seattle to hold Stakeholder Group meetings with a Facilitator beginning March 2013 that have been tasked with the following goal:

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”.

The Stakeholder group is comprised of the following people;

  • Kevin Bagley, Lake Union Liveaboard Association
  • Joseph Bogaard, Save Our Wild Salmon
  • John Chaney, Lake Union Liveaboard Association
  • Patrick Dunham, Lake Union Liveaboard Association
  • Barb Engram, Lake Union Liveaboard Association
  • Margie Freeman, Marina owner
  • Al Hughes, Washington Liveaboard Association
  • Gail Luhn, Shilshole Liveaboard Association
  • John Waterhouse, Naval architect
  • Chris Wilkie, Puget Soundkeeper Allianc

Based on comments made by City Council members, we caution against bringing a new houseboat (or an existing houseboat that is currently located outside Seattle waters) on to Seattle Waters.

No new Floating home sites will be permitted in the SMP (primarily Lake Union and Portage Bay).  There is a new floating home site with a few unsold slips and a few floating homes under construction at Wards Cove and these are permitted. Replacement of a floating home is permitted, but no new home sites where none existed.

House Barges approved (registered) in 1990 – 1995 (and one in 2000) totaling 34 are approved and will remain on the lake without issues. DPD stated throughout the process that only a couple barges had complied with the 1990 rule imposed “All overboard discharges of grey water must be contained and pumped out (exceptions allowed based on hardship)”, however in the discovery process we found that the city had documentation that all barges except two were in fact in compliance or had been granted exceptions.

The definition of floating homes, house barges, and vessels can be found at:

In 1990 the city of Seattle also created rule for barges that many barge owners today are not aware of. Recently, very happy buyer’s of a house barge updated their new home by changing a ladder that accessed the upper deck and converting it to a safer staircase and made their upper deck space safer by adding rails and a platform to protect the rooftop deck.  They were told that they needed the original DCLU seal replaced which was misplaced during the remodel. They then contacted DPD to get it replaced, and were told “we don’t issue the decals any longer, but could you send us a photo so we can update our files?”  After sending the photo, the city said “…it appears you have added an expansion” which is not allowed for house barges as they are non-conforming uses and may not expand their exterior dimensions.”  The owners of the barge received the following along with a NOV (Notice of Violation) from DPD.

I regret to inform you that the 3rd story deck on your house barge is in violation of the Shoreline Code and must be removed. If you do not bring the house barge into compliance, you could be fined.

When we last spoke, you requested information on the specific Shoreline laws that would apply to registered house barges. The link provided below is a link to the Seattle Municipal Code:, Enter 23.60.090 where it says “Code Section Number” and hit “Submit Query.” Please go to subsection G, #5, which says: “House barges permitted under this section shall be regulated as a nonconforming use and shall be subject to the standards of Section 23.60.122.” Following the link to 23.60.122, subsection B.  The deck on your house barge would be considered an expansion not subject to the exception.

If you are considering remodeling your house barge, you read the regulations regarding “non-conforming uses” shown above.

Kevin and Linda Bagley are the founders, former president & secretary of LULA (Lake Union Liveaboard Association) and have been very involved in protecting the rights of houseboat / barge owners in the SMP. We will continue to be involved in LULA and encourage anyone that wants to protect the houseboats, barges and liveaboards to join LULA at

If you own a House Barge or Houseboat vessel and are considering selling or buying, you need a specialist in the process. We would love to help in any way we can, so give Linda a call at (206) 419-0065.

If you have ANY questions about Floating Homes, House Barges, and Houseboat vessels, please give us a call. We have lots of resources and information we can provide.

And if you are considering a Land Lubber purchase, give us a call for that too!  We sell residential real estate throughout the Puget Sound region.

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