Seattle Shoreline Master Plan Receives Final Approval

Seattle Shoreline Master Plan Receives Final Approval

Ecology Director Maia Bellon signed the final approval for the City of Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program on Monday June 1, 2015. The updated SMP will go into effect on June 15, 2015!

A process that began nearly 8 years ago is finally coming to completion.  In 2007, the Department of Planning and Development began a process to update the Seattle Shoreline Master Program. This process would see Seattle Houseboats placed in a very precarious position.

The Department of Planning and Development was charged with updating the Seattle Shoreline Master Plan, which was previously updated in 2005. Seattle’s SMP controls development and use of the shorelines in Seattle waters including floating homes and other floating residences.

Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA) was formed in 2009 as a result of changes proposed for the new SMP, which could have potentially eliminated Houseboats in Seattle. For the following 5 years, LULA fought hard to change the SMP to deal fairly with Houseboats. In January, the Seattle City Council passed the SMP, which placed restrictions on Vessels being used as dwelling units, and interpreted this to mean Houseboats as well. This meant Sea Trials, demonstrating navigation, certification by Naval Architects, and a host of other restrictions.

As the City was passing the SMP and submitting to Ecology for review, LULA went to state regulators and got a bill passed that created a new term “Floating On-Water Residences” and protected those Floating On-Water Residences that had been in existence prior to 7/1/2014 from adverse regulations.

As a result of the new law, the City of Seattle was forced to revise the SMP to accommodate Floating On-Water Residences and to treat them as conforming uses in the city.  This required significant changes to the SMP. The city was required to remove many requirements, including Sea Trials, Freeboard, Naval Architect certifications, Navigational equipment, Boarding locations, cleat locations, Hull shape, Propulsion systems, Steering systems, and more.

In addition, the City was required to allow Floating On-Water Residences to be maintained, repaired, remodeled, and replaced in accordance with the new law.

What does this mean for Houseboats in Seattle?

  • A structure will be considered a Floating On-Water Residence if it was moored pursuant to a lease or ownership interest in a Marina within the City, prior to July 1, 2014
  • Houseboats are required to be verified as Floating On-Water Residences
    • Applicants will pay a one-time fee to receive a verification number
    • Submit an application for verification with pictures, dimensions, a sketch, and proof of moorage in the City prior to July 1, 2014.
  • Verification Numbers will assigned and must be displayed in a prescribed manner on the Floating On-Water Residence.
  • Houseboats may be expanded with height restrictions, but may not change in footprint size.
  • Expansion is allowed subject to height limitations and is limited to 120 square feet, unless graywater is contained and disposed of properly or the Floating On-Water residence is connected to a City waste-water system.
  • Houseboats may be replaced, but are subject to the same footprint, height, and expansion requirements.
  • A one-time expansion of footprint is allowed for safety reasons, as certified by a Naval Architect. If footprint is expanded, no other expansion may occur.
  • Open Railings may be added to decks and stairs, but if over height restriction, are limited to 36 inches.
  • A Floating On Water Residence may be relocated and owners should update verification records within 60 days. Failure to update may result in enforcement action, but does not forfeit right to maintain the Floating On-Water Residence.


Faith Lumsden, Compliance Director at DPD has indicated that the verification process will be available online as of 6/15/2015 and that the forms will be available online.  She also indicates that DPD will try to create some press as an outreach program, to help spread the word.

Floating On-Water Residences May Be Sold By Licensed Real Estate Brokers

Separate from the Shoreline Master Program, a new law goes into effect July 24th, 2015, which permits licensed Real Estate Brokers to list and sell Floating On-Water Residences without having to have a Vessel Dealer License. This law affects Floating On-Water Residences statewide, although the vast majority of Floating On-Water Residences are located within Seattle city limits.

The state definition of a Floating On-Water Residence is:

“floating on-water residence” means any floating structure other than a floating home that: (i) Is designed or used primarily as a residence on the water and has detachable utilities; and (ii) whose owner or primary occupant has held an ownership interest in space in a marina, or has held a lease or sublease to use space in a marina, since a date prior to July 1, 2014.

We can break down the criteria for being a Floating On-Water Residence:

  • It a floating structure, other than a floating home
  • It is designed as a residence on the water -OR-
  • It is used primarily as a residence on the water
  • The owner or primary occupant has held an ownership interest in space in a marina prior to 7/1/14, -OR-
  • The owner or primary occupant has held a lease or sublease to use space in a marina prior to 7/1/14

From this you can see that most houseboats, house barges, and many vessels will qualify as Floating On-Water Residences.

Please visit for more information about Houseboats.

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