Today the circumstances on a houseboat in Amsterdam are far
from primitive, I myself have set up and maintained this homepage from a
houseboat for several years. Almost all the houseboats are connected to the
city's services, such as running water, electricity, telephone
A lot of the ships also have a connection to the gas supply,
as long as they're not moored alongside another ship. For
ships that still sail the heating is mostly run on diesel
fuel. For both types of fuel central heating systems are
available. The part of traditional wood and cole stoves as
main heating is decreasing, a development that is welcomed by
the city's environmental department because the chimneys of
houseboats are often very low compared to the surrounding
A connection to the sewer is missing in most cases, the sewage
flows directly into the canals. This is not a big problem
because the canals were partially designed as a sewer system.
The last house in Amsterdam was connected to the sewer in
In Amsterdam we have a number of locks an pump stations to
refresh the canal water. Relatively clean water flows into the
city via the river Amstel and/or is pumped in from the
IJsselmeer, a big fresh water lake in the center of Holland.
The dirty water streams into the North Sea during low tide at
IJmuiden. This system is operated several times a week,
depending on the quality of the water in the city.
The city's department for sewers and water-regulation thinks
it is a waste of money to connect all houseboats to the sewer
because the system works well as it is. In some areas with a
concentration of houseboats and a lack of current they have
been connected to avoid local pollution. The department does
investigate the possibility of 'water gardens', rafts with
waterplants that can have a cleaning effect on the canals.
These watergardens also provide nesting space for the many
waterbirds in Amsterdam.
Latest news on the 'sewer-front' is that, according to national
law, all the houseboats will have to be connected to the sewer
system before 2005. One will need a special permit to discharge into the open
water after that date, which will only be given to those who live
too far away from the nearest sewer. The discussion about who's going
to pay for this, the city or the owner, is not finished yet.
Houseboat owners do pay a sewer fee to the city. In our case
the funds are used to maintain the canals. For our mooring we
pay a tax, depending on the size of the boat. Furthermore we
are charged with other city taxes like every other household.
Of course living on a ship or ark varies from living in a
house at some points, specially on the more traditional ships
the differences are obvious.
On a ship you're always more involved with your direct
surrounding, for example the noise under water from passing
ships can be heard in the house. When a ship exceeds the speed
limit you'll know immediately because the normal movements of
your ship intensify. If you, as I do, live on a mayor traffic
route, laying completely still is reserved to the night and to
A problem in the winter is the water supply because the hose
runs through mid-air between shore and ship. To make sure that
you have running water during freezing temperatures thick
layers of insulation around the hose are needed. Nowadays
there are also low-voltage heating cords available but the
best known remedy is running a tap day and night to keep it
The interior layout of houseboats often differs from normal
houses. At my place it already starts on coming in, one has to
descend stairs instead of climbing them. Besides that the
small width of most ships forces you to build the rooms one
behind the other without a central hall. Visit the bathroom?
sure, walk through the kitchen, then through the bedroom and
you'll find it in the back. It's a kind of narrow shoebox with
one big advantage to similar small city houses, on a boat the
windows are situated on the long sides to provide enough
In a lot of ships the bathroom is somewhat odd. Because the
floor of the house is often situated around or below the
outside water level, the drainage is a problem in itself. In
some ships the complete bathroom is situated higher than the
rest of the house to make sure that the toilet and shower are
above water level.
An other solution is the use of pumps, manual or electric.
Also pumptoilets of the kind you can find on sailing yachts
are an option. Luckily nowadays there are automatic pumps
available to which you can connect a normal watercloset. These
switch on automatically as soon as there is a flow of water
pump it away. An advantage of the modern pumps is that they
can feed a few metres up. If there is space between the floor
and the bottom you can install normal sewage on board with the
pump at the lowest point. A ship fitted with this construcion
is immediately prepared for a sewer connection.