Shantyboat Building Aussie style

Houseboat Building in Australia

shantyboat in progress
shantyboat in progress

In South Australia, ( the land down-under the land down-under) lies the beautiful little city of Mannum. Mannum is home to the first paddle-steamer on the Murray River, the PS Marion. Originally built in 1897, this beautiful example of riverboat building has been completely restored and currently offers cruises from the Mannum dock. While this riverboat was built over a century ago, nearby the long tradition of building fine boats and houseboats lives on.

Shantyboat Building

Just about six miles out of town an Aussie couple is building a new pontoon houseboat. They didn’t just want to look at “houseboats for sale” on the web, they wanted to build their own. They like to say they are building a “shantyboat.” You might argue about whether they are building a small houseboat or building a shantyboat or building a riverboat, but you can’t argue about the high quality of construction or the thought to detail that is going into this great houseboat building project.

Building bulkhead sections

The couple, Trish and Harry, have invested the last few years into planning, designing and constructing a 40 ‘ by 12’ pontoon shantyboat. The end goal is to just cruise and enjoy the beautiful Murray River. They have shared so many pictures and hi-lights of the building process you could almost call it a “how-to” book for building a houseboat.

After studying many of the houseboat / shantyboat boat designs like Atkin’s Lady of the Lake and the Millie Hill by Sam Devlin as well as many of the local boats, they brought it all together and designed a shantyboat of their own.

The frames for the pontoon sections were built with two layers of 3/4″ hardwood epoxied together to minimize warping.

Bulkhead frame members

Then the pontoon sections were built and assembled together. The pontoon sections were assembled together then carefully lined up for final assembly. One of the reasons for building pontoons in sections is to keep the weight of each section lighter.

australian houseboat building

The idea seems to be to keep as much work as possible to a one-couple operation. The thing that I really find amazing is this was done without a table saw –Just hand tools and a radial arm saw! The craftsmanship level of this small houseboat is evident in the pictures.

All the wood was treated with Copper Naphthenate preservative. The insides of the pontoons were then covered with three layers of water-proof membrane coating.

The exterior was fiber-glassed and sealed with epoxy. These pontoons are built to last.

Building the Pontoons

pontoons built to last

The pontoons are carefully lined up and the deck is assembled. Now the boat is starting to take shape. The attention to details is evident in the pictures or the bolts and nuts used to tie it all together. Heavy dipped galvanized fittings and epoxy ensure that these joints will never fail.

Also, check out the “Boat aHome” from Australia.

Quality shows up in the things that will not be seen

A picture really is worth a 1000 words

The boat is taking shape

With marine plywood and all the various waterproofing materials in place, this boat is ready for the top.

Next, the walls are built and installed. Note the green preservative at this stage. The framing is all glued and screwed. The exterior walls are covered with canvas set in Tite-Bond III glue.Shantyboat deck

the deck goes on

Walls being assembled

walls going on

Is the small houseboat is constructed, the quality is in the details. Check out this great wall joint picture below. The wood edge is held up from the deck to reduce water damage as well as being set over-hanging the bottom plate to create a very strong mechanical connection.

Water-tight Wall joint

The roof framing ties it all together and the windows are installed. Harry built all the windows from scratch, all twenty-two of them!


Roof framing

The builders chose to top this shantyboat with some insulation membrane and a sheet metal roof. All the seams have been sealed to keep the weather out and gutters were installed along the edges to collect water if needed. They have thought of just about everything.houseboat construction

Great ventilation with these windows

This shantyboat building project is not quite finished at this time, but you can follow the progress all the way by checking the thread on The Wooden Boat Forum. There is a lot more information and dozens of great pictures.

More on this small houseboat build can also be found at DIY-Wooden

If you are looking for houseboats for sale try

Some useful houseboat building books!

Designing and building a houseboat book
boats, cabins and homes on the water book
handmade houseboats book

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