My “House Boat” : The “Y-knot?”

by Kent Griswold on December 30th, 2012. 67 Comments
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by Ron Miller

My “trailer on a toon” project came to fruition one evening while sitting in my backyard with my wife discussing some of the more memorable vacations we had. We both agreed that our recently purchased Chalet hard sided folding trailer was a great deal of fun, but that the lack of privacy at camp grounds was always an issue with us. We also agreed that time spent on or near the water was a high priority, and that Lake Powell was one of our favorite spots. We considered a speed boat purchase, but we both felt it would probably only see the water a few days a year. Quite simply, I blurted out, “Why not put the Chalet on top of a pontoon boat?”

the Y-knot

The response from her was that I probably had one too many adult beverages and that it was time for bed. The idea lingered in the back of my head for a couple of months until I got the tape measure out, measured the Chalet and started making chalk marks on the driveway. Then it was serious.

Doing a few quick calculations yielded the amount of flotation needed to support the 2,000 lb. trailer. A 28 foot tritoon would easily fit the bill. Purchasing a new one was out of the question, so I started searching Craig’s list. It wasn’t long until I found a likely candidate, a very neglected 1988 Party Hut tritoon. It was a mess. Completely rotted out and literally crumbling, the trailer had 4 rotted tires and the engine was dead. Supposedly, the engine had a ruined transmission that would cost $2500.00 alone to replace. A new motor? Close to $8,000.00.

pontoon boat

The PERFECT donor was soon in tow behind me (after fitting 4 new tires) for a bargain price. The new resting place was in a pole barn owned by a friend, perfect to begin construction out of the hot Tucson sun. Luckily, the 90 hp Yamaha motor just needed some minor work and the tranny a simple adjustment. It ran great and had excellent compression. It took a year and a lot of “ghetto rigging,” but the Y-Knot was finally done and ready for trials.

camper set up on boat

Re-registering the boat was a simple affair, but I knew it needed an “official” seal of approval to keep the local water cops at bay. Certainly, they would find some way to keep me off the water. The stamp of approval came via a Coast Guard inspector, who spent a couple of hours studying all the changes and modifications (several hundred in total) that I had done. He declared it safe and seaworthy. My new inspection sticker mounted on the port side bow was now my “get out of jail free card.” My reasoning was simple: if the water cops had a problem with my creation they could take it up with the Coast Guard!

out on the water

The Y-Knot has now spent over 40 days and nights on the water, and Lake Powell is the favored destination. With thousands of miles of shore line and hundreds of canyons to explore (and excellent fishing) I anticipate spending many hours there in the coming years. I especially enjoy fetching popsicles from the freezer to give to kids, big and little, who just have to come aboard and take a quick tour of the “trailer on a toon”.

See more photos of the Y-knot by clicking on this link.

67 Responses to “My “House Boat” : The “Y-knot?””

  1. Carrie says:

    All I keep hearing in my head is Lyle Lovett’s song “If I had a boat”. The Chalet isn’t quite the “pony” in that song…but either way, great job! Very creative!

  2. Mike says:

    “Ghetto rigging”? Really?

  3. mike says:

    While I think this is super cool, if the owner isn’t living in it I don’t see how it fits onto this blog… this is for vacationing not living…

    • dave says:

      ’cause you COULD live in it year round, although Lake Foul (what the hip kids call Lake Powell) gets awfully cold in wintertime.

    • Mary says:

      There are TONS of posts on this blog that aren’t about year round small house living. Lots of backyard office spaces, etc. But most of them have something in the post that could be applied to a year round tiny house living situation. I like the creative thinking and problem solving in this post.

      • Zer0 says:

        I have a small apartment but I was able to use ideas from this blog to live very comfortably in it. I’m glad we have this space to share ideas together.

    • V~ says:

      actually there are TONS of images on this BLOG where people arent LIVING in the buildings at all!
      This pull along has more going for it as a full time living facility thatn some others that have been featured that dont have water, heat or transportability. There are people on the east coast, Connecticut for example who would like to have this for their home right now… glad to see it.

    • Diane says:

      I don’t think we should get too technical about “full” and “not-full” time. I know people who are living full time in spaces that were “part” time before, but have now become their full time homes after they lost jobs and bigger “homes”.

  4. alice h says:

    Just wondering how wide the walking space is to get out the door along the side to the end decks. It looks a bit tight. Other than that, looks like a great way to get comfy on the water.

  5. Jake says:

    Oh get over it Mike. ‘Ghetto rigging’ is a figure of speech, it’s almost 2013. I don’t think the author meant any harm in using it. There are plenty of other tiny vacation homes on this blog as well.

  6. Ron says:

    Picture #28 shows the walkway, it’s 18 inches wide. Thanks for the nice comment!

    • Ron says:

      Ron, you said that picture #28 shows the side walkway. I only see 4 pics in this article. Is there a larger article someplace or a link to more pics?

  7. Beverly says:

    I LOVE this idea and his creativity. Looks like so much fun and who knows where this might lead…maybe a tinyhouseblog reader will come up with a plan for full time living.

    I don’t agree with all the posts I read here, but I am inspired by ALL the posts in some way and the creativity that comes out in each post. Thanks!

  8. Ron says:

    I think the best way to describe it is “hybrid”. Not a fixed house, true houseboat, floating home, typical pontoon boat or canvas sided travel trailer. You certainly *could* live on it full time very comfortably. For me it’s most alluring characteristic is portability – since it can be towed to a destination. This can’t be done with most houseboats. The Chalet can also be offloaded from the front using 16 foot aluminum ramps and operated as a normal travel trailer. Something I’ve always enjoyed about this blog is people thinking *outside the box.* ;-) I’m still trying to categorize it!

  9. Beverly says:

    Love the idea of a houseboat. You made your dream come true and that’s wonderful.

  10. Christina says:

    I think this rocks! If you are familiar with Powell, Shasta and other “party boat” areas, seeing something this creative, fun and apart from the typical weekend barge adds creativity and ingenuity to this kind of vacation.

  11. V~ says:

    solar panels might be nice for the end ‘roofs’

    • Ron K Miller says:

      There’s 90 watts of solar panels mounted on the rear roof of the Chalet. They’re connected to a charge controller and then to 2, 12 volt deep cycle batteries. I’ve got enough AC power on board via a 1000 watt inverter to power most small appliances including a 32″ HDTV (which has rarely been used) and a DVD player. I do use the stereo a lot. It IS nice to hibernate inside during a windy, cold or rainy night. I can’t power up a hair drier, but then gain being totally bald it is not a pressing concern. Others use stinky, loud generators running for hours at a time to produce electricity. I’ll be adding a couple of photos at the end of the slide show in just a few minutes that show them along with the inverter.

  12. kim says:

    What an amazing idea, love the pictures. I had something brewing in my head as i have a 1974 airstream and love the water, so was great to see i wasn’t crazy for thinking up something like that. I didn’t go big enough in my dream, only imagined it more like a floating home, no way of moving it! In the end we bought an old wooden boat http://dovekie-dreams.tumblr.com/ which we live in 6 months of the year.

  13. Jerry says:

    I think it’s a unique and interesting idea. Kinda like taking the aquacar concept and applying it to a travel trailer. You can enjoy land or water equally, and with the vast number of lakes in the US, you could stay in a different cove every day!

    To those offended by the term “ghetto rigging”, or by the methods this person has used (be it the house on a toon, or leaving behind metal stakes), you migh better acheive your objective of getting people to act better by acting better yourself. Rather than attacking their use of terms or methods of camping, offer a suggestion as to how to be a better person. Those who read your comments will then think about it instead of reacting badly, and you will have acheived your goal rather than starting a war of words.

  14. Molly says:

    Wow. There seem to be a lot of negative and judgmental people out today. That seems like a good way to discourage people from submitting stories to the blog. Is that your goal, or do you all simply want to complain about something?

    • Michael says:

      I posted a link to this story over at Wayne’s Words, the largest Lake Powell website, and they were the ones who brought this mans selfish behavior to my attention. Just this summer alone, I know of two individuals who were helicoptered to a hospital in Flagstaff for severe injuries caused by iron stakes in the rock. One young woman ripped her abdomen open when she dove into the water and nearly bled out on the way by boat back to town. I myself punctured a pontoon on my old houseboat a couple of years back when beaching for the night when another iron stake hammered into the rock was struck by my boat.
      I can tell you this: when this “fellow” goes out next year there will be more than a couple of people keeping an eye out for him….. Should he should he risk the lives and property of others again by his selfish unthinking behavior they will have a polite discussion with him about pounding his trash into some of the most magical scenery on the planet and a abandoning it there.

      • Freth says:

        And because Michael read it on the internet, it must be true! He said, she said … where’s the legal documentation? The photographic evidence, complete with fingerprints on the stakes … etc.

        I think Michael was caught leaving iron stakes behind, was fined for it, and is now projecting that blame on others …

        What does this have to do with the rather creative project that allows dual usage of the chalet trailer?

  15. stpauligirl says:

    I think this idea is not inspired, original nor ingenious. It’s a fairly mundane, banal idea.

    In my opinon, Captain Ron’s use of the phrase “ghetto rigging,” coupled with the link to his photo of Eddie Murphy playing Buck Wheat, is freudian.

    Free speech rocks. My chosen response to subjectively defined, offensive free speech is alternative speech. Alternative speech here: “To cheapen the lives of any group of men, cheapens the lives of all men, even our own.” William Pickens.

  16. Mary says:

    Zosimof, what set you off? Building another space on the pontoon would cost extra money, materials and time when they already have the Chalet.

    As far as being the PC POLICE, in my day we called it jerry rigging or jury rigging for temporary repairs. Ghetto-rigging has the connotation of inappropriately done, so I do understand your point of view, just not your vitriol and assumptions that border on reverse prejudice. Do you want him to change, or do you want to be right?

  17. Jim says:

    Isn’t Kent Griswold the guy in Christmas Vacation”? (Oh, that’s Clark).
    I see his use of the phrase “Ghetto Rigging” has created a wildfire here. Honestly, I’ve heard almost every racial phrase in the past 50 years, but that’s a new one– ‘haven’t a clue what it means. Jerry-Rigging may have been what he meant to write.
    And, to all the SAINTS who commented meanly: I’m so happy you are perfect. Get a life and stop minding other people’s business, appointing yourselves the PC Police and stop being mean people.
    By the way, I’m from Brooklyn and “ghetto rigger” would be one of the nicer things (stylish and hip too) we’d call each other here (excluding the newer, sensitive and mean PC Yuppies and Hipsters, who are so caring they would not pee on one another if they were on fire).

    • Michael says:

      I am only PC and mean to those who would abuse lands held in trust for all of us. Pounding 2 or 3 foot iron stakes into National Recreation Area lands and abandoning them to harm others is not the sort of behavior that any of us should condone and has nothing to do with being PC.

      • Molly says:

        Michael, while I agree that what he did was wrong, there is never a good reason to treat someone badly. It is very easy to not condone someone’s behavior and still act like a decent human being.

        • Michael says:

          Molly, could you point out where I exceeded the bounds of decency? I never really thought that the words, irresponsible, selfish, jerk, etc. were indecent.

          Engineer Guy, I find both equally offensive. Had this individual boasted on his web page that he had dumped other trash I would have called him out on that too. The water level in Powell can vary by dozens of feet in a given year and those stakes that seemed so convenient and so very far above the water will be 6″ below the surface in no time at all. I am tired of paying for Fiberglas and aluminum repairs to my boats and stitches on my dogs because some moron does not realize that the lake water goes up and down. You try wading barefoot along the shore on a hot day with a cold drink in your hand only to lay your foot open on a rusty stake sticking up 6″ from the bottom in a foot and a half of water and let me know if your panties get wadded up…….

          • kotobide says:

            He also said that he used that rod often and would bring a second one next time to me that would imply that hes re using the rod and not leaving it behind as you are trying to imply.

  18. Ron K Miller says:

    I’ve never caused any damage or would even THINK of permanently leaving an iron stake protruding from a rock – not sure exactly where THAT idea came from?

    I take them with me, since I believe in leaving nothing behind but footprints. I even use smooth steel with a blunt pointed tip – not ribbed rebar – since it doesn’t cause any damage. I know a lot about this since I spent years technical rock climbing and have seen the damage pitons (which usually cannot be removed) can cause when hammered into rocks. Any crevices I used for staking already existed. I’m the kind of guy that goes around picking up trash left by others.

    Here’s the urban dictionary definition of “ghetto” rigging – which is just a simple take off from the more commonly used descriptions of “Jury” or “Jerry” rigging:

    “Ghetto” rigging is the act of fixing something, even though you do not have the right tools, knowlegde, or ability, almost always a crude or temporary fix.

    “Dude, my computer screen broke, and I had to ghetto rig my PC to my TV.”

    “Sorry I’m late, I was ghetto rigging my ride so I could get here.”

    I never knew there were any racist overtones, and quite frankly anyone that CAN ghetto rig I consider to be quite clever. (Thank you, Jim for enlightening our dear readers) While my modifications were far from crude or temporary a vast majority of them were done by re-purposing items that were taken off the old boat.

    “Jury” rigged is a sailing term, as in “rigging” the mast or sails after a critical component may have failed. Bailing wire and duct tape come in handy.

    “Jerry” rigged is a Slap at German’s at the end of WWII, Nazi’s to be exact…when they started to run out of supplies and needed to “fix” things.

    Pick your victim: PC Yuppies, lawyers or Nazis. Someone will always be highly offended if they dig hard enough and want to advance their own narrow minded agenda.

    As for anyone that wants to start name calling – sorry, I won’t play that childish game, but if it makes you feel superior then have fun! Me? I’m too busy trying to figure out how to catch bass my next time out. ;-)

  19. Ron K Miller says:

    You missed the point of the ENTIRE exercise.

    Building a permanent structure on top would be way too easy. Why not just have a crane mount a pre-fabbed cabin on top…

    1.The Chalet can be rolled off the front using wheel guides, a 12 volt winch and 16 foot aluminum ramps and used as a typical pull behind camper. Indeed, during the winter months that is EXACTLY how it is used.

    It takes about an hour by myself to load or unload from start to finish. Half the time with two people. It is completely independent of the boat.

    2.The boat can then be used as a “typical” day use pontoon boat if wanted, and you can bring along 15 of your friends for a party instead of the trailer. That’s the capacity as certified by the Coast Guard.

    Unfortunately, no beer for you!

    • MaryJ says:

      Hi Ron, you’re a clever boy – and I bet your wife is very happy she picked you :))

      I love the idea that you can do so much with your Chalet Trailer with the addition of the pontoon. Twice the holiday and home options for you and your family to enjoy. Happy trails and sails.

  20. Engineer Guy says:

    *Sigh* Had to wade through all the ‘dis here once again to pluck out the interesting Posts. We’re near the gorgeous Eldorado Canyon just South of Boulder CO; favored by Rock Climbers. The ‘Ethics’ all around are to drive in the fewest Pitons for all Rock Climbers to clip onto at critical climbing points and – gasp – leave those Pitons. It prevents hammering redundant Pitons. In this Post, bothering to leave ‘low impact’ Rebar can be considered a good thing, but only to the non-PC open minded. I go to Powell. In the scheme of things, vs. redundant Campfire Rings built, or Waste dumped, a bit of Rebar that the next Floater could/will tie up to – just like the next Rock Climber around here – is a ‘neutral’ thing. And, I’m a nut on ‘leaving it as I found it’. In other News, I thought this Hybrid was creative and brilliant in the ‘out of the Box’ thinking. Not to mention the sweet Solar setup that avoids an obnoxious Generator. There’s Folks hauling around small Houseboats and using them as dry Land RVs in the off Season. This creative Rig could also be a Snow Bird Rig hauled Seasonally to warm climes, and COULD be lived in/on. Well done, Sir! Kiss off the ‘Panties In A Wad’ Critics.

  21. Engineer Guy says:

    I would be remiss in not mentioning one other Powell Story. When the Lake Water level starting dropping quickly a few years ago, new Canyons – no longer under Water – were accessible. Some sections could even be waded across in small Canyons IF you did your Recon and knew Water level depths. By one of the Boat Launches/Docks, like Bullfrog, what turned up? HUNDREDS of +12 VDC Batteries dumped irresponsibly by ta da – big Houseboats. Hmmm… That behavior of dumping Sulphuric Acid into Powell to kill Fish and the local Ecosystem, or a bit of Rebar pounded in and left? You decide what’s more ‘egregious’.

  22. Ron K Miller says:

    That’s just plain made up baloney. I NEVER would leave stakes pounded into rocks, that is VERY irresponsible, not to mention dangerous. Where did you learn of this supposed “habit”? Indeed I needed to take them with me for the next anchorage. They’re easy to take out by gently tapping on them and rocking them side to side. I only used existing crevices, no damage was done except for perhaps a few grains of sand being dislodged. Please, get your facts straight before you start accusing people of outrageous behavior.

  23. wanna be shed dweller says:

    Man, you guys get off topic quick. This is a great post, more interesting than most of them on there. If you have better content to post please post it vs critique others. This guy is creative and is busy living it vs talking about your dream of not paying a mortgage and living in a shed.

    Get busy living or get busy dieing.

  24. Chris Seibel says:

    I think your creativity is wonderful, and took some ideas from you, concerning materials you used, to use in our tiny home that we want to build on our own. Thanks ever so much for posting all your lovely photos of your trip, they were a true inspiration!
    Sort of a travelogue if you will!

  25. Dave says:

    Good idea, But after a few “Adult Beverages” woiuld you be able to get to the door without taking a dunk on the way??[:>

  26. JJOK says:

    Ron, I love the project and the creativity. The fold down railing is tenuous. I will look for you down at the lake to shake your hand for your efforts to leave such a minimal impact on the lake. A 90hp motor and solar panels on your boat vs the houseboat’s twin v8′s and generators running for hours on end. I also applaud your anchoring job with the 6 ropes. I have been hit by those crazy winds and have used a variety of anchoring approaches to keep my family safe including stakes that I remove and take with us. In fact the lake Powell websites recommend using stakes to secure anchors.

    • JJOK says:

      Ron, I apoligize Going back and reading comments and see the darn auto correct changed my post and I did not notice. I did not mean “tenuous”. I intended to type “genious” darn auto correct. Great solution to the railing I want to see if we can do something like that on our little houseboat. This would really help being able to get around the outside, clean windows, attach ropes etc.. Again, great solution and great project.

  27. Feng says:

    If the blog owner says it fits in the blog … it fits in the blog.

    Fun, creative, problem solving, idea. Goodonya.

  28. handyhusband01 says:

    Creative solutions, well done. I like the ideas of reducing tow height and multiple use of the living quarters. Gave me much to think about. Trailering some of the houses on this blog would be fuel inefficient -requiring massive tow vehicles and restricted where they could go due to height. For Michael, your mother’s basement is not by definition a Tiny House. You keep dreaming while guys like Ron are living it. Frankly, your comments are not welcome.
    Rock on, Ron. Thx.

  29. Robert says:

    What the Blogger here has done is stirring his readers “creative juices”. We have also seen “Granny Flats” , mountain Get-A-Ways, Hunting Cabins, etc. In this case, the builder repurposed several products that would have ended up trash. Now they are renewed and certified as a floating small house. Nice job.

  30. Lyn says:

    Great fun! Enjoy your time with your rig! Always wanted to visit Lake Powell. If you can suggest a moderate way to do so w 3 kids, please advise. Thanks for sharing.

  31. This is fun and opens up all kinds of wacky ideas> a less than roadworthy Airstream on a pontoon….why not? etc…

  32. Rickey says:

    Thank you for the photos. I saw several things I could use. I really appreciated the pictures of you building it. I liked the fold up walk way. That was neat!

  33. Bluebeast says:

    I have been accused of not having anything if I can’t use it for at least 2 purposes . I like the original poster’s multi-purposing of the camper . While I think I would have built onto the pontoons I still like his use of what he found or had on hand . Well done .
    As for the dipshits that want to ridicule him for leaving trash (ie steel anchor pins ) Where did it say that he did that ? It wasn’t in his posts . In fact he said that he pulls them to use at the next anchorage . Geesh get a life .

  34. Maryl says:

    Excellent! Thanks for all of the wonderful photos!

  35. Carol says:

    As Seth Godin says, do it even if you think it won’t work. Think outside of the box… This is how creative ideas come about. Good for you Ron, you just did it despite what the critics may say. My husband and I converted a 20X12 well built shed into our camp. It’s a great place to hang, adorable and we consider our place a tiny home to get away. It’s all how you look at life!

    God Bless and may you enjoy your home on the float for years to come… Who knows, you may have created a trend for a new way of living on water.

  36. Danielle says:

    The one question that keeps running through my head is, how do you get in and out of the trailer? The door to the trailer is on the side with no decking, and no way to stand in front of the door when you open it to get inside. Also, isn’t it a folding trailer? How can it unfold with those roofs on the boat? I see more headache than dream here.

    • Ron Miller says:

      Hi Danielle:

      If you look a bit further in the pictures provided by clicking the link at the end of the story you’ll see the access at slides 8 and 35. The sides fold down and provide full length walkways supported by steel aircraft cable on both sides of the trailer. When cruising they are typically stowed vertically, or can be left down in calm conditions at slow speeds if desired. The Chalet’s roof is always stowed to reduce wind resistance and lower they center of gravity while under way.

  37. Bill says:

    It looks kind of top heavy, is it secured to the deck?

    I’ve seen some mighty severe winds come up out of nowhere out there. I’d be afraid of the whole trailer going airborne!

    Nice work!

    • Ron Miller says:

      Hi Bill:

      It does indeed LOOK top heavy, but the Chalet’s walls and folding roof sections (4) are made from 1″ styrofoam surrounded by an aluminum frame. The inside is a very thin wood veneer, the outside is a thin fiberglass matrix. Being an 8 by 28 foot tritoon with 3 logs (pontoons) helps – they are very stable even in swells. This particular trailer weights 2,000 lbs. A comparably sized and equipped Airstream is 3,600 lbs. Chalet makes even smaller folding trailers that weigh only 990 lbs. A much smaller double log pontoon could be used for one of these and would make an excellent “weekend” retreat. I went with one of the larger units for more space and of course, full amenities (like a fixed queen visco bed, refrigerator/freezer and indoor flush toilet) for extended stays.

      If you look toward the end of the pictures provided in the link at the end of the story you’ll see the tie down system, ratchets, 12,000 lb. test nylon strap and locking clamp that holds each wheel in place.

  38. Shell says:

    I admire you. You had a dream and went for it, despite what other’s might have thought or even said it couldn’t be done. Very very cool!
    Namaste

  39. Ned B says:

    Just read through your photo album about the build and vacation. Thanks for sharing that, and what a great job you did! -Ned

  40. Gypsy Jane says:

    I love it! Great convertible. My folks had a boat when I was a kid, called the Y-Knot, too. Loved your response to the haters, too.

  41. Jamie says:

    I seen that everyone fell off the boat. I like that you brought up the floating lil house perspective. I would like to know what you learned about where and what problems you had to over come to build and lie on the water? I would also like to know if you went with lake Powell first or did you try other bodies of water or marinas to get an idea of what you learned about the reality and difficulties of the house boat possibilities? I would really like an e-mail with what you learned from living on the water. Thank you, Jamie

  42. ezork from B.C. canada says:

    All you anal ‘mericans should relax on your P.C. B.S. get past it already plus” Pack out what you Pack in” is the Canuck way – try it – mother earth will smile ! as for the backyard musings over a couple cold ones, well I think it is a very smart way to get by the economic bs that is so prevalent now adays maybe more frugal ideas are needed in this time of wasteful spending. I’ll stop my rant now but
    please try to be nice on” Turtle Island” Peace Out & smoke’em if you got’em ; cheers to more beers !

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