Lake Powell Houseboat Tips for First Timers

If solitude, world-class skiing, and mirror-flat water is what you’re after, you’re sure to find it at Lake Powell. Lake Powell has over 2,000 miles of red sandstone shoreline, with thousands of inlets and beaches to stake out as your own.

My family has been making yearly (or twice-yearly) trips to Lake Powell for the past 30 years. We’ve learned nearly every Lake Powell lesson the hard way. From coping with a sunken houseboat to septic-tank overflows to scorpion stings, here a few words of wisdom to consider before going on a houseboat voyage your own. 

1. Be selective on who you invite

While people might be able to keep ideological differences, personality flaws, or resentments internalized at first, nearly everyone cracks by the third day under the American Southwest sun. Bring the people you want to spend time with – not who you feel obligated to invite. Loudmouthed Aunt Becky with questionable hygiene might be someone you share Thanksgiving dinner with, but she’ll make you want to jump ship after a few days in close quarters. A trip to Lake Powell is not a great substitute for therapy. Bring people you know you can get along with, and are sure to make happy memories.

Try to create a crew with diverse skills. Electricians, cooks, fishermen, mechanics, plumbers, and experienced boaters will always come in handy.

2. Go on a test run before the trip

You can pay for a one or two-night houseboating excursion on Lake Powell before your trip, where a guide will show you the basics of managing the houseboat. This experience is invaluable, and will save you both hassle and heartbreak if something malfunctions on your trip. Be sure to focus on securing your boat to the shoreline – it needs to be steady if a storm rolls through.

3. Get out of the main bays

Most houseboats on Lake Powell tend to stay within a short radius of the marina. It’s worth spending the time and fuel to escape from the main camping hotspots and find a secluded place to call your own.

Go prepared just in case things go wrong. The further you venture up the lake, the longer it will take for help to find you. A major storm once swamped our houseboat in Padre Bay, a short distance from the marina. Fortunately, help came quickly – but it would have taken hours to reach our houseboat if we’d still been up the San Juan arm of Lake Powell, where it’s much more remote. Balance safety with solitude.

4. Teach kids boat safety in advance

Lake Powell is an incredible destination for families, where kids can explore and create lifelong memories. However, Lake Powell is not the best place for energetic toddlers or children with a penchant for breaking the rules. Before the boat takes off, go over a few houseboat-specific rules like staying away from the props and running generator, and to always stay near an adult.  

5. Double check the gauges

The first day on the houseboat is hectic and stressful – so it’s easy to forget to check that all fuel tanks are filled and that the septic tank is emptied. After all, that’s what you’ve paid for. Imagine our surprise when after just a day into the trip, the septic tank was nearly full of strangers’ waste. The smell was so deadly, the only way to make it better was to duct-tape one of the toilets shut. Trust, but verify.

6. Keep your meals easy and simple

After a long day out on the water, nearly anything that’s served will taste delicious. If you want grandma’s famous 25-ingredient enchiladas, cook those in advance and freeze them for the trip. People tend to love grazing and crafting their own meals throughout the day and joining for a group dinner.