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From the Boathouse: Houseboat now a true home

January 30, 2013|By Mike Whitehead

Ahoy!

Good news for permanently affixed floating homes. The Supreme Court issued a decision Jan. 15, in a 7-2 vote, that a floating home is not a boat, hence is not a vessel.

U.S. Code defines the word "vessel" as including all means of water transportation. The code continues, "The word 'vessel' includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water."

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A floating home does not have any means of propulsion or steering. Therefore, such a home is not readily capable of being used for transportation on the water.

I think Justice Stephen Breyer takes a common-sense approach. He wrote, "To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels,' even if they are 'artificial contrivances' capable of floating, moving under tow, and incidentally carrying even a fair-sized item or two when they do so."

Boaters, floating-home owners and thousands of others need to send him thank-you cards. This ruling will affect everyone who lives in a floating home across the nation.

This all began when the city of Riviera Beach, Florida, initiated a lawsuit against Fane Lozman (Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida). Lozman protested that his almost 60-foot, two-story floating home was not a boat (vessel), and therefore was not subject to maritime laws after he had towed the home to a marina in the city.

However, the District Court agreed with the city that it was a vessel, and further, the court gave the order to sell the floating home. The city destroyed the floating home after buying it at a court-ordered auction.

This decision by the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court's opinion will have positive effects on insurance coverage, registration regulations, owners of various types of floating structures such as homes, water toys, and permanently moored museums and casinos.

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