Definition (per Seattle Municpal Code 23.60A.916)
“House barge“ means a vessel that is designed or used as a place of residence without a means of self-propulsion and steering equipment or capability.
FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
A: House Barges were defined in the previous incarnation of the Shoreline Master Plan around 1990. This was the City’s attempt to limit houseboats, and in doing so, they coined the term House Barge to describe a vessel designed as a residence but without steering and propulsion. This was the city’s way of differentiating between liveaboards on vessels and those living in houseboats. The 1990 SMP prohibited any new house barges. The definition was poorly created and allowed the development of houseboats with steering and propulsion to bypass the house barge rule. At the time of the implementation of this rule, there were about 66 houseboat style vessels, some with propulsion and steering and some without. About 30 of these floating residences became house barges and the other 36 chose to “vessel up” with steering and propulsion. These navigable floating residences became known as houseboats.
Q: What is the difference between a House Barge and a Houseboat?
A: With the implementation of the new Shoreline Master Plan in 2015, the difference between houseboats and house barges became significantly less. Houseboats (Floating On Water Residences) are no longer required to have steering and propulsion, hence it is possible to have a house barge and a houseboat appear to be identical. There are, however, legal and regulatory differences. To be a House Barge, the floating residence had to be used as a residence in Seattle Waters as of 1990 and continuously used from that time forward. The last House Barge was permitted around 2005 and the total number of House Barges is about 34. Owners of House Barges pay Personal Property Tax on their House Barge, while Buyers of Houseboats pay Sales Tax at the time of purchase and annual Registration fees.
Q: Do Seattle House Barges have to be verified?
A: Yes. The City of Seattle requires that all House Barges apply for verification and submit a fee ($62.70). With a completed verification, Seattle is issuing a plaque that must be displayed on the House Barge. The verification process consists of submitting an application along with photographs and sketches (More detail is available in the Floating Residence Verification Page).
A: Yes. Once your House Barge has been verified, you will need to display a Plaque on your house barge. This can be the City Issued version (Bright YELLOW with numbers starting in the 600’s), or use your own design as long as the numerals are at lease 3 inches high. If you are behind a locked gate, you need to display the plaque on the water side of the houseboat, or a place that is visible from the water. If you are not behind a locked gate, display the plaque on the dock side of the houseboat.
Q: Does my house barge need to be navigable?
A: No. Seattle house barges are NOT required and should NOT have steering, propulsion, navigation lights, or other common marine requirements. Since your house barge will periodically need maintenance, your house barge should be capable of being towed.
Q: Can I Build a New House Barge?
A: No! In order to qualify as a House Barge, your structure must have been moored at a recreational marina in Seattle Waters prior to July, 1990. No new house barges are allowed.
Q: Can I Expand My Existing House Barge?
A: Yes, however, no increase in over-water coverage is allowed and if the expansion over the life of the Structure (or its replacement) exceeds 120 square feet, then gray-water containment or a waste-water hookup that disposes the gray water to the City’s waste-water disposal system is required. Please see (Do I need A Permit to Remodel / Repair My Floating On-Water Residence?)
Q: Do I need A Permit to Remodel / Repair My Floating On-Water Residence?
A: Generally, repairs and maintenance do not require permits, however, this is a complex question and should be resolved with the local building authority. Please see Seattle Municipal Code 23.60A.20 for details on Shoreline Development permits. Please contact Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to determine if you need a Shoreline Development Permit or a Shoreline Development Exemption.