First of all what exactly is a shanty boat to begin with? To me they are small simple boats built by hand with commonly available materials that are intended to be lived upon long term as needed. They are not factory built. Each and everyone is hand built and unique. Some are based upon a design but always customized in some way to suit the individual builder. They are different from what most people think of as house boats in some ways and have some similarities in other ways.
They are usually very small as compared to typical house boats, and are most often built upon some variant of a simple barge hull design. Some are very crude looking – though not all, nor do they have to be, even though some dictionaries define them as ” a small crudely built houseboat” or some variation of that anyway. I prefer to think of them as small simple home built boats that can be comfortably and economically lived aboard on an ongoing basis for as long as one desires to do so. That means they can serve well as a stepping stone to becoming debt free and much more financially independent.
By the way some people spell it as shantyboat and others as shanty boats. The same thing with houseboat vs house boat, and live aboard vs liveaboard. I personally don’t care how it is spelled. It is what they are and what they can be used for that really matters, to me anyway. Shanty boats have a long and colorful history. Check out Harlan and Anna Hubbard for a lot of fascinating information. As far as I’m concerned they make Thoreau look like an amateur when it comes to independent living. He tried it, briefly – but they lived it year in and year out most of their lives. Also look up Bryan Lowe and his site shantyboatliving.com which is an excellent site with a wealth of information and pictures of all manner of shanty boats.
Everyone has their own likes and dislikes of what they think their own personal shanty boat should be. I have many ideas and designs that I like, but one that sticks in my mind almost more than any other is Retreat designed by William Atkin. Though it was designed long ago plans are still available today. Of course to make it truly yours you have to add your own little changes here and there, but in general I really like this little shanty boat very much. Something so small and simple could be easily powered with a tiny outboard or even built with no engine at all and then towed with a small outboard powered skiff or Jon boat when it’s time to move it, and for those really minimalist – you could even move it by towing it with a rowboat.
Imagine having a little shanty boat anchored out in a quiet spot on some river cove, lake or bay and rowing ashore in a light weight boat – maybe a small pram or even a skin on frame kayak or canoe that is very light. Then picking up your little boat and walking a short walk to your car, placing your little boat on top and heading off to work, or where ever you need or want to go. Of course the hard part would be finding a good spot to keep your car parked at to begin with – but it’s a challenge that can be overcome with some thought and a little effort.
Then when you come home, paddling back out to your little awaiting home on the water. Imagine watching the sun slowly setting while sitting on your little deck, sipping on a glass of wine or maybe a touch of Captain Morgan…
Anyway, the idea is that such a simple little boat could be built by you yourself in a few (or many) weekends with commonly available materials you can get from any big box store like Home Depot and Lowe’s as well as many others, for very little money. It is possible to build such a little boat with no “marine” materials at all, but I personally like fiberglass and epoxy – which can be ordered online and shipped right to you if you want it. Or you can use construction adhesives and deck screws also available from the local big box. It’s even possible to scrounge some of your wood from construction sites and free ads on Craig’s list etc. if you are willing to go through the trouble to go get it.
Shanty boats offer a very cheap and affordable unconventional housing option, something they have been doing well for a very long time.