If you’ve done the road trip, been to Italy, rented that oceanfront cottage, and waited in those Disney lines (not once but five times?!), perhaps it’s time to think about a new summer holiday plan for the family. It’s time to think about houseboating on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. Picture lazy days floating on the beautiful blue waters of Shuswap Lake in Canada’s sun-splashed north Okanagan region, sailing along in your Shuswap houseboat rentals in the houseboating paradise and capital of the world, Sicamous, British Columbia.
Our family had talked about houseboating for years now. After all, renting a houseboat is a great family-friendly summer holiday activity. It’s economical, accommodates between 2 to 30 family members and friends, and offers the chance to slow down, destress, and discover new places and spaces while enjoying the comforts of home.
We’re lucky to live just a few hours drive from Sicamous, but it turns out that people come from all over the world to enjoy Shuswap houseboat rentals. And you don’t have to be a professional sailor to do it either. Here’s how to plan a memorable Shuswap Lake houseboating experience for your family.
Tips for Houseboating on Shuswap Lake
Note: The Sicamous-based houseboat company Waterway Houseboats on Mara Lake is in receivership as of June 2019. But don’t fret, there are still several family owned and operated houseboat rental companies, including Bluewater Houseboats and Twin Anchors Houseboats, operating in the Shuswap area and in the marinas on Shuswap Lake.
Start Your Shuswap Houseboat Holiday in Sicamous
While you can rent houseboats in other towns along Shuswap Lake, Sicamous is the houseboating capital of Canada for a good reason. Renting houseboats in Sicamous means you get faster access to the four arms of Shuswap Lake in the north Okanagan region of British Columbia.
The four arms form a letter-H shape and are; Salmon Arm (southwest), Shuswap Arm (west), Anstey Arm (northeast), and Seymour Arm (north). Exploring Shuswap Lake system involves more than 1,000 kilometers of shoreline and 310 square kilometers of lake to explore. You won’t get bored finding a new beach, hiking trail, waterfall or even Indian Pictographs to discover.
The summer months of July and August are the busiest for houseboating in Sicamous. The spring and mid-August to October timeframe are less crowded, and the lake system is just as gorgeous. The sooner you can plan your vacation dates, the better it is to book your houseboat early.
You Don’t Need Experience to Rent a Houseboat
Not a sailor? Not a problem. I’m not a sailor or a boater, and you don’t have to be either. The video and live orientation presentations cover just about everything you need to know about houseboat operations. From starting the engine to tying up for the night and everything in between. If you forget something, there’s a quick tips cheat sheet and Captain’s binder on board to help with trouble-shooting. Plus, your houseboat company’s HQ is always reachable via CB radio.
Still, there is a lot of information to absorb, so it helps to have a few co-captains share the responsibility and houseboat duties. Our mother and son trip was just the two of us, which is the bare minimum to operate the houseboat. We were nervous at first. I didn’t want to float away during the night! But you learn by doing. We did it, and so can you.
Relax and Go with the Flow
Houseboating is a genteel way to travel and see the expanse of Shuswap Lake. You move at a slow but steady pace, so you can’t be in much of a rush anyway. It may take a day to slow your own mind and body down to match the boat’s pace. It’s actually really nice to not have to rush to go anywhere. If you want to stop in the middle of the lake, enjoying the view from the hot tub or to let the kids slide down the waterslide and swim, go right ahead. There’s no wrong way to enjoy your houseboat vacation.
That was one of my favorite things about houseboating on Shuswap Lake. You can do as much or as little activity as you wish. On average, we operated the houseboat for about 5-6 hours a day.
I’d recommend looking over the activity guides and maps to plan your daily routes, hikes, and waterfall visits. And don’t forget to plan which beach you’ll dock at each night. You will have to beach and tie down the houseboat each night – that’s a hard rule. Preferably before it gets dark, trust me on this.
Need advice on how to pack for a house boating holiday? How to Pack a Suitcase for a Family Trip
Get Off the Boat and Discover Shuswap Lake
Remember those 1,000 kms of shoreline? There are lots of reasons to get off the boat (just tie it up first) and engage in some outdoor adventure in the Shuswap Lake system. There are many beaching areas to access marine-only provincial parks, hiking trails, Indian pictographs, waterfalls and even a couple golf courses. You can get close to Shuswap Lake Provincial Park, but there’s no docking allowed. If weather permits, you can have campfires on the beach. Get a handy vacation planner and Shuswap trail guide here.
Take Turns Piloting the Houseboat
Anyone over 19 years of age can pilot a houseboat. They just have to view the video, participate in the on-site orientation and sign the waivers. It’s a good idea to share the piloting duties so everyone can really enjoy the houseboat holiday. While my son was just shy of legally being my co-captain, he did prove himself to be a wonderful First Mate. He was super helpful with navigating, trouble-shooting, and beaching the houseboat each night.
Lots of Amenities, but Bring Some Things from Home
Our houseboat was the ‘Jade VI’, a Mirage model houseboat that can accommodate up to ten people. Depending on the season, our houseboat rents weekly between $2,800 to $5,500. *Prices subject to change. Three day weekend and four day midweek rental options are available as well.
In terms of space, we had more than enough room for just my son and I. The kitchen in the Jade VI was newly renovated with a full fridge, microwave, toaster and gas stove. In addition to the sleeping quarters for ten that included several bedrooms with double beds and singles, there were two bathrooms, a rooftop hot tub, BBQ, dining area, seating area, television and fireplace.
So the houseboats are well kitted-out. But similar to renting an RV or cottage, you will need to bring a few things from home.
- All food items, including coffee, sugar, salt, spices and meal supplies
- Bedding – sheets, blankets, pillows, sleeping bags
- Towels – Hand, bath, kitchen and beach
- BBQ accessories, Matches
- Cooler, Lawn chairs, Kitchen supplies (saran wrap, tinfoil, Ziploc containers)
- Blender – for those frozen margaritas
- Fishing Gear/License
- Books, Games, Playing Cards, DVDs
- Flashlights, Extension cords
- Personal Medications, Sunscreen, Bug Spray
If you’re buying food locally, check out DeMille’s Farm Market in Salmon Arm for seasonal produce and organic goods; Askews Foods in Sicamous for local artisan fare; and Fruit World for seasonal fruits and produce. (Check out the ice cream at D Dutchmen Dairy across the street.)
Every houseboat has life jackets on board, as well as carbon monoxide monitors and fire extinguishers. Fireworks are not allowed anywhere on Shuswap Lake, and campfires are only allowed as bonfires on the beach, weather and fire bans permitting, of course. If you’ve packed alcoholic beverages for the holiday, don’t overindulge. Never drink and boat.
If you’re worried about small children or pets (houseboats are pet-friendly), you can purchase Safety Turtle alarms before your trip. Kids wear the green turtle wristband, which connects to a base alarm that alerts parents if the child falls into the water.
A houseboat experience on Shuswap Lake makes for a memorable, fun and affordable summer holiday for the family. Have you been houseboating? Share your tips below.
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Photo Credits: Waterway Houseboats, Claudia Laroye
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. The writer thanks Thompson Okanagan and Shuswap Tourism for hosting our houseboating adventure. As always, our opinions are honest and our own.