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Key West houseboat rentals: Look at more than price before booking

Key West houseboat rentals seem like a cheapish alternative to hotels, now that VRBO, Airbnb and many other sites list them. But it’s good to ask a few questions, so you know what you’re getting into.

Sleeping on the water is relaxation and adventure all rolled into one. Watching seabirds and manatees off the front porch, while drinking a bottle of wine and drifting off to sleep with the gentle rocking of the sea, are romantic lures.

But boats aren’t for everyone. Generally, the lower the nightly fee, the more it might start to resemble camping than a hotel room. Currently, you’ll find Key West houseboat rentals for prices ranging from about $170 a night on up. 

Key West houseboat rentals: These houseboats are on Big Pine Key, about 45 minutes north. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys houseboat rentals: One spot with several houseboats for rent is Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

This guest post was written by Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts, who bring a local’s perspective to their entertaining book “Key West & the Lower Keys Travel Guide.”  

Tips for evaluating Key West houseboat rentals

When deciding if and which Key West houseboat rental is for you, examine pictures carefully to make sure it’s not terribly run down. If they only post poor-quality or limited photos, it is likely a sign they are making it out to be nicer than it really is. Check the cleaning fee cost as well, as that can zoom up the price, especially for shorter stays. 

Confirm whether the boat is moored or at a marina. Google maps often shows a pin on land, even though the boat is actually moored in the bay. For marinas, it’s also important to check the precise location on a map. “Key West” can also mean Stock Island, which requires a car to get to town.

Consider boat amenities, such as a head (toilet), shower, air conditioning, refrigerator and stove.

If there isn’t a toilet, decide if you are okay with hoofing it across a marina at night to pee. Also consider marina amenities, such as laundry and parking. Decide what level of cramped-ness you’re comfortable with for sleeping quarters and if you desire outside hang-out space that is protected from sun and rain.

For boats anchored offshore, a.k.a. moored or “on the hook” consider transportation to and from land.

Most have a dinghy, but some require paddling. Think about your comfort with crossing the water in dark or rough seas and how far it is from land, both in distance and time.

Key West houseboat rentals: These houseboats are on Big Pine Key, about 45 minutes north. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Key West houseboat rentals: These houseboats are located about 45 minutes north of Key West at on Big Pine Key at Old Wooden Bridge. Resort and Marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Other questions for Key West houseboat rentals not at a marina:

Is there electricity and what is it capable of running, such as air conditioning and kitchen facilities?

How long is it capable of running these things?

How loud is the generator?

What happens if the water tank runs out, the wastewater fills up, or the solar batteries can’t charge because of clouds? Do they have an emergency plan for rescuing you?

Ask if you’ll have access to a marina or facilities on land, and if there’s a safe place to park your car, if you have one.

Most boat owners here are truly caring and upstanding hosts. But, as usual, there always a few bad apples. We hope this helps you pick the best fruit for you.

More tips for planning a Key West trip:

Old Wooden Bridge now a houseboat resort

Key West on the cheap: Tips for budget travel

Free things to do in Key West.

Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.

Best beaches in the Florida Keys

Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere

12 great kayak outings in the Keys

Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway

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Octavius Brent

Thursday 1st of February 2024

Looking to visit keys west off season (October/birth month) and stay on a house boat with full amenities, toilet, air conditioning, full electricity, and nice to decent decor. Hopefully there is a decent ocean view. Help me find and plan the perfect getaway. Haven't been on a vacation in over 10 yrs. Help me find a place to stay , and get me ideas on the activities avaliable in Key West. Possible 5 day stay. Least I feel I started planning early. If there is a honest travel planner available, would love to hire and communicate. . .

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 1st of February 2024

There are several houseboat "resorts" that have opened in the Keys. I've stayed in one on Big Pine Key at in Big Pine Key (about a half hour from Key West.) There also are houseboats in a pretty cove in Key West just as you enter the city at Hurricane Hole. Here are several stories from Florida Rambler about Key West.

Good luck!

Rachel Krick

Saturday 24th of October 2020

Looking for a house boat for two nights

Bob Rountree

Monday 26th of October 2020

As noted in the story, you should contact a vacation rental service, such as Airbnb or VRBO.

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