Living Large on Lake Powell - World's Number One Houseboat Destination

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HOUSEBOAT IN NAME ONLY
Living Large on Lake Powell aboard a Canadian built mini-cruise ship


By Stephen Weir


BOATING BUSINESS MAGAZINE 3.24.06… There are sections of canyon lining Arizona’s Lake Powell where the direct light of day only reaches the deck of passing luxury built Canadian houseboats at high noon. Looking like Mother Nature’s T-square, the sandstone walls soar 200 feet straight up from the blue cool waters of the waterway.
Situated at the top of the Grand Canyon system, the man-made lake, with its 2,000 mile coastline, is the world’s number one houseboat destination. In fact, the breath-taking beauty and the relative ease of boating on Lake Powell are credited with kick starting both the concept of five-star American house boating vacations and the luxury houseboat building industry in British Columbia.
Imagine an on-the-water vacation aboard a 75 ft long houseboat that comes complete with central air, a corporate sized hot tub, a wine cellar and a theatre-style entertainment centre. Hire a captain and fly in a Las Vegas chef and let them pamper you as you fish, wakeboard, and take in the stunning scenery of America’s desert frontier.
It is safe adventure travel in the comfort of a boat that is more luxurious than the presidential suite at the Ritz. Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas rent most of the houseboats on the waterway, and the best craft in their inventory are built in Canada.
In 2005 Aramark, the marina management company, took delivery of a fleet of 75-foot luxury aluminum houseboats built by British Columbia’s Twin Anchors Marine. Each houseboat has a fireplace, waterslide, wet bar, 17-bottle wine cooler and six staterooms. Even though an “Odyssey” rents for about $10,000 US a week (fuel, insurance, crew, taxes, food and French wines are extra), the Canadian boats are in constant demand.

Twin Anchors is one of three companies in British Columbia who build and export houseboats to the growing US market. Twin Anchors is also the largest houseboat builder in the province and Canada.
“About 70% of what we build goes to Lake Powell, but, you will see a lot of our boats on lakes in California, Oregon and Washington States,” said Twin Anchors President Greg Kyllo. “Twin Anchors is currently the manufacturer of choice for 18 houseboat rental marinas throughout North America – we have shipped as far south as Puerto Rico.”
For the past 42-years, the family-run company has been based east of Kamloops in Sicamous, British Columbia. Originally set-up as strictly a houseboat rental company servicing Shuswap Lake, Twin Anchors began building its own boats to service its expanding business. It currently has 100 houseboats in its fleet and has two marinas on the Lake.
Twin Anchors has a 50,000 square foot factory where it builds 18 different aluminum boats ranging in size from 16 to 75 ft in length, many of which will sell in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The factory includes interior design and engineering departments as well as a full complement of trades people skilled in welding, electrical, plumbing, cabinet and millwork, furniture manufacturing and upholstery. Since it is located on the shores of Shuswap Lake, it has a test pond right on site.
“We build on average, 1 houseboat a week, but, often we will build as many as 6 in a month. Our production isn’t year round, we build for 9 to 10 months a year,” continued the president. “ Business is very good and we have been extremely busy. The rental demand is increasing and we are boosting our market share -- 65% to 75% in the Pacific Northwest region.”
The company is currently manufacturing about 50 boats a year. 90% of the factory’s output are used as rental craft, either at Twin Anchor’s two marinas (operated by Greg’s brother Todd) or at outfitters in the United States. Only about half a dozen boats are sold each year to private owners.
“The market has really changed over the past 20 years,” explained the president. “In the beginning it was the guys seeing the houseboat as a floating trailer to fish and party on. Now, with the luxury craft you are getting cruise appeal, people willing to spend thousands of dollars a week for a vacation. We actually hold a 3-day conference each fall at our factory to look at the changing business of house boating.”
In an era of rising fuel prices, the houseboating industry, so far at least, continues to be strong. Since many of the Twin Anchor boats go right from production into the company’s rental fleet, there is a built-in cushion against any decline in new customer orders.
“The price of gas really isn’t a big part of the houseboating equation. If you can afford to pay a $4,000 rental fee a 50 cent increase in the price of a gallon of gas isn’t going to make that much of a difference,” said Blake Tidsbury president of sales and investor relations with Waterways Houseboat Builders Limited. “ Most of our boats are powered by Mercruisers and burn 3 to 4 gallons an hour. For much of a person’s vacation, the boat is anchored anyway.”

Waterways Houseboat Builders Inc is also located on the shores of Shuswap Lake. The family owned business has 100 employees, a rental operation and a factory; it has been designing and building houseboats in central British Columbia since 1968.
“We build houseboats year round,” continued Mr. Tidsbury. “We have anywhere from 20 to 30 people on staff building 20 to 24 aluminum boats a year. Our year starts in September and our (2006) order book is pretty well all filled up.”
“Our predominant source of sales is California. You will see our boats on the lakes and the deltas all the way up the west coast,” he said. “ I would say that between ourselves and Twin Anchors, we own the Pacific coast.”
“There are Waterway houseboats on Lake Powell, but, for the most part, they are resells – used boats bought by individuals. “ continued Mr. Tidsbury. “We really maintain our own fleet of rentals and when we do take them out of inventory they are bought up quite quickly and often find their way to Utah and Arizona.”
Like Twin Anchors, Waterway continues to have a full order book despite the rising value of the Canadian dollar and the increasing cost of gas. The Waterway president reported that while some rental companies are cutting back on the number of boats they are buying from the company, new clients are coming online and picking up the sales slack.
“Our biggest market and the resulting most revenue is in the custom houseboat market,” said Mr. Tidsbury. “We will sit down with clients and help them design the boat that best fits their needs. Custom boats are our niche and we are one of the few companies that do that!”
The Houseboat building success story is little known outside the province of British Columbia. Because the industry exports more than it sells domestically and because their manufacturers do not market heavily in Ontario or Quebec, the houseboat builders have flown under the radar of the Oakville, Ontario based Canadian Marine Manufacturing Association (CMMA).
“The houseboat industry is a small sector unto itself. CMMA has no members who build these boats and to my knowledge little is known about the industry from a statistical point of view,” said Mr. Sandy Currie, the CMMA executive director. “ Certainly there are no known Canadian stats on sales.”

There are in fact, three manufacturers in British Columbia – Twin Anchors, Waterways and Vancouver’s Orca Houseboats. All three look to the US for sales and have exhibit and sell at trade shows in Washington, California, Utah and Arizona. The Vancouver Boat Show is about the only major Canadian consumer event that your are likely to see the Canadian built boats.
“We do try to make inroads into the Ontario market, but, there are different forces at play. Certainly there isn’t a wholesale willingness, yet, for Eastern consumers to buy into (five star Houseboating),” explained Mr. Tidsbury. “ As well, you must consider the shipping costs too. The maximum size we can build to meet our local highway act is 16ft. In the East, our major competitors in Kentucky can build up to 20 ft wide and it they don’t have to drive over the Rockies to make a delivery!”
Twin Anchors would also like to crack the Ontario market. But, company president Greg Kyllo takes solace in the fact that a million people a year visit Lake Powell every year and loudly lust after his aluminum houseboats. It is a safe bet that his 75ft Odyssey will continue to be king of the canyons for years and years to come.

CUTLINES: Top: After a day on the Lake Powell we parked our houseboat on a sand dune at the end a small bend off the lake. Photograph by Stephen Weir.
Second from Top: Stock Photo from Twin Anchor Marina
Second from Bottom: I grabbed my underwater camera and swam out into the lake while our houseboat steamed by (they came back and picked me up.
Bottom - We parked the boat and explored the desert canyon. Photo by Stephen Weir

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