Tiki Bar Inspires Michigan Couple to Go Afloat on a Pontoon Houseboat
Sitting lakeside at your own private tiki bar, sharing drinks and steaks with your loved ones.
How can life get any better?
Jeff and Julia Kloeckner of Laingsburg, Michigan asked themselves that exact question one afternoon, and Jeff decided what the tiki bar needed was a houseboat.
I sat down one sunny afternoon recently to talk to the Kloeckners, my friends and neighbors. We sat on their back deck and enjoyed the view of the lake and their pontoon.
Jeff proudly talked about his pontoon and the story behind it, while Julia grabbed her photo album and displayed all the pictures documenting her husband’s boat creation.
The Pontoon Houseboat Journey
The 1987 Manitou Pontoon was built at the original Delta Township factory, not far from Kloeckner’s home. It was sold to a family who took it up north to Gaylord, and they enjoyed it for many years, until the Kloeckners bought it from them in 2009.
When the Kloeckners purchased their pontoon, the recession was affecting gas prices so much that they soon found they used the boat less and less. Their 18-foot, ’87 Manitou Pontoon had been sitting idle at the dock throughout the summer. The more it sat, the more Jeff pondered over what he could do with it.
He wanted to be able to use his pontoon for fishing and floating. Better yet, to turn it into a houseboat to enjoy at their location on Round Lake and take it to other lakes too.
Round Lake is known as Al Capone's hideaway spot. The current Lake view Banquet Center on the lake used to be a dance hall with big bands and bootleg booze.
Today Lake view is a busy reception hall for weddings and other gatherings. Locals on the lake boat out near the hall to watch wedding ceremonies, listen to the music and take in the occasional evening firework displays.
Fireworks, beautiful sunsets and star-filled nights are just a few more good reasons a houseboat would be fitting on Round Lake.
Not only that, but Michigan has over 11,000 lakes to explore. There are so many different things to do in and around Michigan lakes. You can check out the “Lake Effect” at Pure Michigan.org and discover the endless opportunities of fun things to do and enjoy. If you’re looking to camp on your pontoon or conversion pontoon, check out this pontoon camping guide.
The Kloeckner’s have known firsthand what lake life is all about and were ready to discover new adventures with their houseboat on Round Lake and other lakes up north. Thus, they began their own DIY pontoon houseboat project.
How to DIY Your Own Pontoon Houseboat
Luckily, Jeff had the capability to configure his own houseboat design and structure. His 30-plus years of construction experience and a jack-of-all-trades know-how gave him the confidence and skill to tackle this type of DIY project.
Less experienced DIY folks may want to use a kit to transform their pontoon. There are hundreds of ideas—some crazy!—that you can find online.
However, you really need to sit down and decide what you want for your houseboat, what will work for the size of your boat frame and the budget that you have to work with.
The possibilities can be endless!
What about adding a bathroom? Or a hot tub? Or even a second deck with a slide down into the water? The sky truly is the limit for just about anything you can imagine for your own houseboat.
Need some ideas? Go to Pinterest, type "conversion pontoons" in the search bar and you'll discover an endless stream of pictures of the most amazing pontoon houseboats, and houseboats from around the world.
Once you choose your style, whether it’s simple or a floating Jimmy Buffet theme, build it with passion and keep safety in mind.
Some Takeaways: Consider Safety, Weight, Capacity and Insurance
Conversion projects like this bring up a number of questions on transforming a pontoon into a houseboat. One question for converting into a houseboat would be the framing structure and weight distribution.
The Manitou pontoon's initial construction is ideal for strength and dependability. When you're adding weight and height to the framework, you'll just need some guidelines to keep it safe. The United States Coast Guard has a booklet to calculate your precise weight and capacity limits.
Manufacturers place a weight and capacity limit sticker on the boat at the factory. I called a Manitou dealer in Michigan and they recommended staying within the limitation that's posted on the boat, for safety. Adding weight and height to a boat frame can make the boat unstable.
Another question would be insurance. Do you keep the same coverage for your boat as you would for a houseboat? I highly recommend contacting your own insurance agent to make sure you have the best coverage suited for your needs.
How to Expertly Use Recycled Material
Jeff created his houseboat using recycled material. Lansing’s Cooley Law Stadium, home of the minor league baseball team the Lugnuts, had just undergone major updates and Jeff was able to use the steel sides from the outfield storage unit.
The steel sheets were used as the sides of his 8' x 10' houseboat construction. He used steel studs for the framework to keep costs and weight down on the pontoon.
He also wanted the boat to be self sufficient, so he designed a way to use solar energy to power a Minn Kota Electric 55-lb thrust trolling motor. Jeff added a ceiling fan to the interior for cooling, installed sunglass material for the roof and placed house windows on the sides to also allow light and air flow.
A screen door in the front adds to the charm! And the inside has room for their queen-size air mattress (for when the fish aren’t biting) and storage for fishing equipment.
On the front of the boat, Jeff has two spots to insert fishing seats. He and his wife can comfortably sit, dangle their feet in the cool lake water and fish to their heart's content!
I asked Jeff what he would like to add to his boat. He thought about and said, “A gas motor!” Even though his initial intent was to have an energy-efficient boat, sometimes you’re just ready to get back to the tiki bar!
What's in a Name?
On the side of the boat Jeff added the boat’s name, Lily pad.
Fitting for floating on their small lake like… a lily pad! Jeff cut and designed lily pads from a steel metal sheet, painted the boat’s name on them and then attached them to the side of their houseboat.
When I asked them what they love best about the boat, they both replied that “it’s one of a kind!” Jeff loved working from his own ideas and how the solar unit helps keep their Lily pad self sufficient.
If you’re looking for recycled building material for your pontoon conversion, check out Habitat for Humanity. It’s a great place to look for recycled items for your project and help your community at the same time. Habitat stores are filled with building material, cabinets, furniture and so much more. Think outside the box and find new treasures to go afloat!