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All signs point to a good year ahead for the recovering houseboat market.

Sailabration houseboats are built in Powell, Tenn.

Sailabration houseboats are built in Powell, Tenn.

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It’s no secret the houseboat industry has had a tough time over the last few years. Economic turbulence here and abroad even caused several prominent manufacturers to close their doors. But houseboaters are a passionate bunch, and if last year’s sales numbers are any indication, these folks are starting to open their wallets and expand their horizons once more.

In this year’s edition of our annual “state of the houseboat industry” survey, we reached out to the segment’s premier manufacturers to hear about their latest models and consumer news, concentrating on those builders who have strong connections to the Heartland area. What we heard back was a growing sense of optimism, with some builders claiming that 2012 was their best year since 2008.

Bravada Yachts / Axiom Yachts
The newest company in our radar, Bravada Yachts, is busy reshaping its product line for 2013. Founded three years ago in Phoenix, Ariz., it focuses on the Lake Powell and California markets but has established a growing Heartland presence as well. The up-and-comer reports that 2012 was its strongest year yet, during which time it even teamed up with the Discovery Channel to film a houseboating lifestyle show.

The Bravada LT, GT, Limited and Custom models range from 75 to 85 feet in length and from 18 to 22 feet in width, with adaptable interior arrangements and sleek, glass-panel exterior walls. The models offer energy-saving options like solar packages, geothermal water-source heat pumps and ultraviolet water purification systems.

The builder’s value-driven line is the Adventure Series, measuring from 45 to 75 feet in length. By using a different manufacturing process and limiting changes to the main- and second-floor structures, Bravada can better control the cost of these models.

New for 2013, Bravada’s will introduce its first production houseboat line under the name Axiom Yachts. These “crossover” vessels blend the function of a houseboat and the form of a sport cruiser. Available lengths include 55 and 65 feet, with two floor plan choices. The two-stateroom model is open for entertaining; the four-stateroom model is more family friendly. A 16-foot beam and one-piece second level that’s put on at the destination will help keep transportation costs down. This bridge deck has wraparound seating, a helm station, wet bar, four pedestal seats, sun top and screening.

Destination Yachts
Destination Yachts of Montgomery, Ind., used the fiscal downturn to concentrate on product development. Its new Elite Series is “something not anticipated from Destination Yachts,” according to owner Sheldon Graber. Imagine a feature-loaded, full hull, custom model stretching up to 95 feet in length. Starting in the $500,000 to 600,000 price range, the first boat ordered boasts glass walls and offers remote control of a variety of operating systems via iPad.

At the same time, Destination is also focusing on producing high-value smaller boats for its entry-level customers and is confident enough of its future that it rejected a buyout offer last year and is looking for a larger facility. The company also recently introduced fiberglass pontoon models for saltwater markets.

MetroSHIP Modern Houseboats
Making a name for itself out of Atlanta, MetroSHIP Modern Houseboats is another relative newcomer that’s having success and adding models to its line. These vessels are primarily designed as high-end, “floating loft apartments” meant to be moored in urban areas — with translucent walls that seem to glow in the dark from the interior lighting. Recent models have been shipped to California, New Jersey, the Hamptons and even Saudi Arabia.

The brand’s newest projects, built on fiberglass catamaran hulls measuring 42 feet in length, will be used as hotel rooms in New England. These cats can also be produced in 8.5-foot by 26-foot trailerable or 10-foot by 36-foot deck boat versions. MetroSHIP is also producing hulls for other companies and for commercial applications.

Monticello River Yachts
Kentuckiana Yacht Services in Jeffersonville, Ind., maker of Monticello River Yachts, closed its doors last year. But then David Shaw, former vice president of operations, purchased the assets and started rebuilding. His first step has been producing parts and servicing Monticello and Jefferson Yacht customers, as well as offering brokerage services.

Also a designer with 40 years of experience, Shaw said his next step is to introduce a new product for today’s houseboaters. He is working on different ideas and hopes to have something under way this summer.

Pluckebaum Custom Boats
The folks at Pluckebaum Custom Boats in Prospect, Ky., have been hard at work performing maintenance on some if its houseboats and refurbishing others, including one that had been completely submerged. The makeover required that they gut the boat inside and out, taking it back to the bare aluminum, and fabricate a new radar arch, swim platform and window tracks before repainting it.

The company says it is looking to firm up some commitments for new commercial vessels this year while still keeping an eye on the recreational market.

Sailabration Houseboats
Sailabration Houseboats of Powell, Tenn., split its time last year building new boats and refurbishing older ones. The company says it has enough customers ready for a new look that it currently has a backlog of people waiting. The owners of several older vessels requested to have their catwalks removed in order to create a more modern, wide-body style with greater interior room.

One of Sailabration’s newest boats, fully loaded and measuring 16 feet by 77 feet, was launched in Nashville last year before the owner cruised it to its new home on the Illinois River. Another boat was built exclusively to travel the Tennessee River, with 46-inch pontoons normally used on wider boats, twin 135-hp engines, thrusters, a satellite TV and GPS navigation system.

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