Do You Need Air Conditioning On A Houseboat?

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Air conditioning is a common luxury that many of us take for granted… unless we don’t have it! If you are planning on buying or renting a houseboat you are probably wondering if you need air conditioning on your houseboat.

Whether you need to have air conditioning on board your boat or not is dependant on a few different factors:

  • Your Location
  • Your Comfort
  • Insulation
  • Water Temperature

For many people air conditioning is a must have but whether it is a need or not really depends on a few different things that we will discuss in this article.

1. Your Location

Have you ever heard the term location, location, location? It is normally used in reference to real estate but it fits perfectly here too! 

One of the biggest factors in whether you need air conditioning is where you’re houseboat will be at. If you will be on board in places where it is regularly 90-100 degrees or more than a houseboat is virtually a must have item for your boat. 

If your boat will be in a mountain lake or a river in the north where the temps don’t get much above the low 80s for highs then you should be fine just having some fans on board. 

I have some family that live in Colorado and their house doesn’t even have air conditioning! They have a whole house fan that they use during the summertime when it gets in the 80s and then they open the windows at night if they need to. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum I currently live in Arizona where we have highs above 100 degrees for months on end with July and August regularly being above 110 degrees. 

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Where your houseboat is located is a huge factor in whether you need an ac into on board your boat or whether you would be fine without it. 

2. Your Comfort 

This is a hard one to quantify but basically the temperatures that everyone is comfortable at vary greatly. Some people won’t be comfortable unless their house is 68 degrees during the summertime. Other people are fine with it being hotter during the summer but don’t want it to be any colder than 75 degrees in the winter time. 

Our comfort is something that is different from person to person and can even change over time. When I lived in the Midwest I couldn’t stand a house being any warmer than 72 degrees during the summer and I liked it being set at  69-70 degrees. 

When we moved to Arizona people were telling us they had their thermostats set at 75-80 degrees during the summer and my wife and I both thought they were nuts! After living in Arizona for almost 4 years… we keep our house AC set at 80 degrees during the day and kick it “down” to 76 at night. 

If you are a person who needs it to be cooler to even be able to sleep then you will want to make sure that the houseboat you rent has an  air conditioner on board and if buying a houseboat, make sure that it has a generator that can handle the extra load that an air conditioner will require. 

3. Insulation 

Ok so this certainly isn’t something that you will probably know about a boat when you are renting but if you buy a boat the amount of insulation or the type of insulation the boat has is important to whether you need an AC unit or not. 

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If your boat has horrible insulation or none at all, it will heat up and cool down with the outside temperature and won’t retain any of the cooler air from overnight which will allow it to heat up further during the day. 

When the interior is hotter during the day it in turn will not cool down as much at night and you will continue this cycle until the air temperatures drop again in the fall. 

If your houseboat has good insulation then you can open up the windows and doors overnight and then close it during the heat of the day and your boat will stay cooler. Now if it is 100 degrees outside then no amount of insulation will keep your interior comfortable but when the temps are quite warm but not scorching hot yet insulation can make a huge difference. 

If you want to learn more about houseboat insulation I wrote an article about which insulation works best that can be found here.

4. Water Temperature

This is probably the largest factor in the natural comfort of the boat, especially for any room that is partially below or at the waterline. Just because the sun is out and the air temperature is hot, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the water temperature is hot as well. 

There is a river near me that a bunch of people go tubing and swimming in that is cold even on the hottest days in the middle of summer. It’s gets its water from the mountain water runoff so it’s average temperature year around is 68 degrees! 

If the river or lake that your houseboat is on has something similar than the cooler water temperatures could have a HUGE impact on the temperatures inside your houseboat. If the water is 60-70 degrees then that cold will keep your interior boat temps much cooler than if the water is 80+ degrees. 

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This is the exact same effect that many basements will have during the summertime. Since they are mostly underground then the temperature in many unfinished basements will stay virtually the same year around since the ground temps don’t change much throughout the year. 

This same thing will allow a boat that is in colder water to keep the cabin at a much cooler temperature without even needing an air conditioning unit. 


For many houseboats owners, an air conditioner is just an added expense that requires you to run your generator way more often and in turn burn much more fuel. Most houseboats can have air conditioning via a window unit but unless your boat is in a place that is quite hot it isn’t necessary for many people. 

What many people like to do is open the windows and doors and let the cool night air circulate overnight while they are sleeping. When they get up in the morning, they will shut it up and keep a good portion of the cool air inside during the day. 

As long as the temps during the day aren’t too high then this tactic works good enough for most people to be comfortable without ever running an air conditioner while on board. 

As always, 

Happy Boating 

Matthew Robbs

I love the outdoors and especially spending time with my family. Whether on a boat or at the beach, my happy place is near the water.

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