Houseboating 101 (at Lake Powell, on the Wildwind)

Wildwind II from Moriahs Arch

Last update: November 17, 2010
Webpage maintained by Alan Silverstein, Thanks for input to: David Herberg, Roger Parmenter, Perry Scott, Greg Layton.

Note: I sold my share of the houseboat in November, 2010, so this webpage is effectively frozen as of that time.

Note: After finishing this webpage I discovered a related webpage with a similar title and overlapping content, although his is much shorter, which might be a good thing...



This webpage exists to distill and gather in one place miscellaneous "good advice" on vacation houseboating in general, and in particular about operating at Lake Powell, Utah, USA on the Wildwind II based at Bullfrog Marina buoy 501. (The Wildwind II was built in 2001 by Destination Yachts to replace the aging Wildwind I born in 1986.)

This webpage is "must" reading for new owners/operators of the Wildwind. Parts might be useful as a reference for seasoned captains, and parts might be of some interest to owners of other boats and/or on other lakes. In any case, I aim for this to be as educational, entertaining, complete yet brief, and humorous as possible.

Disclaimer: This webpage contains advice, not gospel. It's based on my 15 years and 216 nights on Lake Powell (as of Aug 2005), but I still learn new wisdom on every trip. (Hopefully faster than I forget the old wisdumb.) "Experience is proportional to equipment ruined..."

Contributions: If you have corrections or additions to this page, I prefer minimal flat text by email. Indicate if you want to be credited by name and email address, name only, or remain anonymous.

Other material: I have online but mostly not on-web a number of other personal files related to running Lake Powell houseboat trips. Here's one example -- a crew "orientation reminder". See also some great photos by professional photographer Erick Leskinen; look under Travel, Lake Powell. .

Boat Maneuvering

Contents of this section:


Driving a houseboat is a lot of fun... Slow but massive... Until you bend metal. Avoiding bent metal and hurt feelings is the goal of the following advice.

I observe there are two levels of skill in boat driving:

  1. Open-water boat driving from point A to point B. This is relatively easy and safe; also fun and easy to teach and learn.

  2. Close-quarters maneuvering. This is devilishly tricky and dangerous; hard to think and verbalize fast and clearly enough to teach, and never-ending to learn.

    Wildwind in Cathedral in the Desert For example, see the nearby photo (by Valerie Scott) of the Wildwind II in the Cathedral in the Desert (Clear Creek Canyon, Escalante) when the lake was down about 124' and the water was about 25' deep in the Cathedral. The boat is 62' long and 16' wide. Those are a pair of kayaks standing on the back deck. You can barely see the waterfall to the left, about 25' high at that point.

Here's what I can tell you about both kinds of driving -- assuming a twin-pontoon houseboat with one outboard engine at each rear corner, a fairly standard configuration at Lake Powell, although some boats are mono-hulls.

Routine procedures:

Unusual procedures:

Little boats and other big boats:

Anchors and Anchoring

Contents of this section:

Site selection:

After many trips in varying seasons and conditions we've refined mooring site (campsite) selection to a fine art.

Sometimes we send a ski boat ahead with a volunteer "scouting party" and a marine radio. In that case "the scouting party is the final authority" on site selection. Don't waste time on the radio having them relay parameters back to the houseboat for a remote decision. You really must be at the spot to tell what's good and what's not. I'm happy to overhear what they are seeing, their debate between "sites A, B, and C," and precise directions to the site of their choice, but I cannot determine by radio if site A or B is superior.

After many years we've gotten lazier and often just scout from the houseboat directly. ("Crew powwow! Tag, you're all now members of the scouting party! Where do you want to stay tonight?") This can be more time-consuming and frustrating, but we're all on vacation, right? Note: It helps to keep binoculars at the helm for this and other purposes.

Any of the following criteria might be relevant while hunting for a mooring spot for one or more nights:

  1. Anchor rocks, sand, etc: First and foremost you need a good location for placing the bow (pontoons on shore) and putting out at least one and maybe two anchors on each side. Typically I look for solid boulders, well placed for anchor line "scope" (angle) from the cleats, shaped properly for running a line around them or hooking an anchor over the back, and much bigger than you'd guess would be necessary -- in case the wind comes up. Fortunately most shoreline spots and rocks are much bigger than you would guess from a distance. They grow remarkably as you approach them.

    You must find some sort of anchoring potential on shore. Until they invent the JATO (jet-assisted take-off), frangible-link (explosive separation bolt) anchor, you can't moor alongside sheer cliffs. (Just kidding. We know the Park Service would frown on this, and so would we. It's just an alcohol-aided fantasy we dreamed up one evening after particularly difficult anchoring in windy conditions.)

    In 2005 I finally learned yet another trick: Place the business end of the rear anchor line(s) as far up the hill as possible so it's easier to slip a ski boat underneath it/them to tie up alongside (against fenders).

  2. Ease of entry, exit, and anchoring: Watch for narrowness, shallowness, underwater rock or tree stump hazards, and ability to maneuver well, especially if it's windy. As you get more experienced you can anchor safely in places you would never have dreamed of previously. (Pick up your beer cans anyway, OK?)

  3. Shoreline mud: As described elsewhere, you can learn to read the geology and terrain to guess where the shoreline will be rocky, sandy, or muddy. In particular I avoid anchoring in mud if I can. You're more likely to get stuck there, and it's messy getting off and on the boat.

    It seems a lot of people greatly prefer sandy beaches, but I don't. Usually they don't make for great anchoring, the sand can blow around and be tracked aboard, often there's more vegetation and gnats, etc. Give me instead a "sweet spot" with pretty scenery, deep water close to shore, low-angle rocky flats, and a few well-placed "bombproof" boulders.

  4. Water depth and clarity: The ideal campsite is a flat rock ledge about a foot out of the water that drops off sheer into the depths. This usually means deep, clear, pretty water for swimming, no risk of getting stuck, and easy walking on and off the boat.

  5. Floating smeg: We (ab)use the term "smegma" to refer to floating debris, usually natural but sometimes flotsam (sigh). We avoid "smeggy" sites if we can. But, say when you want to moor near the high water mark in the Escalante, you might choose to put up with a little floating crud.

  6. Wind/waves from channel: Generally do not park exposed directly to the main channel (of the Colorado) or a large side canyon. This makes you vulnerable to boat wakes, wind, and wind waves. Obviously we make exceptions for large, open bays, such as the usually excellent water skiing in the nearly deserted Piute Canyon bay up the San Juan. Also we worry less about this when the lake is not very crowded and the winds are relatively calm. An ideal campsite is more of a V-shaped cove with a sinuous approach from the nearest open water. Note: With experience you learn just how much bigger most spots really are than they look from a distance as you approach.

  7. Privacy from other boats: We like to be out of sight and sound of other boats if we can, for their sake and ours. I try not to encroach. I also consider whether we're picking a spot where someone else might come along later and encroach on us. Sometimes when it's crowded or you're in a popular location you can't avoid having some neighbors. (We discovered that playing Ozzy at full volume as another boat approaches to moor nearby is not effective as a disincentive to them, as they can't hear the music over their own motors. It's been suggested that full frontal nudity of crew members standing on the top deck might redirect some arriving trespassers, but you never know, even if you can arrange it, it could backfire.)

  8. Evening/morning sun: In cooler weather the sun is welcome. In hot weather it's nice to locate a deep canyon mooring site with shade in the evening, morning, or both. When the nights are short, the skies are clear, and the sun is up early to turn on the "broiler" it can be hard to get enough sleep. (Tired, hot, crabby crew are no fun.) We observe which way is north/south, based on maps and GPS compass, where the sun looks like it's setting, etc. A lot of skill and guesswork goes into shady site selection, and we have fun debating and even "betting" on what time the sun will set or rise on the boat.

  9. Flash flood and rockfall hazards: Spots that put you directly under a dryfall are rare, but I avoid parking in them anyway, just in case. Rockfall is a greater concern. More and more I am less and less comfortable spending a night below any boulders or cliff faces that show even a remote chance of ruining my sleep. Rockfalls are geologically rare at the lake, yet we have witnessed a few big ones and heard of them from others. They are especially unnaturally frequent in places where the Chinle is exposed and the sandstone above has been undercut by the lake.

  10. Daylight remaining: Every day there's a theoretical "reachable radius" of places you can drive to before dark. This becomes less theoretical when you have under an hour of daylight and you're still motoring. Being on vacation often means late starts and lazy days, consequently "pushing daylight" to find a mooring site in the evening. Daylight remaining for driving, hiking, or skiing is the main reason I pay attention to clock time at the lake.

    As captain it's your responsibility to know how long remains until you'd better be moored, and to have some primary and backup anchoring sites in mind if it's getting late. As I've gained experience I've gotten more comfortable with pushing this limit, but I really want at least one solid anchor out on each side before I need a headlamp.

  11. Hiking potential: It's possible to anchor in a spot where getting off the boat is limited to the reach of the anchor lines. These sites are obviously less fun than those which invite exploration afoot. Often we choose a spot primarily to set us up for a great evening or morning hike. See also my webpage on the subject of hiking at Lake Powell.

  12. Fishing potential: I don't fish myself, but I've been known to take input from avid anglers on board... At least if they are well behaved and don't leave their rotting anchovies out in the sun.

  13. Scenic beauty and/or interesting location: Sometimes you just have to camp at a site because it's famous, interesting, pretty, or gives access to a particular hike. Perhaps with rock overhead in a "sound cave", or maybe in a deep canyon, sometimes with a clear view of sun or moon rise or set across a mile or more of open water. (For example, in June 2005 we perfectly nailed a site near the Rincon with a spectacular view of a post-sunset three-planet conjunction. The planets set during our dinner on the roof, at the lowest point on our horizon, about three miles away downstream towards Bowns Canyon.)

All of the above suggests that site selection is difficult and limiting. Yet I calculate that in 226 nights on the lake I moored the boat in 162 different spots. Certainly some sites were very sweet while others were merely adequate, but the point is that it's a huge lake with thousands of miles of shoreline and lots of fine choices.

Anchors type:

All four anchors on the Wildwind II are 22-pound Danforths with two "fangs" and a center "tang", designed for drag-anchoring on a muddy ocean or lake bottom, and later raising by pulling straight up over them. Of course that's not how we use them at Lake Powell where the waterways are narrow and the bottoms are complex. We carry the anchors ashore and set them in rocks or sand.

Note: Heavier anchors (like 40-pound) may be desirable for sea anchoring, but at Lake Powell it's not the weight that matters, it's all in the technique, and people can get hurt hauling heavier anchors on loose rocks.

Anchor/line technique:

I recommend the following, assuming a houseboat like the Wildwind II with a wide cabin and thus very narrow "mousewalks" and weak handrails on each side...

When anchoring:

Some precautions:

When de-anchoring:

Reverse the above procedure. If winds are calm or steady and/or the pontoons are solidly grounded, I defer firing up an engine until necessary, before pulling the last (upwind) anchor, or in some ideal cases, not until all anchors and lines are in.

Only after the front person secures the end of the line (now decoupled from the anchor) to a front cleat does the rear person pull in the rest of the slack, dumping it into a bucket, and then flop the line up onto the side of the boat, inboard of the cleats, for travel.

On-Water Boat Anchoring Tips

See the related article on this topic.

What if the boat is stuck?

This is a routine occurrence, don't panic, and be patient. The procedure is as follows...

  1. Straight back: Try backing straight out with both engines. Give this a moment to see if the prop wash might clear some mud or sand from under the pontoons.

  2. Swing back: Turn the wheel left and right to the limits while backing. Of course check first for underwater hazards off to the sides near the rear of the boat! Keep watching to see if you start to move back.

    Note: Never force the limit on the steering wheel. In fact after you find the limit, come off it a little bit to take pressure off the system.

  3. Scissor forward: OK, that didn't work, you're a little bit stuck, now what? If only one pontoon is mired and you have space to swing and it seems reasonable, try driving forward while turning so the other pontoon contacts the shore. The idea is not to get the other pontoon stuck too, but to "scissor" the boat off. This works remarkably well, sometimes. It helps to have someone stand on shore watching and relaying what they see... "Left pontoon is about to hit, OK both are on now, gun it, the right pontoon is starting to come free, now back off... I said back off... Not forward! Hello? Is anyone at the helm?"

  4. Weight to rear: Next, have all spare crew, dogs, and if necessary large pieces of luggage, go stand on the swim deck. (Early in the week you might want to haul those 20 cases of beer to the rear.) This can rebalance the boat so it floats off gently in reverse.

  5. Lift and push: If feasible and necessary, have one or more of the crew get off the front and push while you reverse, with the rest of the crew on the stern. Note: You can lift and push better if you put your back toward the boat.

    After they get you free, smile and wave to your lost crewmembers as you drift away gracefully and they struggle to free their legs from the knee-deep mud.

  6. Get a lever: Try using the sand anchor pins (metal fence posts) at the fronts of the pontoons to pry the boat along. "Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will break my lever!" (Well, try not to bend them anyway.) (Credit David Herberg for this idea.)

  7. Make a wave: Desperation time: If possible have a ski boat make a high-speed, inefficient pass across the stern while you reverse straight back. A large wave can unstick you.

  8. Pull it off: Still stuck? Now it gets nasty. Have a ski boat attach a line to a solid point at the stern and try to pull you free while you reverse. Be very careful about this. Lines break and snap back, metal bends and breaks, lines sink (even floating lines) and foul a prop, the houseboat can some free suddenly and start to fly back, the ski boat motor can overheat, etc. This is nearly a last resort and it never works as easily as you expect. Communications alone are difficult.

  9. Dig it out: Still stuck? Whoever got you stuck in the first place, hand them a teaspoon and a snorkel and tell them to go dig out the pontoon... We've never actually had to do this. (OK, in truth, one time I tried, and it didn't work! And I had to go back to "pull it off", which eventually did work.)

  10. Call for help: In extreme cases, which we have heard about but never had happen to our boat, ask ARAMark Executive Services to help you. They have winch boats and other tools available -- for a price. If the lake level is dropping, don't delay!

Anchoring Little Boats:

I received email from a reader who wrote, and to which I replied, for whatever it's worth to repeat here:

Me and the guys that share the week on our houseboat are sick of trying to figure out how to anchor our ski boats and were wondering if you have any suggestions. So, let me tell you what we have tried so far and the problems that we have had with them. First we tried tying off to the houseboat anchor lines, and until the houseboat attacked the ski boat this was a good idea, it also makes it difficult to adjust the anchor lines. Second we tried tying off to the stern of the houseboat which worked great but it kind of ties up the swim platform, and lastly we tried a separate anchor line that never caught a hold of anything and just kind of drug along the bottom until the boat was ashore (wrong type of anchor?)

Wrong kind of bottom (grin). For example, Danforth-style anchors like we use on the houseboat for boulders on shore are designed for flat, muddy ocean or lake bottoms. Powell is too rocky and irregular, in fact you'd risk trapping an anchor underwater and having to cut it free.

And he also wrote,

This year, if we can't figure anything out we have decided to just drink enough at night that we don't care and wave to our boats as they drift off, and in the morning start the hunt...

After I stopped laughing out loud, I added the following:

Maybe I didn't make it clear that we tie up 1-2 ski boats alongside the rear end of the houseboat (on the sides, not on the back) whenever the houseboat is anchored and they are not in use. To do this we hang 2-3 fenders (usually 3) alongside so their bottoms are at the right height, seems to be just touching the water. Then the ski boat is tied fore and aft to points ahead and behind of it on the houseboat, against the fenders. The fenders remain tied in place all week -- with pains taken to tied them well so they can't come loose and be lost (happens too often).

At least on our houseboat, this makes it pretty easy to get on and off the ski boat while it's tied up, through rear deck side gates. Also it's secure enough except in rare conditions of huge wind/waves, such as on a big open bay. Sometimes we even move the houseboat (slowly) with a ski boat or two tied up this way, such as backing out from shore and turning around, then we put the little boat out on tow for travel. (More often though, the ski boat owner jumps in and motors out of the way to wait while we maneuver.)

Naturally we are careful not to let the houseboat break loose in the wind and swing toward shore crunching a little boat (grin).

Usually at the start of our week we prepare a bow and stern line for each little boat. These lines are left tied to the cleats on the houseboat and dangle in the water ready for use. (The rear line is short enough not to reach the prop.) So when a little boat returns, it's easy for it to come up alongside, with someone in the bow lifting the rear anchor line overhead (so they slip under) and pull in against the fenders by hand, then people at the front and rear of the ski boat tie the prepared lines to the cleats on the ski boat. Very quick and simple.

I've learned to watch for parking the houseboat such that there's room for the ski boat, and no rock/tree hazards. Also a recent refinement is, it's nice if the rear anchor lines can go more uphill (given a choice in a hilly beaching location) so it's easier to slip the ski boat under them.

By the way, I once saw a ski boat owner do a very cute thing to tie up a ski boat in an awkward place (steep slickrock) for a hike/climb we did to the Eye Arch. He tied bow and stern lines to shore, but to keep the ski boat off the rocks (without a fender that might slip out), he hung an anchor over the side, well down into the water, between the boat and shore. This acted like a spring that kept the boat off shore, with some tension on the other two lines. Also it wasn't a windy day.

Boat Fill and Dump Procedures

At the end of each use of the houseboat there are two dock stops required, either at Halls Crossing Marina or Bullfrog Marina, or one at each -- to be avoided if possible as it costs a lot of time to enter both marinas.

Fuel dock:

One stop is the fuel dock for gas and propane. The latter is usually but not always available at the fuel dock. Call ahead on marine channel 16 to ask them (or go directly to Executive Services on channel 10).

Sometimes they say, "we can only swap propane bottles." Avoid this if possible. If you have no other choice, ensure you get back bottles at least as new and good as the ones you lost. We've received "dead" bottles with expired date codes!

At the fuel dock there are permanent tie lines. I recommend tying up along the left side (see below). It's best to be sideways rather than bow-in at the fuel dock for easier filling of rear (engine) tanks -- run the gas hoses across the bow or stern and not down the catwalks (ouch) or through the cabin (yikes!)

Propane: Turn off the propane (both bottles) and the electrical master switch (in the hallway), and close all windows and doors. Disconnect propane tank(s) that need filling and get them out on the dock ASAP as this can take some time. The dock person should haul them from the boat to fill them, and later return them.

Fuel: The keys usually found over the helm should include a gas/sewage cap "key", a black plastic part with two prongs. Fill one to four fuel tanks as needed. The rear (main) tanks are easy to reach, and so is the front (toy) tank on the dock side, but the front tank on the opposite side is tough. For this reason I like to draw from the left toy tank first and avoid the right one if I can. If you must fill the front tank on the outside it's helpful to have a ski boat come up alongside to do it. Attempting to hang off the rail can dump you in the lake where the monster mutant carp will probably eat you.

When the propane bottle(s) return, attach them securely to the hoses. Turn the selector lever to one bottle or the other, open that one, and leave the other closed. (Ensure you have the hoses uncrossed so the selector valve works logically.) Note: In cold weather don't panic if it takes 15 minutes or more for propane pressure to build up and the gauge to show green after opening a bottle.

I tip the fuel dock operator $5 if they are helpful, more if they are cute, I mean, if they save any of my crew from the carp.

Pumpout dock:

The other stop is the pumpout dock for sewage out and fresh water in. Note: There is often fresh water available at the fuel dock too; we have filled up there when it wasn't working at the pumpout dock.

At the pumpout dock you must put the right side by the dock, that's where the outlets are, and you must supply your own tie-up lines, so have them ready. Consider wind direction... It's helpful if the wind pushes you sideways into the dock instead of away from it. Also beware using anything but the end of the dock or the outer slips, as the inner slips are not deep enough -- the water/sewage ports end up out of reach beyond the end of the dock. (Ask me how I discovered this... grin)

Snag (tie to) one end or the other of the boat, take up the slack, and then tie the other end. Be sure the lines work against each other, holding the boat securely, and not in the same direction...

Fresh water can take a while so get it going first. The key to the filler door should be over the helm. Use the garden hose stored in the back closet. It's screwed to itself when stored, to keep the inside clean, please leave it that way. Screw one end onto the "FW" tap on the dock, flush the hose with fresh water into the lake, then stick the open end into the opening under the filler door. Do not screw it into the "shore pressurization" threaded hole, that accomplishes nothing.

Fill until water spurts out of the hole. Check under the front bunk that the main tank is full. Then run the hose in through the rear bunk window and across to the second (smaller) tank under the rear left bunk. The skirt hinges up and can be propped open on a box or something. You can screw the hose into the fill point on the second tank, but keep an eye on it so you don't overfill and blow the tank.

The two tanks are passively connected below the floor, but the water line diameter is so small it takes "forever" to fill one tank from the other... Hence the two separate fill points.

When you're done, drain the water out of the garden hose, coil it up, and screw the ends together before storing it.

Note: One owner thinks the proximity of the fresh water inlet and the sewage outlet is a cross-infection risk. Use your own judgement and do whatever you think is necessary to avoid any tainted water getting into the fresh water tank.

Sewage can also take a surprisingly long time. First turn off the lake water pump (by the sink) and open any cold lakewater tap to depressurize the system. This both saves batteries and makes it possible to look into the rear toilet's hole later with a flashlight.

Pull out a red lakewater hose from the reel on the dock. Run it in through the front stateroom window to the forward bathroom. Open the toilet valve, stick the end of the hose into the hole, let go of the toilet valve, and open the lake water valve on the hose. Start running water into the tank. Add lots of lake water to the tank while flushing. Have someone keep an eye on this end so the hose doesn't come out and spray all over the inside of the boat!

Back outside, if it's available and desired, pull a second red lake water hose out of its reel so it's ready to use to rinse off "whatever".

Now unscrew the metal sewage cap being careful not to lose it. You can put it in your pocket (seriously -- yes you can wash it first). Find a screw-in coupler pipe on the dock, usually at the base of a lamppost. After it's hand-tight, attach the white plastic suck-out hose to it with the side clamps, then use the hose to twist the coupler tighter. Press the start button on the metal box on the dock, pray, open the inline valve on the suction hose by the box, and with any luck you'll get suction for several minutes.

Watch the color of the material going up the hose. If there's no clear section in the hose, put the sun or a flashlight behind it to check. Amuse your crew with crude comments such as, "there goes Mexican night!" When you get a lot of air, turn off the suction hose valve for a while and add more water to the holding tank. Repeat until very clear water goes up the hose, followed by mostly air. Also look down into the rear toilet's hole with a flashlight and ensure you see a clean tank bottom. If necessary move the red lake water hose to the rear toilet after a while. What is "necessary"? You'll know when you see it...

Yes this all sounds pretty icky, but rest assured you'll get used to it and soon you'll be the best sewage sucker on the lake.

Again, it takes a surprisingly long time to suck out all the mess, especially when the pump turns off and you must wait for it to obey the start button again. Please clean out the tank well for the next person. Add some blue toilet chem when you are done.

Unstick the coupler by turning the suction hose a little. Then unclamp the hose and remove it, next unscrew the coupler, and finally replace and tighten the metal sewage cap.

What if there's no lake water available at the pumpout dock? Grab a bucket, tie a rope to the handle, dip it in the lake, and dump water into the toilets... Slower but it works.

Marina docking:

At both docks, warn all crew to avoid getting any body parts between the boat and the dock! They can get crushed.

Why moor opposite sides to the different docks? It's much easier to clean the outside windows while standing on a dock. Ask a crew person to take care of this while you are tied up and attending to the fluids. If they moan, "I don't do windows," offer to let them watch the inside flush hose instead...

The docks are relatively easy to find at Halls Crossing, somewhat harder at Bullfrog -- the pumpout dock used to be outside the harbor, by the boat ramp. They get moved around depending on the water level. You'll just have to find them when you need them.

Repeating myself a little to summarize (I do that a lot...) Think and plan ahead. Note which side has the water in/out ports (the starboard side). Also note the length of the boat, there are shorter slips we can't use because the rear end sticks out and you can't reach the fill/dump ports from the dock, and pay attention to the wind direction. The easiest mooring is with the wind pushing you against the dock, on the side with the fill and dump ports, or up your tail. It's much more difficult to work at the water dock when the wind keeps pushing you away from it.

Often these constraints add up to exactly one slip that is just right, and the others suck or are unusable. But at least on Saturday evenings at Halls Crossing we almost never have to wait for that one perfect slip.

Trash and recycling:

There are public dumpsters near the tops of the boat ramps at Bullfrog and Halls Crossing, (usually) along with a cage for recycling aluminum cans. Motor oil and lead-acid batteries can be taken to the gas station at Bullfrog. I don't know of any other recycling dropoffs at the marinas.

Engine Oil Changes

We have quieter, fuel-efficient four-stroke engines on the Wildwind II. The old boat (Wildwind I) had noisier, smellier two-stroke engines with an oil mixer. Either way you get to mess with oil sometimes (oh joy).

Oil changes are due every 100 hours, or roughly every 5 weeks at 20 hours/week of typical use. It is very important that we do these changes in a timely manner. Neglected oil leads to expensive engine problems. When the hour meters say it's time, please take charge and get it done, or ensure the owner coming after you will bring what's needed and get it done.

Note: Avoid leaving engine keys in the "on" position when the engines are not running, as this increases the hours incorrectly.

To do an oil change:

Boat Maintenance

A houseboat is complicated. It's prone to wear and tear and breakage. You'd be amazed how many problems are logged and addressed each year.

Brief sermon:

What you can do, beyond (obviously) trying to take good care of the boat, is to proactively help keep it well-maintained. This means if you notice a problem, write it down in the ship's log and report it to the maintenance director.

I know you're on vacation, but it would be really cool if you would be even a little more proactive than that. This means:

End of lecture, thanks for listening.

Tools in the lake:

How much did you pay for that left-handed spanner grommet wrench? This might cross your mind as you lean over the gunwale to tighten the boxcar prawn when the water below you is over ten feet deep. (My personal record for retrieving sunglasses is 33', but I had to use a weighted line to get down that far.) Based on personal experience I can recommend tying a string to your tool before using it on the lake. What to do with the other end of the string is pilot discretion. You might tie it to a float of some kind, or to a part of your anatomy.

Rocks on the roof:

The aluminum awning can rattle in strong winds. Bracing was added to reduce this, but some panels still rattle. We keep rocks on them to prevent this. If you hear rattling it means one or more rocks slid off, just replace them.

Cleaning solar panels:

We have observed that they do gather sticky dust. Simply clean them off occasionally for a solar boost.


If you spend money on goods or services for maintaining or improving the Wildwind II, please keep your receipts and ask the managing director to reimburse you for your costs.

Miscellaneous Other Topics

Contents of this section:

Electrical Systems:

It would be nice to have a drawing, but in lieu of that, here's a written description.

Power comes from three sources:

  1. Generator: Puts out 12V (I think), which is used to charge the house batteries; also charges its own starting battery.

  2. Solar panels: Put out 12V, also used to charge the house batteries. Good for about 6 amps (70-80 watts) at best.

  3. Engine alternators: Put out 12V, used to charge each engine's starting battery.

Batteries are in two places:

  1. Rear closet: Six big golf cart batteries, each three-cells or 6 volts, arranged in two series of three batteries each.

  2. Under generator cover: Three batteries, pretty ordinary except they might be "marine" types, but anyway they have 1/4-20 screw posts instead of clamp posts. The forward two batteries each start one engine and are recharged by that engine. The rearmost battery starts the generator and feeds many systems, such as the helm, throttle/shift controls, and refrigerators.

In the hallway:


The house batteries go through the circuit breaker panel to lots of destinations. They also go to a 120V inverter in the rear deck closet that feeds the 120V outlets and has its own switch. Not included in these paths are the engines, the helm devices (including especially the marine radio, spotlight, and horn), the refrigerators, and the 12V gas pump on the front deck. There are two self-resetting circuit breakers under the generator cover for the helm and the gas pump.

There's also a hidden switch to disable the gas pump, to avoid having to put a physical lock on it. Ask other owners for the location. Don't use this switch to turn the pump on and off, you'll wear it out.

So, to turn on or off the electrical systems when leaving or arriving at the buoy, use:

Note that the solar panels only feed the house batteries and do not help keep the rear batteries charged over the winter. Fixing this would require some complicated circuitry, involving at least power diodes to prevent the batteries from feeding each other -- so that one dead cell doesn't take them all out.

Also note that the engine alternators don't feed the house batteries. Sometimes people think this is a waste of free power. But actually it's a bad idea to overtax the engine alternators by trying to use them as generators -- there's no such thing as a free lunch -- this would put more strain on the motors. Plus it would also require at least diodes, or some kind of smarter charging circuits. It's probably simpler to just replace all three batteries every three years for about $40 each.

Engine trim:

The engines can be trimmed up or down from the helm or by using the trim buttons on the sides of the motor heads. It's best to leave them trimmed all the way down while driving. There is nothing to be gained by raising them, it just wastes energy throwing a bigger wake. If you snorkel underneath you can see how well the engines are hidden behind the pontoons... It's hard to damage them unless you run sideways or backwards into something.

Beware, due to bending of the frame rails around the engines, do not trim them all the way up, you can bend a prop. It's best to do the trimming using the buttons on the engines themselves.

Safety shackle at buoy:

An eye bolt attaches the tongue on the boat to the end of the steel cable on the buoy. This eye bolt can unscrew from the anchor shackle allowing the houseboat to drift in wind through the buoy field! (Serious bent metal on multiple boats.) So use wire (not string) to safety the bolt -- that is, keep it from spinning -- to prevent this from happening. There are pre-formed "safety pins" designed for this purpose, but plain old coat hanger wire is easier to work with and just as effective. The strings, if any, on the shackle and bolt are good to hold so you don't drop any parts in the lake, but they're not sufficient to safety the bolt.

Please store the shackle, bolt, and wire together, say, over the left front window (inside) where they are out of the way but easy to find.


I warn my crew that, "Nothing goes in the toilets but water, human waste, and RV toilet paper. Anything else could clog the works and that's a disaster. Ladies, wrap and trash any used feminine products."

Note: Non-RV TP might be softer but it's not recommended since it, too, can clog the works when you suck out the tanks.

I buy blue RV toilet (holding tank) deodorizing fluid cheap at Walmart and add some every day or two, just a few ounces, more in hot weather if needed (you'll know... grin)

Graywater disposal:

Maybe it's obvious, but given a choice I prefer to do dishes and take showers while underway rather than while moored in a campsite. This is not a big deal, just a minor enhancement for keeping the best possible water quality at your campsite. It also dilutes the graywater maximally for fastest biodegradation.

Note: I don't worry much about graywater overboard, even with dish soap or shampoo in it. The lake is huge, fish eat the food scraps, etc. We do prefer to wipe out and trash heavy grease or sauce rather than sending it overboard. But on the whole I'm more concerned about gas, oil, and sewage leaks than about rapidly biodegradable tidbits.

Obligatory tip of the hat here to the Glen Canyon Institute, which would like to drain "Lake Foul"... I'm a houseboat owner and also a member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, etc. If the dam were to be built today I would adamantly oppose it. But what's done is done, and the lake we humans have created is beautiful, spectacular, and special in its own right. Calling it foul is mere propaganda, as most of the time in most of the places it's clean and pretty, or at least most of the flotsam comes from natural sources. Yes, people do lose or jettison trash overboard, this bugs me too, but that's just how some people are, they mess up anywhere they visit. Delete the dam and there will be less trash directly in proportion to the fewer people enjoying the canyon.

Generator operation:

The generator draws fuel directly from an engine tank. (This might change in 2007.) You can start it either on the lower right of the downstairs helm, or by using the switch under the front cover of the generator box. In any case hold down the start switch until the light comes on or you are sure the generator is running, unless it fails to start after 5-10 seconds, in which case let go and try again.

Run the generator whenever the battery voltage is unacceptably low, say under 11.5 V, especially before going to bed for the night. Also run it when using high-draw appliances such as the microwave, vacuum cleaner, or front fuel pump... The inverter can handle them but the batteries drop quickly.

We like to plan ahead if possible and run the generator while the boat is moving, rather than noising up our campsite after mooring for the night. If we have neighbors they also appreciate this, in fact sometimes they float across the lake on inner tubes bearing gifts for us to thank us for being such considerate chaps.

Depth finder:

The transducer is under the helm. The unit reads a foot or two less than reality, at least in shallow water. If the display flashes it means no good signal is being returned. In particular this happens if the transducer hinges up so it's no longer level, or if it gets coated with scum (algae). This is easy to fix by wading under the front of the boat. (In November, however, you get about two minutes of working time, then you are a popsicle.)

The depth finder display has low-depth and high-depth alarms, but I don't find them very useful since they are hard to turn on and off. Besides, the canyon underwater is as rugged as the landscape out of the water and a depth alarm is not very useful. Far better to learn how to anticipate hazards and avoid them. Note: Polarized sunglass lenses often help you see "into" the water.

Spotlight, etc:

There's a steerable spotlight on the roof. The controls are lower left of the downstairs helm. This is very handy at times, such as for checking anchors on a dark, windy night.

There are also docking lights if you need them. The switch is on the helm.

The downstairs XM/CD player requires the "ACC" switch turned on at the helm. The roof CD player is always on, there's no power switch I can find.

Marine radio setting:

Keep it set to "U", not "I". Reset this by holding down the button labeled U/I for three seconds. (New replacement radio does not work the same way?)

Of course channel 16 is the emergency and calling channel. Don't expect to raise anyone if you are well down the lake in a side canyon, it's mostly line-of-sight with some extra credit for reflections. Bullfrog Executive Services is on channel 10. Fuel docks are on channel 9. We like to use channel 88 ourselves as a fairly "private channel" between the houseboat and ski boats, etc. You can get weather forecasts on channel 01 or using the WX button.

Note: "Bullfrog Central" monitors channel 16 and airplane UNICOM from their office behind the front desk at the Defiance House Lodge up on the hill overlooking the boat ramp.

  • Lock box:

    There's a lock box on the back deck with a back door key. Ask another owner for the combination.

  • Fuel pump:

    There's a hidden kill switch for the front deck (toy tank) fuel pump. Ask another owner for the location.

    Vacuum cleaner:

    Upright vacuum cleaner bags are type Z if you want to buy some. Beware sucking up wet stuff, we had to replace a half-full bag once because the bottom had rotted open (what a mess).

    Brooms and buckets:

    When storing brooms in the back closet please turn them upside down so the bristles don't get mangled. Note: It's OK to "hose off" the front and rear porches using a bucket of lakewater.

    Skychair on the top deck:

    The metal awning on the Wildwind II is strong enough to support the weight of one person. Just so you know it's possible (and it's a pretty cool option too), be aware that you can hang a "Boulder Sky Chair" or equivalent from the permanent hook I installed under the awning. Beware, though, letting boat motion get you swinging too violently -- when in doubt put your feet down! Also it's a good idea to tie the chair's hooks to the roof trusses as a safety so it can't blow overboard, and to set a bucket of rocks in the chair when it's not in use. (The boat is called "Wildwind" for good reason... grin)

    Sunscreen, etc:

    Some people like to build up a gray leathery tan during a week at the lake. Others ignore the subject and fry like lobsters (boil like chickens?) Wise folk realize that the sun is brutally intense most days at the lake, so they bring and imbibe plenty of sunscreen. Or smear it on your tender parts, whatever works for you.

    After-sun products like aloe are good too.

    An old river rat taught me the joys of light-weight, long-sleeve white cotton shirts and pants. You can buy them cheap at thrift stores. I sometimes wear them for hiking, more often when out for hours sailing or even swimming.

    Lake terrain and mud:

    The geology of Glen Canyon is relatively simple but still fascinating. The various layers have warped up and down somewhat but are still fairly consistent and "readable". It's worth investing in boating charts that include a geologic column page (I like the Browns' boating charts, but apparently they might be out of print) and getting familiar with the layers mostly seen at the lake, from top down:

    I just remember "ENKWC" for what I mostly visit.

    One reason for laying this out is to call to your attention a subtle fact it took me years to notice. There are folds (anticlines and synclines) along the course of the Colorado River, and they affect the nature of the lake in many ways that you can learn to "read" and predict.

    For example, where the Navajo sandstone is at lake level you get impressive sheer walls (like Iceberg Canyon) and often "no exit", nor even anchoring, depending on lake level. Where the land is uplifted enough to expose the Chinle you get a wider section -- Good Hope Bay, Rincon, Cha Canyon bay, Piute Canyon bay -- often ringed by shallow mud!

    Where there's Chinle there is mud, vegetation, and more gnats! This doesn't mean you should avoid the wider bays. The trick is to look for sandstone rockfalls from above that have "iced" over the mudstone to create sandy beaches, big anchor stones, deeper water, etc.


    Lake Powell is blessedly free from mosquitos. Thank the bats and the fishes. I never bother with repellent and I average one mosquito bite a week.

    However, Glen Canyon does host bazillions of tiny little gnats that are attracted to light at night. We've learned to sit inside while leaving an outside light on to draw them away, etc. They are mildly annoying at times, but harmless. Usually but not always they are thickest in muddy and/or heavily vegetated areas.

    My impression is that after a drought there are fewer bats. Perhaps this is because there are fewer tinajas (temporary standing pools of water in the slickrock) to support bugs that the bats eat?

    ARAMark services:

    We pay several thousand dollars a year to the Park Service monopoly concessionaire, ARAMark, to rent our buoy (and covered slips are even more expensive). For this cost we get the privilege of paying about $1/gallon more than land prices for gas at the fuel dock, along with other valuable services (only half kidding).

    In particular be aware that if you arrive at the lake without a car, say by flying in, you can call on UNICOM to get a free land shuttle ride around the marina. And if you arrive without a boat while the houseboat is on the buoy, you can ask at the rental dock for a free water shuttle ride out. Upon return you can call on marine channel 16 to request a ride in.

    These services are free but the operators appreciate tips on the order of $5/leg.

    Well that's that... Keep the pointy end forward and the wet side down!