Dutch Language Blog

The Dutch and Houseboats Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Dutch Language

Holland wouldn’t be Holland if it didn’t had such a close relationship with water. See the dikes, the canals, the rain… It’s not a surprise the Dutch decided to build their homes on water as well, with Amsterdam as the main spot.  So what’s the deal exactly with those house boats, or as we call them: woonboten?

A woonboot is a collective term for boats designed to and with a primarily function to live on water.  They have a house number and a legal address, just like normal houses. In the old days those boats were designed for sailing, but that’s no longer the case. Still, some woonboten still have the ability to sail, although (almost) no one uses that function anymore.

We have different types of woonboten. The three most well known types are “Arken”, “Scharken” and “Woonschepen.”

Arken have  a concrete foundation in the water, with wooden, brick or buildings from synthetic material on top of them.

Scharken look a lot like Arken, but have a metal foundation and need to go to the wharf for maintenance once in five years. These metal ships are often ships that are no longer used as inland navigation ships. On the top people created a stone, wooden or synthetic material construction.

Woonschepen are usually traditional and historical ships that lost their function and gained a residential function.

Although living on a woonboot looks and sounds great and romantic, buying one is  different story. To begin with, woonboten are very expensive. Often the price doesn’t differ much from buying a house. Also, there is a lot of maintenance accompanied with this way of living.

Despite this, living on a woonboot is very popular. Therefore, local governments often reserve special waters for woonboten to stay. These places offer all you need, like gas, water and electricity. Although the Arken are the most comfortable to stay in and use their space the most efficiently, the government of Amsterdam prefers woonboten both over arken and scharken. This is because they are aesthetically better looking than the other two types.

There is a limited amount of 10.000 official piers available for woonboten. Because the government doesn’t expand this number, there is a great shortage of piers.  The license you need for a pier can be transferable when someone sells his boat , but this is not always the case. A lot of woonboten are therefore illegal. Even though the government is aware of this, so far they have decided to tolerate it.

Some local governments run a strict policy, mainly about dock charges, licenses, sizes and nautical issues. Struggles and fights between the government and the residents is not uncommon, especially in Amsterdam. Here, issues like taking away illegal boats or the raising of licensing costs are often a reason to go to court.

So just before you decide to get your own woonboot,  baby think twice…


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  1. Monique:

    Nicht ganz korrekt ins Deutsche übersetzt, aber interessant. Habe eigentlich eine Site gesucht, wo Deutsche (oder Deutschsprachige wie in meinem Fall (-;) sich mit Holländer auseinandersetzen – gibt’s sowas nicht?
    I repeat in English:
    the translation is interesting but not always right.or
    But actually I’m looking for a site for Germans (or German speaking Dutch like myself) communicate in two different languages (German and Dutch) – does anybody know something like that? Thanx!

    • sarah:

      @Monique Hi Monique,

      Thanks for your comment! You might also want to check us out on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/learn.dutch) and post your question there. We have many native Dutch speakers participating, as well as people who speak German (not sure if they are native German speaking or not). There are also people interested in language exchanges. You might just find what you are looking for.



  2. Hanna:

    Baby, think twice for sure – look at this footage taken at the victory boat tour after the 1988 European Championship Soccer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVvG-jfrTG4 Look at the the poor boats at 1.44 and 3.59

    And did you know that Amsterdam alo has an Ark for cats? The ‘Poezenboot’is moored in the Singel, across from the old round Lutheran church.