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Life on a house boat

It’s one of the most characteristic Dutch things you will encounter while living in the Netherlands: people living on boats. What’s it like, living on a house boat? Journalism-student Andriana Boyrikova decided to ask fellow student Bart Geerdink, who lives on a house boat at Hoendiep.

The bed is rocking gently. His eyelids are heavy with drowsiness. A sparkling ray of sun is warming up the bed. A small flock of ducks is peacefully floating onto the water in the immediate vicinity while the water is splashing mildly against the concrete. It is just another tranquil morning for Bart Geerdink, a 27-year-old biology student who is living in a houseboat at Hoendiep, one of Groningen’s many canals.
One of the most enjoyable elements of living in a houseboat for Geerdink is the way the boat rocks him to sleep every night. ‘It’s what they do with little babies!’

As a biology student working on his thesis, Geerdink is grateful for the picturesque and very green view he enjoys while studying.

He is more than happy when it rains: on a stormy day he tends to leave one of the windows open so that he can listen to the raindrops falling onto the canal’s surface. On sunny days, as other boats pass by, Geerdink gives a friendly wave and raises his cold beer to them. ‘Cheers!’ Yet, living in a houseboat also means constantly being vigilant. One second of being distracted (or being a bit too tipsy after a fun night with friends, as Geerdink recalls grinning) and the front door key can get lost in the water. Geerdink, however, finds all these dangerous elements thrilling. ‘When there is a storm, the lamps are moving. It’s awesome, I like it!’ He is more than pleased with his spacious ‘block of concrete’ and he cannot be bothered even by the rats that might be crawling inside the plaster walls, as long as they are not inside his home.

Romantic spirit
Living in a houseboat is more often than not associated with adventures of travelling to a different place every day. A short stay in Groningen today, exuberant Amsterdam tomorrow, and who knows where on the next day. Alas, in reality a houseboat is not meant to move anywhere. Yet, this does not mean that the boat does not move at all – during storms it can make a person seasick.

Once the boat was rocking so much that his girlfriend rushed away saying that she was going to study at the library

And this is what Geerdink’s unfortunate girlfriend has already experienced. Geerdink recalls, laughing up his sleeve, how once the boat was rocking so much that his girlfriend rushed away saying that she was going to study at the library. Can it get more romantic than that? Yes, it can: The noisy water pump which runs beneath Geerdink’s bedroom and living room always keeps him and his girlfriend informed when their neighbours have a shower or flush their toilet. But these are only minor drawbacks of living in a houseboat according to Geerdink, which cannot outweigh the joy he experiences during a stormy night with the wind blowing through the windows, the water sloshing against the concrete, and the lamps swinging inside the house.

No ordinary house
Houseboats are a characteristic part of Dutch culture and it is not uncommon for Dutch people to inhabit these cozy square concrete blocks on water. Yet, they must constantly keep the water in mind. Water can be destructive according to Geerdink – his neigbours’ apartment, for instance, is gradually sinking.


The essential thing when living in a houseboat is to always keep an eye on the buoys because even if only one of them cracks, the boat will start sinking slowly, consequently, water will get inside the cabinets and cupboards, which is the present situation in Geerdink’s neighbours’ apartment.


Geerdink explains that if two buoys break, the boat might easily float away. ‘This is one of the scariest things – imagine everything you have just float away on the canal’, he laughs with a bit of apprehension in his eyes. Because water and dampness are a constant concern, Geerdink puts moisture absorbers all around the house on regular basis to make sure that there will not be any mould inside his home.

You need to experience it!
But despite all the cons of living in a houseboat, Bart would still recommend it to anyone: ‘It is something extremely normal which you won’t understand until you experience it.’