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Boathouses, Icing on a Custom Lake Home

In Wisconsin, we are officially out of boating season. The cool temperatures earlier in the fall cut the season shorter than other years, and the boats are coming off the lakes. Many boat owners have their boats stored for the offseason in warehouses or garages, but some lucky Wisconsin homeowners are among those who have a boathouse on their property.   

The state of Wisconsin stopped issuing permits for boathouses over 30 years ago until a bill that passed in 2016 once again allowed lake property owners to repair and build boathouses under certain circumstances. According to the DNR, state law generally prohibits the construction of a new “wet” boathouse either on or over a lake, flowage, river, creek or stream bed. A “wet” boathouse is a boathouse built completely or partially below the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM). And, the DNR states that construction of new “dry” boathouses built on upland may be constructed and repaired above the OHWM if they meet local zoning requirements. Local zoning permits are required for any construction, additions or repairs to a boathouse located above the OHWM.  Further, the Wisconsin Statue regarding boathouses defines a boathouse as a permanent structure used for the storage of watercraft and associated materials and includes all structures which are totally enclosed, have roofs or walls or any combination of these structural parts (Wis. Admin. Code ß NR 115.03(1)). Given the laws and regulations, updating, building or repairing an existing boathouse can be challenging.  

If you currently own a boathouse that is in need of repair (either a wet or dry), you need to seek a builder like Colby Construction that is familiar with the laws and can take the existing boathouse to create the vision you have.  

When it comes to boathouses, every owner has a different vision in mind. Historically, boathouses in Wisconsin were built from the 1890’s through the 1960’s by lakeshore landowners and were constructed for the purpose of parking their boats and storing boating gear like water skis, oars, sails and other water toys. Some were very elaborate, containing living quarters, plumbing and electricity and used for entertaining.  In 1979, the laws in Wisconsin changed and new wet boathouses were only allowed to be maintained. Dry boathouses are now being rebuilt on the original footings or foundation if they are setback 75 feet from the shoreline. 

Whether the time has come to update your boathouse by rebuilding it or building a brand new boathouse is an option, once you have the correct permits and variances, take into consideration how you want the structure to function for you. Often lake homes are up a hill or a great distance from the lake, so you may want your boathouse to include space to relax lakeside. Consider perhaps a deck on the roof with a stairway to access it. If plumbing is permitted, a lakeside bathroom is very desirable, and an area to prep simple meals and refrigeration is also a great use of the space. Your boathouse can become a place for lakeside entertainment and relaxation. 

Of course, the practical purpose of a boathouse is a place to store your boat and your water toys. This too needs to be well thought out. Racks for skis, hooks for life vests, space for fishing gear, oars and leaving the needed space for the boat itself. Consider your lifestyle and the way the space will work for you to store all of your items.  

If you are considering updating or building a boathouse, make your wish list and then work with your builder to find out what is permitted on your property. Based on what your restrictions might be, create the perfect boathouse for both your practical and entertainment  purposes! 

Check out our full gallery on two of our boathouse projects:

The Blue Boathouse 

Louis Boathouse 

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