Home » The Legendary ‘Boaterhome’ Is A Chimera Of Van, Boat, And Concentrated Awesome

The Legendary ‘Boaterhome’ Is A Chimera Of Van, Boat, And Concentrated Awesome

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In July, Barrett-Jackson sold one of the most incredible vehicles that you’ll see on the net. That’s right, someone paid a reportedly record-breaking $77,000 for a wonderful creation called the Boaterhome. This majestic vehicle is a 1987 Ford Econoline E-350 with a 1986 Sport King Cabin Cruiser almost seamlessly connected to its back. It’s a boat, it’s a van, and it’s an RV all-in-one.

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, chances are you’ve seen the Boaterhome before. It’s been featured on a Little Caesars Pizza commercial, Ridiculous Rides, and Street Muscle Magazine. You’ve probably seen it on Facebook, Reddit, or anywhere else car pictures end up. I remember first seeing it on Opposite-Lock years ago. Thankfully, the creation is still around, and apparently it’s better than ever after a restoration and overhaul. It sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas last month for $77,000, a figure that the auction says is a new record for RVs.

Watch this video, I promise you won’t regret it:

You’ll find a lot of Boaterhome articles and videos out there dating back over a decade, if not longer. But many of them leave so many questions unanswered. It’s believed that the Boaterhome was first created in the mid-1980s, but not much is said about how it came to be. Amazingly, this isn’t a one-off custom creation, but something built by a company. 

The Boaterhome was originally the work of Sport King, a now defunct recreational trailer manufacturer. History on Sport King and its King Manufacturing Inc. is thin. According to NADA Guides, Sport King was founded in 1945 by Walter King in Torrance, California. At the time, King originally planned to build just one camper for his truck, but decided to make a business out of it. NADA credits King for popularizing the truck camper and notes that the company went on to make travel trailers, fifth wheels, and Class C RVs. 

Sportking
SenseiAlan

In 1986, Sport King got the idea to make a camper for land and water. The idea itself isn’t all that wild; we’ve seen this concept before with the Ship-A-Shore Combo Cruiser and other boat-camper combos. But Sport King took it to the next level:

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eBay

The Sport King Boaterhome starts with a Ford Econoline E-350. At the time, Ford’s long-running work van was in its third generation. This generation of Econoline, running from 1975 to 1991, diverted from its unibody predecessor with a body-on-frame design. It was about a decade before this time that the Big Three started producing cutaway versions of their vans, allowing for a multitude of vehicle designs.

While a cutaway might make sense for an application like this, the vehicles appear to have started life as regular vans. They then got cut, stretched out, and given tag axles. All of that extra length made for an integrated boat trailer, for which a Sport King fiberglass cabin cruiser slides right onto and connects with the van. 

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Barrett-Jackson

When connected to the van, the front window of the cabin cruiser can be opened, making for a passthrough. And that cabin cruiser is well-equipped with a galley, bathroom, dining room, living room, and a deck out back. Thus, when connected to its van host, it actually makes for what seems to be a comfy RV. It even has RV-style hookups for when you roll up to the campsite.

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Barrett-Jackson

On the water, a Mercury MerCruiser 350 making 260 HP allows the cabin cruiser to reach speeds up to 45 mph. Advertisements recommend the boat for lakes and other inland waterways. The equipment onboard also includes 55 gallons of freshwater storage in addition to 25 gallons for gray water and 25 gallons for black water. It seems like you could camp in this thing for a few days on land or on water. The boat is said to displace 6,260-pounds.

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Barrett-Jackson

Of course, a question that I bet you have is how does it get to the lake? After all, the 28-foot boat makes the van far longer than it would normally be. And the V-hull of the cabin cruiser resides where you’d think the differential would be for those rear axles. 

Sport King’s solution for this was to give the Econoline a four-wheel-drive conversion, then disable the rear output. What company the conversion came from isn’t said, but you can see the front differential in videos of the Boaterhome.

Barrett
Barrett-Jackson

This particular Boaterhome drives just its front wheels using a Ford 460 V8 paired to a three-speed automatic. That should be making 245 HP here. According to an ad in a newspaper from 1986, a Boaterhome set buyers back $86,000, or about $229,134 today.

Boaterhome
Barrett-Jackson

It’s unknown exactly how many Boaterhomes Sport King was able to fire off before the shuttered in 1987. But amazingly, the story doesn’t end there. In 1995, a Canadian company called Highwave Boatorhomes Inc. sprouted up to build vehicles following the same concept. The Boatorhome (now with an “O” instead of an “E”) followed the same idea of taking a van and connecting it to a boat. 

The newer Boatorhomes still rode on Ford Econoline vans, but now featured a 31-foot cabin cruiser connected to the back. This apparently necessitated the addition of an additional tag axle, making it a front-wheel-drive beast with eight total wheels. The boat was similar inside, featuring everything you’d need to camp on water or on land. The engine in the van was the legendary 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbo diesel, which offered up 215 horses. 

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Highwave Boatorhomes 2000

Incredibly, Highwave Boatorhomes had an even grander idea for the future. In 1999, the company’s website advertised the Boatorhome 2000. The company name changed in the same year to Highwave Boatorhomes 2000 to reflect the change. This beast was based on the Ford F-750 commercial truck.

Highwave said that the reason it decided to go big was because the van’s capabilities were maxed out. Still, I’m a bit blown away by the concept images.

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Highwave Boatorhomes 2000

Highwave’s spec sheet describes something rather gargantuan. It’s 45-feet-long, weighs 27,000 pounds (the boat is 11,000 of that), and is powered by a Caterpillar 7.2-liter straight six turbo diesel making 250 HP. The boat got Twin Mercury MerCruiser 502 inboards producing a total of 800 horsepower.

I searched far and wide, but I couldn’t find a single one of these in existence. Further, Highwave Boatorhomes 2000 Inc. shows up in a 2007 Ontario government notice for companies in violation of the Corporations Tax Act. Ontario notes that violators must comply with the Act, or within 90 days of notice the government will dissolve the violating company. The Ontario government notes that Highwave closed in December of that same year. Thus ends the story of Boaterhome and Boatorhome production. It looks like the site continued to be up for years, even though the company itself was long gone. The domain is still in use today, but for some weird home improvement site.

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Barrett-Jackson

Exact production numbers are unknown, but 21 Boaterhomes are believed to exist. The most famous of which is probably the one that you see before you today. This one was built by Sport King and Barrett-Jackson notes that the van and boat both underwent a restoration.

It got new paint, plumbing, new inverter, lithium batteries, and more. The creation still has its factory running gear for both van and boat, but both are reportedly refreshed. It sounds like the new owner essentially bought a brand new Boaterhome, which is awesome. Hopefully, we continue to see this wonder for years to come.

 

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Barrett-Jackson

 

 

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39 Responses

  1. I don’t hate it. Why don’t I hate it? 😛

    Also,
    “$77,000, a figure that the auction says is a new record for RVs.”

    Is this the first time B-J has ever sold an RV? I’m not sure $77k would even get you a new self-propelled RV. Maybe all they sell is Scamps and T@bs? 😉

    1. “I don’t hate it. Why don’t I hate it? ”
      My thoughts exactly! Having been in a boat-trailering family for several years, I can see why this will work better in some ways.

      I do disapprove of passengers standing while the vehicle is in motion on public roads. I hope that was only staged for the video.

    1. Having seen how many trucks here have to stop and toss on 4wd, I don’t think that’s as big of a problem as you make it out to be.

      Our lake is a bit notorious for algae on the ramps by the power plant. The German Lighting Site covered a truck sliding in while a reporter covered an unrelated story, and it turned out to happen monthly, on average. FWD at least gets you dry traction.

      1. The difference is that trucks always have driven wheels under at least part of the load, whether in 2 or 4wd.

        This thing has 2 driven tires 30 feet from the center point of the load. Not ideal.

    2. I guess the one mitigating factor here would be that a bunch of the weight of the boat is in front of the rear axle, so at least it’s not trying to lift the front end off the ground like it would with a traditional boat trailer? Still seems like you’d want to have a tow truck on standby every time you launched this thing.

    3. When this was new, a lot of families were still hauling their boats to/from the lake with older RWD Country Squires and Vista Cruisers and base model Suburbans, just going to FWD might have seemed like an upgrade to a lot of boaters

  2. The 80s child in me is delighted that this exists, but I’m also a little sad that the Boaterhome is so completely defined by the phrase ‘made for a world that no longer exists’. The cheap gas is gone and even the reservoirs and lakes out West this was made for are going.

    I’d still buy if I had a place to park it.

  3. I somehow never knew this existed. My inner 8yo is all, ‘Wow: that’s cool!’, while the curmudgeonly crust is like, ‘Oh, HELL no!’ I’d love to see one pull down the boat ramp, but I don’t really want any part of owning that.
    Thanks for the dive, Mercedes

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    2. This reminds me of something a toy company would come up with. I bet GI Joe has a boaterhome with guns on it. I am amazed that an actual company went out and actually built the damn thing. Glad that it exists and also glad that I don’t own it.

  4. The word “seamless” feels like a reach in this context. “Seamless” implies a certain graceful subtlety of craftsmanship – this thing is seamless in the same way as a turducken is seamless.

  5. When I was a kid I saw one in Joliet, probably headed for the canal. Once I figured out what I was looking at, it was like something drove out of a James Bond film. Regardless of how flawed it may be, I can’t criticize anything that can give people that feeling.

  6. That misaligned graphic on the side is driving me nuts. My eyes go right to it. Did they just apply it badly, or is the boat sitting cockeyed in its cradle?

  7. “Sport King’s solution for this was to give the Econoline a four-wheel-drive conversion, then disable the rear output. What company the conversion came from isn’t said, but you can see the front differential in videos of the Boaterhome.”

    So in Whyte notation, this thing is a 0-2-6? I can hear the wails of 19th-century locomotive designers from here.

  8. This article was great! I literally made an account here *just* to post this comment.

    The depth of the article, combined with the well-developed inclusion of links to more information, was exactly the right level to sustain my interest, while giving me the chance to dive deeper if my curiosity was piqued. I sincerely enjoyed learning more about the Boaterhome, which I first learned about when it (or some variant thereof) was featured in an issue of Popular Mechanics or Popular Science in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I’d never have guessed this was a front-wheel drive conversion!!

    The clarity of the writing was refreshing, and makes me look forward to reading more of Mercedes’ articles, regardless of topic.

    Perhaps not most importantly, but nevertheless, I cannot underline this enough, the lack of self-indulgent “Editor’s Note”s made this feel like an article written for a general audience of enthusiasts, and not the public-facing side of a private club that readers are only partially privy to.

    More articles like this will keep me visiting the site!

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  9. 6000 lb boat powered by a 260HP small block? 45 sounds a little optimistic, which most boat speedos that aren’t attached to a GPS are. For instance, my 24′ Formula with a 330HP big block and weighs less can barely get over 50, GPS accurate. I managed 55 last weekend, but that was with a tailwind and a pretty good tidal current behind me.

  10. What bothers me is the apparently deliberate misalignment of the angle of the truck relative to where it usually resides. Looks like it is riding uphill all the time. Headlight alignment issues result along with visibility for shorter folks.

  11. “The Boatorhome (now with an “O” instead of an “E”)”

    I thought they replaced the other “E” with an “O.” Hmmm, they made it doubly phallic. It must be a catamaran. I was a little disappointed when I scrolled down.

    1. As someone who has driven a 4×4 with only front wheel drive due to a broken rear driveshaft, I can confidently say that this is probably a pain in the ass to drive. Along with the fact that someone else pointed out, getting this thing up a wet boat ramp fully loaded with only front wheel drive.

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