Recreational vehicle history is chock-full of campers that try to be other things at the same time. The Vixen 21 TD tried to be a sports car you can sleep in while the Orlando Helicopter Airways/Winnebago Heli-Home shoved camper components into the interior of surplus Sikorsky S-55 helicopters. Builders also love trying to make boats into campers and vice versa. History is full of creations like these. and amazingly, you can buy one oddball even today. The CaraBoat is a boat that does double duty as a camper on land and you can order one right here in America, but there are a few catches.
Lately I’ve been somewhat obsessed with campers that try to be boats. Admittedly, when I see my parents’ nightmare travel trailer, the thought of tossing it into a lake has never crossed my mind. Maybe that’s why I find the idea of camper boats so entertaining. We’ve featured the Delta Van Cruiser, which somewhat confusingly tries to be a floating conversion van. There was also the wonderful Kom-Pak Sportsman, a teardrop trailer with a boat for its roof. Last year, I wrote about the Ship-A-Shore Combo Cruiser, the all-women-built boat that you could also drag to a campground. As it turns out, there is a modern version of the Combo Cruiser on sale today in both Australia and the United States.
The CaraBoat can be your camper and your boat in one package, you just have to be ok with it being a chunky camper and a limited boat.
Not The CaraBoat You’re Thinking About
When I first saw the CaraBoat, my mind immediately went to the camper-boat creations of the same name from the 1960s, like the picture above. Wait, you weren’t thinking about those, too? Am I the only one thinking about old campers for probably too much time?
As we’ve noted before, the concept of a camper that floats (or a boat that you can use at a campground) is hardly new. I cannot say with any real certainty which was the first camper to try being a boat, but the concept dates back at least 68 years. In 1955, Englishman Ronald Sams made the Otter Amphibious Caravan, a camper that could be used on dry land or launched into a body of water. Of course even earlier than that was the Kom-Pak Sportsman, but only a portion of that camper turned into a boat. There was also the Nomad, which was a fiberglass boat that turned into a tent when on land.
The name CaraBoat initially made me do a double-take. In 1971, Englishman Tom Carr launched what he called the Caraboat. Like the subject of today, Carr’s caraboat was a travel trailer (or caravan, as they’re called out there) that could be launched into a body of water and used as a boat.
Reportedly marketed as “the house that can float,” apparently just 63 of them were ever built over the course of three years. According to the BBC, there’s a legend surrounding the old Caraboats. Apparently, during a press junket, high winds overcame the 6 HP engines of the Caraboats, and the occupants of the camping vessels had to be rescued. Allegedly, after that failure, Carr went to the factory and destroyed the molds.
Regardless of what happened, the Caraboat sold just that handful of units. So, you could imagine my surprise to see the CaraBoat alive and well in Australia. Well, it’s not quite that.
The rebirth of the Caraboat (now stylized as “CaraBoat”) is the work of Rob Shenn and Andrew Kiernan from Composite Cats in Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia. Composite Cats opened in 2001 as a builder of custom sailing catamarans. Then the company’s founders decided to do something different and got into floating campers. Back in 2015, Composite Cats (today known as CaraBoat) said it took the company more than four years to develop the CaraBoat.
So this is not Carr’s Caraboat brought back to life, but it’s the same concept and at least on paper the new CaraBoat has better execution. Even better, CaraBoat has set up shop in North America, specifically in Sturgis, Michigan, only a few hours from my home.
When the CaraBoat launched in 2015, Composite Cats admitted that the concept wasn’t new, but the company’s take was about as good as it gets. The CaraBoat is marketed as an aerodynamic travel trailer that isn’t outrageously heavy while also being a boat with high performance and a shallow draft. Composite Cats also noted that while on land, the Caraboat sits no higher than a 4×4 camper.
The base boat is the 750, which measures in at 24.6 feet long and 8.2 feet wide. It has a draft of 7.8 inches and weighs 4,232 pounds. For land use, it comes with a 1,500-pound trailer that makes the consist 29.8 feet long and raises height from 6.88 feet to 9.3 feet.
Sadly, that means you can’t store this in your garage, but with a tongue weight of just 573 pounds, you don’t need a Super Duty to haul this load.
Starting with the boat features, the CaraBoat 750 comes with a pair of 30 HP outboards and a helm that folds away when the vehicle is in camper mode. You also get a 13-pound anchor, an anchor winch, a bilge pump, and four stainless steel cleats. The engines feed from two tanks totaling 13.2 gallons.
In terms of the camper portion, you get everything you’d expect for a nice stay at a campground. The CaraBoat has 120V power outlets, two lithium batteries, one AGM battery, USB ports, and 12V sockets. The roof of the CaraBoat, which sadly is not a sun deck, sports solar panels. In terms of tanks, you get a 47.5-gallon fresh water tank, a 21-gallon tank for gray water, and a 5-gallon cassette toilet, also known as a “shitcase” to some of our readers. There is a shower with running water onboard, as well as a propane tank and water heater.
Also pretty fully-featured is the kitchen, which sports a three-burner stove, an oven, a refrigerator and freezer, a stainless steel sink, and granite-look gel-coated countertops. CaraBoat lists an air-conditioner as an option, but for many buyers, it might not be needed. I love the huge pop-open windows on the CaraBoats; they give the interior an airy feeling and I wish more traditional campers adopted such massive panes.
Also available is the Caraboat 870. This is the same fiberglass boat as the 750 but scaled up. You’re getting the same features in a package that measures 28.5 feet long and 8.2 feet wide. It has a draft of 7.8 inches and weighs 4,535 pounds. For land use, it comes with a 1,587-pound trailer that makes the consist 33.7 feet long and raises height from 7.7 feet to 10.1 feet. Tongue weight remains the same as the CaraBoat 750.
CaraBoat says that when you park your camper at a campsite, things work just like they would with a travel trailer. Your access to shore power is in the locker in the bow of the CaraBoat and there’s a city water connection if you don’t want to fill your tanks. CaraBoat says that the 750 can carry seven people while the 870 can have nine occupants.
Not Perfect As A Camper Or As A Boat
So, I love this concept, but I do see a few things that make this neither a perfect camper nor a perfect boat. I’ll start with the camper part. CaraBoat says the entrance to the camper-boat is no higher than a 4×4 camper. The trailer has two steps built-in and the CaraBoat has two more. Part of how CaraBoat got the unit to about this low is the fact that the camper-boat has wheel wells molded into it. It seems like climbing into the rig isn’t really much different than boarding a school bus conversion.
Still, I like when camper designs have lower floors for ease of entry and exit. Of course, it would be hard to make a boat and a camper with a low floor at the same time. But compromise is sort of the name of the game here. So, you have that small toilet, a high floor, and an air-conditioner isn’t standard, which it should be. I also wonder how campgrounds will react when they see you drag in something with outboards hanging off the rear.
As a boat, it seems even more compromised than that Delta Van Cruiser from last week. There’s a deck on the back, but it’s tiny. And there’s no deck up front. It would be interesting to try to dock this bad boy.
I suppose this isn’t a boat you’ll be catching many rays with. I do like the folding helm, but you’ll be commanding the boat from the kitchen. Your view ahead is through a hatch that pops open at the bow and the big windows. Turning the roof into a party deck, perhaps with a flying bridge, would make this much cooler in my eye.
(Update: Something else I missed that you lovely readers caught, it also seems like that anchor would be ineffective.)
In terms of performance, CaraBoat says that the vehicle is made for inland waters and chop no greater than 0.9 feet. The company further says that the high bow, wide beam, and gullwing hull shape give it high stability while keeping the interior dry. CaraBoat also claims positive buoyancy and that the rig is “unsinkable.”
Expensive But Not As Crazy As You’d Expect
The CaraBoat 750 starts at $154,000 and the CaraBoat 870 starts at $169,000. Options include bigger engines offering up to a 20-knot top speed, an awning, an air-conditioner, custom colors, custom interior layouts, and more.
CaraBoat says that these are in production right now, but there are only a few in production at a time. Major components come from CaraBoat’s Australian headquarters and take 45 days to be constructed.
It then takes another 30 to 60 days for your CaraBoat to reach Sturgis, Michigan. From there, you have another four to six weeks of waiting as final assembly and customization take place.
I suppose in the context of how expensive RVs are nowadays, the pricing isn’t that bad. This costs less than a Class B Airstream van and those have less space and can’t be used as a boat. Well, I suppose anything could be used as a boat, once. Either way, I’m glad the concept of a camper that’s a boat is still alive. Wild ideas like these keep the RV world interesting.
(Images: CaraBoat, unless otherwise noted.)
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