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This article is more than 2 year old.

Keeping fun afloat: A quick look at the business side of Kerala's famed houseboats

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Kerala-based Samudra Shipyard’s Business Manager Dr Jeevan Sudhakaran talks about the boat-making business and its prospects.

Keeping fun afloat: A quick look at the business side of Kerala's famed houseboats
Ever coasted down the backwaters of Kerala and lived the good life and wondered if you could own one of those beautiful houseboats as your very own cool vacation home? Or how about soaking in the ambience on Kashmir’s Dal lake from a houseboat? Those houseboats are made from the woods of the Sal and Deodhar trees. Deodhar wood actually hardens the longer it stays in water, instead of rotting, hence it’s used in the construction of the hull of the houseboats in Kashmir.
The interior of a luxury houseboat.
In Kerala, houseboats are being made by two companies, Grandeur Boatbuilders and Samudra Shipyard. Both make boats to suit customer tastes and specifications and they make a variety of sea-going vessels, ranging from canoes, water taxis, para-sailing boats, speedboats, fishing boats, pontoon boats, solar boats, souvenir boats (small-scale models) that can be gifted and even floating jetties. Specifications are normally as given below, but they can tailor-make it for you, as houseboats can be a two-bedroom version to a six-bedroom luxury floating home, hotel or even a restaurant.
Kerala houseboats are called ‘Kettuvallom’. In Malayalam language, Kettu refers to ‘dwelling structures’ and ‘Vallam’ means boat. These are boats with a thatched roof cover over wooden hulls. They were traditionally built 111 feet long, and made by tying together massive planks of wood. They were used as rice boats with a part of it covered with bamboo and coir as a kitchen and restroom for the crew. Since then, the humble houseboat has become the glamorous avatar it is now, as a holiday home away from home. What’s more is that fibreglass has replaced wood as the material of choice, as it provides more stability to the hull. Samudra Shipyard adheres to the Inland Vessel Act, 2010 to build its boats.
The benefits of using fibre-glass over wood are:
  1. It is virtually maintenance-free when compared to wooden houseboats. They now have a lounge, dining area, open kitchen and modern bio-toilets.
  2. Fibreglass boats are not affected by marine growth and salt water.
  3. A FRP houseboat hull is ready within 30 days.
  4.  
    A Samudra houseboat is being sent to Abu Dhabi.
    Samudra Shipyard’s Business Manager Dr Jeevan Sudhakaran answered a few questions on this exciting business.
    Which are your bestselling boats?
     We have boats ranging from small canoes to houseboats which are more than 30 metres in length. The best-selling ones are our smaller versions used for personal transportation.
    Who are your regular buyers and how much do the houseboats cost?
    Our regular buyers are tour operators and government tourism departments. The price varies from about Rs 75 lakh for a single bedroom houseboat to Rs 1.75 crore for a four-bedroom luxury houseboat.
    What's the resale value of your houseboats?
    Being made of fibreglass, actually, the value doesn’t depreciate much as it is relatively maintenance-free. Even after 10 years, the boat can pretty much fetch the original price.
    Is the second-hand market a good place to buy houseboats? Do you provide guarantee for second-hand boats?
    Yes. But we don’t sell second hand boats.
    How much does upkeep cost?
    About 5 percent of the cost of the boat, per year.
    How well is the boat-making business doing in the current market scenario?
    Not very great
    Were there any unique design features that you had to add in any houseboat?
    We study the local architecture and give our boats a local touch.
    Which countries do you export to? I saw a picture of a boat going to Abu Dhabi.
    Srilanka and Maldives.
    A small-scale model houseboat.
    Samudra’s boats are built with space age technology, and with the help of the Industrial Design Centre of IIT Mumbai, which designs the superstructure, and the Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT Chennai, which has a tank-testing facility (and the only such facility in India). IIT Kharagpur and Kerala’s Department of Tourism are all part of this group endeavour, to make these gorgeous boats, a dream come true for many.
    Manali Rohinesh is a freelance writer who explores financial and non-financial subjects that pique her interest.
    Read her columns here.
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