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Lake Powell • A flight attendant from Sanpete County, a teacher from Seattle, grandparents from Panguitch and a retired couple from St. George might hail from different backgrounds, but they all had one thing in common: They wanted to learn how to operate a houseboat at Lake Powell.

So, on a cool but sunny day in early May, they gathered at the Wahweap Marina with Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas instructors Maggie Cummins and Tom "Mouse" Martin for a day on the big reservoir.

They learned basic skills such as tying up and docking the boat, anchoring it to a beach, using its electronic devices, operating the radio, handling and beaching a 75-foot boat, learning to drive a power boat, emptying the gray and black water tanks and gassing up toys.

Since some of the big luxury boats have complex systems that include fireplaces, air-conditioning units, spare gas tanks for water toys such as speedboats and personal watercrafts and even hot tubs, learning before renting can be valuable.

The students — who each paid $299 for a class that includes two nights in a lodge at Wahweap or Bullfrog marinas, two breakfasts, six hours of instruction and a boxed lunch — also learned about safety, basic navigation on the 186-mile-long reservoir and etiquette.

Resort operators also offer information on best times to houseboat, deals and types of boats available.

"I like to be prepared," said Adrienne Pichette, of Mount Pleasant, who plans to bring 25 friends and family, mostly from Boston, to Lake Powell for a houseboating vacation she described as " 'Survivor' meets 'Dancing With the Stars' meets 'Iron Chef Challenge.' "

She came to Lake Powell to perfect her boating skills on the very houseboat her group plans to rent.

Angeli Sheffer, of Panguitch, has kept a Lake Powell houseboating brochure under her bed for the past 20 years in the hopes of organizing a dream houseboating vacation for her kids and grandchildren, who now number 32. Her husband, Dean, had never driven a boat bigger than 19 feet, so both wanted to get a feel for the feasibility of turning their dream into reality.

Mardean Francis, of Seattle, plans to join three friends who all received their doctorates from the University of Washington about the same time for a reunion on a houseboat.

"We're adventurers," she said. "It is so beautiful, so different from everywhere else you could ever go. It's water and desert, a unique combination."

Larry Nielsen, of St. George, said he and his wife, Anne, come to Lake Powell quite often, but had never gone houseboating.

"I always wanted to try it, and this gives us a taste," said Nielsen, who compared driving a houseboat to operating a bigger version of his dad's pontoon boat.

Cathy McKeever, director of sales and marketing for Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, kicked off the day by giving the group information on different types of boats and packages, including discounts.

"How many people do you want to bring?" she asked. The maximum number of passengers on a moving houseboat is 12. "How many amenities do you want? How many bedrooms do you need? When is the best time to go houseboating?"

One good time is from September until the second week of October, largely because school is in session and better deals are available. Water temperatures in Lake Powell remain high enough to swim and wakeboard.

When the group traveled to the marina, Cummins and Martin spent time teaching the group how to operate a large 75-foot houseboat and a smaller power boat. Cummins would stand next to students, offering basics such as how to operate the two engines for tight turns and teaching them to post lookouts at the back and front.

Back lookouts made sure the pilot wasn't going to back into a rock or another boat, while those in front looked for signs of lighter-colored water indicating a rock or shallow area to be avoided.

The two instructors took great pains to make certain everyone taking the class got a chance to operate the boat and learn how to anchor it.

So, how did the students react?

"My level of anxiety was really high," said Francis. "Now I'm much more comfortable. This program opens up things for people who have not done this before." Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

Introduction to Houseboating

Spring Introduction to Houseboating classes have filled. But classes will be offered in the fall. Cost is $299 for double occupancy and includes two nights lodging, breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, a six-hour Introduction to Houseboating hands-on program on the reservoir and a boxed lunch. For information, log on to

The fall classes are:

Aug. 25-28 • at Wahweap Marina

Sept. 10-12 • at Bullfrog or Wahweap marinas

Sept. 23-25 • at Wahweap Marina —

What to pack houseboating

• Reservation confirmation and photo ID of the contract holder

• First-aid kit including Visine, bug spray, aspirin, Tums, bandages, antiseptic spray

• Sleeping bags

• Beach towels

• Sunscreen, Chapstick

• Hats, sun visor and sunglasses

• Seasonal clothing

• Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils

• Plastic containers or self-closing bags to store any leftovers

• Paper towels for cleanup

• Barbecue utensils

• Meals, drinks and snack foods

• Firewood for evening fires

• Favorite CDs

• Extra batteries

• Fishing license, tackle, rods

• Small ice chest

• Disposable aluminum pie plates to prevent land critters from boarding your houseboat

• Bug-repellent candles

• Musical instruments, playing cards, games• Lounge chairs (two are provided along with deck chairs)

• Water skis, tube and knee boards

• Tent or canopy with poles to set up shade on beach area

• Lanterns for extra light on the beach

• Binoculars • Camera • A book

Source: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas —

Houseboating tips

• When approaching a beach or marina dock, go "granny speed" or as slow as possible.

• Stay or camp at least 150 feet away from the nearest vessel.

• Know your boat number and where you are at in case you must report an emergency situation. Having a commercially produced Lake Powell map is a must.

• When backing out from a beach or a marina dock, post a lookout at the back of the boat to yell out in case of obstacles.

• When venturing outside of main channel, post a lookout at the front of the boat looking for signs of different colored water that would indicate rocks or a shallow area.

• Make sure the boat has plenty of gas. A good rule is to never pass a marina without filling up.

• No more than 12 people are allowed at one time on a moving houseboat, no matter the size. When the boat is not in motion, there are no restrictions on the number of people you may have onboard.

• For boats departing from Antelope Point, a renter needs to be 21 years of age with a valid driver license. For boats departing from Wahweap or Bullfrog Marinas, the renter needs to be 18 years of age with a valid driver license.

• No special license is needed to operate a houseboat

• Wear foot protection when off of the boat. The No. 1 emergency room visit at Lake Powell is cut feet from broken bottles.

• Always carry emergency flares because finding a boat at night can be difficult.

• Carry a marine radio for emergencies and weather report. Cell phone coverage at Lake Powell can be limited.

• Ask plenty of questions about boat operation when you pick up the houseboat. Learn how and when to operate the generator, what knot to use when tying up a boat, how to operate appliances, where gas and propane tanks are found, where lifejackets are located and where safety equipment can be found.

• If out for more than a few days, learn how to empty gray and black water tanks and where on the lake those services are available.

Sources: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas,