Floating Cabins

On May 5, 2016, the TVA Board of Directors approved a policy to govern existing non-navigable houseboats and floating houses (now called floating cabins).

See the May 5, 2016, Policy Governing Floating Houses on the TVA Reservoir System for more details.

Subsequent to the May 5, 2016, Board policy, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (WIIN Act) was enacted on December 16, 2016, by the United States Congress including Title IV Section 5003, which amended the TVA Act to include Section 9b. This new section specifically addresses floating cabins and provides that TVA may allow the use of floating cabins where the structure was located on waters under TVA’s jurisdiction as of December 16, 2016; and where the owner maintains the structure in accordance with reasonable health, safety and environmental standards set by the TVA Board of Directors. Section 9b also states that TVA may establish regulations to prevent the construction of new floating cabins.

On January 19, 2019, TVA published Phase I rule amendments applicable to floating cabins for public review and comment. The final Phase I rule amendments became effective October 1, 2018. The amendments redefine nonnavigable houseboats and floating houses using one term – “floating cabins”; prohibit new floating cabins on the Tennessee River System after December 16, 2016; provide limited mooring standards; and require owners of floating cabins to register the floating cabin with TVA.

Existing Floating Cabins

Floating cabins that were on the Tennessee River System on or before December 16, 2016, (with or without TVA approval in the form of a TVA Section 26 permit) are deemed an existing floating cabin. Existing floating cabins may remain provided they are able to meet TVA’s future regulatory standards, obtain and remain in compliance with their Section 26a permit, and pay any required fees.

Existing floating cabins may not be rebuilt, expanded in size, or structurally modified without the advance written approval of TVA. Any modifications approved by TVA must be necessary to bring the floating cabin into compliance with TVA’s regulations.

Any floating cabins placed on the Tennessee River System after December 16, 2016, are deemed new floating cabins, are unauthorized and will not be approved. TVA will require removal of any new floating cabins and associated unpermitted floating structures placed on TVA reservoirs after December 16, 2016.

 

Next Steps

TVA anticipates publishing proposed Phase II Rule Amendments with health, safety and environmental standards applicable to floating cabins by the summer of 2019. The amendments will include standards for electrical, wastewater, mooring, and flotation. The amendments will also include information concerning compliance dates, compliance fees, relocations of floating cabins, rebuilding, maintenance, modifications and combining of existing floating cabins. Floating cabins should not be modified or altered based upon the proposed amendments as significant changes could occur before the rules are finalized.

Once published, the public will have at least 30 days to submit comments to TVA on the proposed rule amendments. TVA will review those comments, determine whether to make any edits, and then publish the Final Phase II Rule Amendments. The Final Rule will then become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. 

In developing the proposed amendments, TVA worked with a stakeholder group representing various interests and viewpoints related to the use and management of floating cabins. The stakeholder group members included floating cabin owners, marina owners, federal and state regulatory agencies, anglers, local power companies and lake user associations. This group met several times between August 2017 to May 2018 to provide input on the development of health, safety and environmental standards, and future regulations.

What you should do now until the final rules are effective:

  • Do not build any new floating cabins or expand existing floating cabins. TVA is not permitting new floating cabins nor any additions or expansions that did not exist before December 16, 2016.
  • Do not construct or acquire any attachments (decks, swim platforms, etc.) that have not been permitted to you by TVA.
  • Ensure your floating cabin is moored at the location shown on your permit. If you do not have a permit, ensure the floating cabin is within a marina harbor limit that contained floating cabins as of December 16, 2016. 
  • Do not relocate a floating cabin without TVA approval, except within the same marina harbor limit where the floating cabin existed on December 16, 2016.
  • If you own a floating cabin, review your permit to determine if you are in compliance and that the permit is in your name. Check length, width, and height of both enclosed and open spaces. Ensure all attachments (decks) are listed on the permit and any utility connections.  
  • If selling a floating cabin with a permit, make the buyer aware of upcoming changes and provide them with a copy of your permit.
  • If buying a floating cabin with a permit, ensure it is in strict compliance with the owner’s TVA permit and apply to TVA within 30 days of the transaction to transfer the permit into your name. It is recommended you review the permit with TVA before purchasing. 
  • If selling an unpermitted floating cabin, communicate to buyer that the structure will need a permit from TVA and will be required to meet standards and will be subject to fees.
  • If buying an unpermitted floating cabin, read the information on this website and understand you will be required to meet standards, obtain a permit from TVA, and be subject to fees.
  • Anyone buying a floating cabin should be able to provide evidence to TVA that the floating cabin existed on December 16, 2016 and its dimensions and configuration at that time. This information will be needed when applying for a permit after the final rules are implemented.
  • Visit this site frequently for updates and new information.
  • Comment on the proposed Phase II rule amendments when they are published.

Background

The number of floating cabin structures has increased and their appearance and use have become more like houses than boats. TVA initiated their environmental review out of concern for the use of public lands, safety, sanitation and water quality.

Approximately 2,270 floating cabins and nonnavigable houseboats are currently on TVA reservoirs and the Tennessee River System. About one fourth of these structures were permitted as nonnavigable houseboats prior to December 16, 2016. Current TVA regulations prohibit new floating cabins. Section 26a of the TVA Act gives TVA jurisdiction to regulate obstructions that affect navigation, flood control, or public lands across, along or in the Tennessee River or any of its tributaries.

Learn more about the Section 26a permitting regulation and process

Learn more about the TVA Land Policy.

Environmental Impact Statement

In February 2016, TVA completed an environmental review of the management of floating cabins and nonnavigable houseboats mooring on TVA reservoirs. This review was initiated in April 2014 out of concern for the fair use of public lands and reservoirs, safety, sanitation and water quality.

Floating cabins are a modern version of the pre-1978 nonnavigable houseboats. Floating cabins are considered to be structures designed and used primarily for human habitation rather than for the primary purpose of recreational boating or water transportation.

“Nonnavigable houseboat” is the term found in TVA’s regulations that refers to early-era floating cabins that existed on TVA reservoirs when TVA amended its regulations in 1971 and 1978. At that time, TVA grandfathered and issued permits to the existing “nonnavigable houseboats,” but prohibited new ones going forward.

On April 30, 2014, TVA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS), in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to review the growth in the Tennessee River watershed of floating cabins and nonnavigable houseboats designed and used primarily for human habitation and to consider future management alternatives. During the initial scoping period, TVA received input from the public and other stakeholders on relevant issues, concerns and potential management actions. Meetings were held around the Tennessee Valley for the public to learn more about the review and provide comments. This outreach effort and the public's input is described in a Scoping Report completed by TVA in February 2015.

In June 2015, TVA issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that reviewed a variety of new policy alternatives and assessed their environmental impacts. During the review period, TVA held additional public meetings and the public and other stakeholders were invited to review the Draft EIS and provide additional input.

In February 2016, after consideration of input received on the Draft EIS, TVA completed its Final EIS and identified its preferred policy alternative. Public and stakeholder comments and TVA’s responses are included in an appendix to the Final EIS. In the Final EIS, TVA stated its preference to permit existing floating cabins if such structures meet new standards and allow floating cabins and previously permitted nonnavigable houseboats to be moored on TVA reservoirs for a 20-year period. As noted previously, this period was extended to 30 years by the TVA Board of Directors when the new policy was approved in May 2016.

Floating Houses Policy Review Final Environmental Impact Statement (PDF 9.4 mb)

Final Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary (PDF 713 kb)

Contacts

For additional information, please contact:

Dave Harrell
(865) 632-1327
dbharrell@tva.gov
fc@tva.gov