Alaska Float Houses

Float houses outside of Thorne Bay, AlaskaFloat houses near Thorne Bay, Alaska

Float Houses in Southeast Alaska

Thorne Bay, Alaska 2013 – Float houses in Southeast Alaska dot the protected bays, as seen in this photograph. No one owns the water there, so there is no rent to be paid. Float house residents can park their vehicles at the top of the nearest city dock, often for free. A small skiff will get them to town, albeit the rain of the rainforest may drench them by the time they arrive at the dock. Some residents travel in survival suits when skiffing to the nearest town. You can take a larger boat or ferry to Ketchikan from Prince of Wales Island, though the Clarence Strait can be rough.

How do Alaska float homes stay floating in the bay?

Logs are tied underneath the structure and anchored below or to the nearby land. A dock lays across the top of the logs with a stick-built cabin, manufactured home, or trailer on top. Sewer typically drains directly into the water below if the owner did not install compost toilets. Rain runs off the rooftop and into large water tanks for future use. Generators provide power, meaning residents must haul fuel to power their generators and stoves. There are plenty of trees on shore to harvest for firewood. Never fear; they cut down the dead ones—most people don’t harvest live trees because they are too wet to burn. 

Do you see the logs tied together at the opening of the bay? They create a breakwater to reduce the movement of the float house in rough weather. They look similar to the boom barriers once used to secure logs for transport through the water in the timber industry. Can you imagine living on a float house in southeast Alaska? What a life these people live!


Melissa Cook rides on a floatplane with the water visible outside the window behind her.

Melissa Cook on a floatplane near Thorne Bay, Alaska, in 2013

Now, for the rest of the story.

My mother took this photo of me inside the floatplane. Flying out to Ketchikan, we snapped images of the float houses in the various bays between Thorne Bay and Clarence Strait. Once we reached the strait, she turned her camera on me. Through the window behind me, you can see Clarence Strait, which is part of the Inside Passage between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan.

It was a lovely September day; I know this because I was not wearing a light coat. I do have on two shirts, though.

Patricia O'Flaherty and Melissa Cook stand on The Port dock in Thorne Bay, Alaska.
Patricia O’Flaherty and Melissa Cook prepare to fly out from Thorne Bay to Ketchikan, Alaska, in 2013.
Melissa sits on the floor packing her luggage.
Melissa Cook packs her luggage full, not wasting one ounce of the fifty pound limit.

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