For an urban alternative, go coastal

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / May 15, 2011

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Prime location. Check. Sleeps six. Check. Fully-equipped kitchen. Check. On-call, 24-hour maintenance service. Check. Pets welcome. Check. Gentle swaying. Check.

Redefining what it means to rent a place “on the water,’’ Boston-based SleepAfloat offers a variety of houseboats for adventure-minded urban travelers or New Englanders interested in close-to-home and cost-effective getaways. Not your typical city accommodation, houseboats docked at Shipyard Quarters Marina in Charlestown provide easy access to popular tourist sites at nightly rates of $275-$375. Prices are designed to be competitive with waterfront hotel rooms.

Adding a different kind of value, houseboat renters often feel right at home, getting to know “neighbors’’ in the marina and barbecuing outdoors.

Andy Chason, SleepAfloat founder and owner, first considered the concept of houseboat rentals when he was living on a refurbished barge in Boston Harbor in the 1980s and ’90s. The five-bedroom, three-bathroom vessel with a hot tub on the roof was, he said, “Quite the pad back in the day.’’ It attracted a lot of attention and Chason thought others would enjoy houseboat living, even if only for a long weekend or a week.

“Our goal is to be a first-class alternative to staying in an on-land accommodation,’’ said Chason, a Boston-based entrepreneur. “We find people are looking to be a little outside of the box. It’s fun staying on a boat.’’

SleepAfloat houseboats come in two general types: older, refurbished boats and custom-designed vessels that look similar to small cottages. All have roof decks, outdoor space, grills, and kitchens. With tall ceilings and plenty of windows for natural light, interiors avoid that cramped cabin feel.

Including Boston, SleepAfloat owns and operates 25 houseboats spread among Philadelphia, Baltimore, Annapolis, Md., Los Angeles, and Hilton Head, S.C. The company will expand soon to Washington, D.C., New York, New Orleans, and locations in Florida.

At every location, SleepAfloat aims to dock houseboats near popular attractions, restaurants, and public transportation. Typically, that translates to neighborhood-like settings that vacationers enjoy more, according to feedback the company has gotten.

“On the houseboat, you feel like you’re living in a higher-end apartment,’’ said Cristina Barnes of Goodyear, Ariz., who twice has stayed on a houseboat in Philadelphia and booked one in Boston for this summer. The Charlestown location was an ideal fit for Barnes, her husband, and young daughter, who will be in town visiting family and friends in the Boston area.

“We are very much hotel people and it totally took us by surprise how much we loved it,’’ Barnes said. “Now, we keep track of where they have houseboats so we can see the rest of the country staying on them.’’

Chason is betting more vacationers will become houseboat fans.

“You’re in a unique environment and it’s a novelty,’’ said Chason. “But we try to go way beyond it being a novelty with all that we offer.’’, 617-855-5092