Floating Cabins Update

On May 5, 2016 the TVA Board of Directors approved a policy to allow existing nonnavigable houseboats and floating houses (now called floating cabins) to remain in place for 30 years if they have a permit and are in compliance with the permit.

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.

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. (See Floating Cabins Current Guidelines and Status.)


Next Steps

Stakeholder Group

Stakeholder Group was convened August 18, 2017, to represent various interests and viewpoints related to the use and management of floating cabins. The interests represented include floating cabin owners, marina owners federal and state regulatory agencies, anglers, local power companies and lake user associations. This group will meet several times between August 2017 to early 2018 to provide input on the development of health, safety and environmental standards, and future regulations. They will also provide input on fees for the purpose of ensuring compliance.

Initial Phase I Rule Amendments to Section 26a Regulations

TVA has published proposed rule amendments in the Federal Register for floating cabins and public comments are being accepted on the proposed rules until March 19, 2018. The proposed amendments re-define nonnavigable houseboats and floating cabins using one term—“floating cabins”—and prohibit new floating cabins on the Tennessee River System after December 16, 2016. The proposed amendments also include limited mooring standards, clarifications regarding permissible rebuilding and modification of existing floating cabins and a requirement for all floating cabins to be registered.  TVA will update this website with instructions about registering your floating cabin if this requirement is incorporated in the final rule amendments to be published. 

Phase II Rule Amendments to Section 26a Regulations

More detailed health, safety and environmental standards for floating cabins will be addressed in a later Phase II rulemaking once TVA has discussed proposed standards with stakeholders. Until final rules are published and except as amended by the WIIN Act, TVA’s current rules remain in effect.

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

  • Do not build any new floating cabins. TVA is not permitting new floating cabins that did not exist before December 16, 2016.
  • Ensure your structure is moored within an approved marina harbor limit or at a shoreline location already approved by TVA in an existing permit.
  • If you own a nonnavigable houseboat, review your permit to determine if you are in compliance.
  • If selling a nonnavigable houseboat, make the buyer aware of upcoming changes.
  • If buying a nonnavigable houseboat, ensure it is in strict compliance with the owner’s TVA permit and notify TVA within 30 days of the transaction that you are the new owner. 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 may 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, you must obtain a permit from TVA, and you may be subject to fees.
  • Visit this site frequently for updates and new information.
  • Comment on the proposed rules, standards and fees when they are published.

The Concern

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 2,000 floating cabins and nonnavigable houseboats are currently on TVA reservoirs and the Tennessee River System. About half of these structures were permitted as nonnavigable houseboats prior to December 16, 2016. Current TVA regulations prohibit nonnavigable houseboats except for those in existence before February 15, 1978. 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)


For additional information, please contact:

Dave Harrell
(865) 632-1327