Storing Documents on a Boat

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

If you had to abandon your boat, would you have your important documents? A strategy to make sure you'll have what you need.

If you’re living aboard full time, where’s the best place to keep all your important papers? Wills and so forth you may keep in a safe deposit box somewhere.

But what about the documents you need to have with you?

  • Passports
  • Boat documentation
  • Boat insurance
  • Health insurance cards (duplicates – also have one in wallet)
  • Living wills
  • Medical history
  • Pet documents (rabies, health certificates, etc.)
  • Car documents (if you have a car)

Cruising Mexico on our previous boat, we kept all these in a notebook tucked in a nice secure spot.

Great! But what if the boat caught fire or started sinking?

In the event of an emergency where we’d have to abandon the boat, we’d need those documents.  But we weren’t likely to be digging them out from the locker under the settee as we left. Ooops! Not a good storage place.

This was brought home to us as more than one person we knew did have a disaster befall them and wound up without anything they needed. Simply put, a disaster is bad enough. A disaster without documents is even worse.

At the time, we made copies of all our documents and sent them to a relative “just in case.”

Last summer, we had a better idea as we were building our ditch bag. Instead of keeping the documents in a folder in a locker, we put them in a waterproof case and put them in the ditch bag.

The ditch bag is always in an accessible place (a basic rule on board) and so if we need items routinely, they’re easy to get to. And if we ever have to abandon ship, the ditch bag is the most thing we’ll be grabbing.

NOTE: We also have copies with a relative and one in the cloud (with password protection) as backup . . . just in case. But having the originals – particularly of passports – is preferable.

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  1. Any particular waterproof case you prefer? We hit custom routinely and I would love to have something that keeps the docs organized and dry.

  2. It concerns me to have all important documents in our ditch bag which is readily accessible to us should we need to leave the boat but also very accessible to an intruder who may access our boat when we are not on board. How do you work around that?

    • I don’t mean to sound flip — far from it — but sometimes you just can’t have everything. I simply don’t have a totally secure place on my boat and anywhere I might think to hide it, I’m sure robbers could also think to look. I’m not really sure they’d be that interested in our ditch bag, to be honest. It has stuff that’s important to us, but it’s not stuff that could be easily sold. I think laptops, cameras, phone and jewelry are probably more attractive.

  3. This is really something to think about, on superyachts our captain and/or first mates have the responsibility of gathering this documentation but my husband and I still keep the important docs besides passport in a ditch bag in our cabin anytime were off the dock.

  4. We decided to use The Evernote application. We scan & store copies of passports, driver’s licenses, boat insurance, medical insurance, last income tax report, anything you want. Then, with a password, you can access your information from ANY computer. I even have a “notebook” for boat cards. I store pictures of cards plus info about where we met, what their sailing plans are, etc. AND all this is accessible on my phone. We’ve been very happy with Evernote.

  5. Matt Vickery says:

    Food Saver

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