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

Storing Documents on a Boat

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.

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

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

  • Rick Garvin
    Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply

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

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply

      I got a small Sterilite container (similar to a Lock & Lock) that’s big enoough for passports and boat docs (letter-folded and then folded in half). http://amzn.to/1RrERKb

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply

      Here’s a picture. It’s small, just big enough for the docs, since there’s not a lot of “excess” space in the ditch bag.

    • Rick Garvin
      Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply


      • Stan
        Posted at 10 January 2016 Reply

        Great idea. Thanks!

  • Becky
    Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply

    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?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 06 January 2016 Reply

      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.

  • Randi Barry
    Posted at 08 January 2016 Reply

    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.

  • Mary Roth
    Posted at 12 January 2016 Reply

    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.

  • Matt Vickery
    Posted at 08 May 2016 Reply

    Food Saver

  • Brock Foreman
    Posted at 16 March 2017 Reply

    I keep everything in an old chest buried in the sand, three paces from the palm tree, then left three paces…

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 17 March 2017 Reply

      I assume you’ve drawn this out on a map . . . but unfortunately it was torn in half during a gale . . .

Post A Comment