One of the first questions many people have as they are starting to think about living on a boat is “what do you do about mail if you live on a boat . . . especially if you are cruising and not staying in one place?”
The good news is that it’s not as hard to handle mail if you live on a boat as you may think, in part because of technology and in part because of specialized services designed to forward mail to you wherever you are.
The basic strategy for getting mail when you live on a boat and cruise starts with decreasing the amount of mail that you get. This has six different parts:
- Go Paperless. Everywhere that offers a paperless option, sign up for it. Banks, stock brokerages, clubs, utilities, insurance. While this requires that you periodically have an internet connection, that’s usually easier to arrange than a mail delivery.
- Electronic Payments. We put all our routine bills on automatic billing, most to our checking account. A few companies only offer automatically charging our credit card, so we do that where we have to. We also have our credit card linked to our checking account and once a month it gets paid off in full, automatically. We just have to make sure there’s enough money in the checking account to cover it!
- Online Banking. Really strong online banking and investment services is critical. Being able to deposit checks with a smart phone app simplifies things. Several years ago, we switched from a local bank that had poor online banking tools to Capital One, which is fantastic (their 360 account is designed to be online-only). While it costs more, we use a full-service brokerage for our IRA/investment accounts — on several occasions when we’ve been cruising outside the US the ability to contact a real, live person who knows us (rather than calling a “customer service” line) has helped immensely.
- Electronic Subscriptions. Both Dave and I prefer reading hard copies of magazines and newspapers, but we’ve switched to electronic versions in the interest of getting them promptly. If you want your home town newspaper, you can often get an online subscription or an app — sometimes for free and sometimes with a fee (we’ve always found the fee to be considerably less than the paper version). A side benefit is saving trees and not generating trash!
- Encourage Email. We encourage friends and family to send us email or call for all the usual card-sending occasions such as birthdays, holidays and the like. Snail mail usually reaches us after the occasion!
- Packages. When we order anything, we give the shipping address of where we are. We impress upon family and friends to ask us for a current address before sending us anything.
That will greatly decrease the volume of mail that has to get to wherever you are on the boat, but there still will be some. There are three basic ways to get it:
- Friend or Family. You can have your mail forwarded to (or held and picked up by) a friend or family member who sorts out the junk and periodically sends a package of the good stuff to wherever you are. How well this works depends on how conscientious they are . . . and if you’re outside your home country, the job gets much harder as they have to navigate the world of international shipments. If you are going to be cruising full time, you can file a “permanent” change of address to send all your mail to them or you can get a PO box and forward your mail there to keep it separate.
- Forward to a Marina. If you are basing yourself out of one marina, you can have your mail forwarded there. Of course, first check with the marina about any restrictions they have! Another option is to get a local PO box.
- Mail Forwarding Service. Mail forwarding services are companies that are set up to deal with the needs of cruisers, full-time RVers, people working overseas, traveling performers and the like. You get a “street address” from them and file a change of address from your old address. They hold your mail and send it when requested or on a set schedule if you’re in one place for a while. Most offer to pitch the obvious junk mail, some will scan mail (envelopes or contents) or watch for a particular piece (generally at an additional cost). Good companies are familiar with helping you establish residency in a state, registering vehicles, getting a driver’s license, and the like, as well as sending packages by the most cost-effective method. They know how to send international shipments and deal with customs.
We’ve opted to go with a mail forwarding service — St. Brendan’s Isle (we also used a mail forwarding service 2002 to 2009 when we previously cruised full time). With them (as with most), they charge a monthly fee plus the cost of shipments and any special services. You deposit money on account with them via credit card and then whenever it gets low, they add more via the credit card.
While this costs more than having a friend or family member handle our mail, we prefer it for the long term. SBI has been in business over 25 years and has a great reputation. We’ve now used their service for over six years and had excellent service. They also gave us detailed information on how to make our SBI address our legal address.
Are you getting ready to cruise? Need a hand figuring out how to downsize? My friend Chris DiCroce has a 4-week online course designed to help you with all the decisions that have to be made. The info on how and where to sell items will way more than pay for the cost of the class.