Living afloat: the practicalities of admin!

If you make the move to a boat from living conventionally on land, there are some basic aspects of everyday life that need to be considered.

An address

Despite the popularity of alternative lifestyles in recent years, Britain is still entirely locked into old-fashioned notions about how people should exist. This is no more evident than when you give up your bricks-and-mortar home. Whilst workarounds do exist – see below – the lack of a conventional home address is a problem for some documentation such as driving licences or any application where you’re supposed to provide proof of address such as utility bills.

Unfortunately, the only 100% official solution for this is a bona fide residential mooring but these are very rare and rather costly. Outside that scope then, you’ll need to rely on friends or family to let you use their address but even that comes with caveats such as when it comes to car insurance (see below)

Post

If you have a proper residential mooring, this is a ‘proper’ address as far as society is concerned so no worries. You can use it for everything just as if you were living in a house.

Even some non-residential (leisure) moorings will permit a certain level of post to come to the site but will usually have restrictions on what you can use that address for. Citing it on your driving licence likely won’t be allowed and neither will using it for business purposes. Check your mooring owner’s terms and conditions for the specifics. And then check what the marina manager actually permits, as this may be more flexible than the official rules!

Other than that, it’s time to rely on family and friends again, who might let you use their address for mail and you’ll have to work out your own method for collecting it or having it read to you over the phone or suchlike.

Failing that, you can sign up to one of many paid-for mailbox / redirection services. Typically these permit you to use their address for everyday correspondence but not necessarily as a registered address for any legal formalities.

They will either forward your post to another address of your choosing (which you can change as you move around the canals) or scan it electronically and email it to you. Charges may vary for receiving parcels and the forwarding costs can be substantial.

Shopping

All this talk of parcels brings us neatly on to shopping because whether you love it or hate it, the online shopping behemoth Amazon is a rare example of a retailer that’s truly got delivery sorted even when you don’t have a fixed address. You can choose to have your parcels delivered to a vast array of secure local pick-up points from petrol stations to supermarkets. Some are attended, some are automated drop-boxes to which Amazon email you a key code. It’s incredibly well thought out and so widespread that it solves most problems that boaters have to battle with when it comes to having goods delivered.

In terms of grocery shopping, the canals wind their way through many major towns and cities so in those regions it’s easy to moor and walk to a nearby supermarket, though you may wish to invest in a portable wheeled trolley or a substantial backpack to help carry the goods back.

However, it’s also now the case that most supermarkets offer reasonably-priced delivery services and by and large they don’t actually require a household address but just a postcode and a line or two of instructions for the driver.

For example, in 2021, I was stuck on a mooring below a lock on the River Trent for a week due to very high water levels that had led to the lock being closed. I needed food and used the Tesco app to order, giving the postcode of a rowing club nearby along with a note of my phone number. Lo and behold, the driver turned up exactly as expected albeit with a quick call to me to check exactly where I was. Such deliveries are now quite common with boaters.

Car insurance

If you keep a car while you live on a boat, and don’t have a land-based residence any longer, it may seem unfeasible to get insurance. It seems, however, that what they really care about is not where you live but where the car lives so as long as it remains in one spot for the majority of its time, you can give the insurer the ‘kept’ address, along with whatever your chosen ‘correspondence’ address is for them to write to you. That said, do declare your situation in full to the insurer as they may have peculiar rules and it would be terrible to have a claim denied based on a misunderstanding or failure to fully declare your circumstances.

This approach only works, of course, where the car has a regular storage address. In my case, I would leave the car behind at that known address (often a marina, with the blessing of the management of course) while I went off for months at a time, and then got by without a car whilst out touring.

Some cruisers rely on bringing the car with them however, which firstly necessitates going back to get it every time you move the boat (such boaters often invest in folding bicycles for this purpose) but also removes the notion of an insurable ‘kept’ address and this prompts fainting, sweating and coronary attacks with insurance companies. There is no solution other than to ring around, explain the problem, and expect to pay a hefty premium since the insurer will have to base the cost on the worst case scenario of where you might potentially leave the car at any point.

Doctors & dentists

Private doctors and dentists won’t care what your address is as they only want it so they can write to you occasionally. So if you’ve got the cash to flash on private healthcare, you’re sorted.

For everyone else, the NHS supposedly cannot insist on you giving proof of address when you register for services although there are exceptions to this rule[1]. Despite that, most practices insist on proof so the NHS itself has had to produce a printable card you can download and show to the surgery. Even so you might face a struggle because an “acceptable” reason for not registering you is if they have closed registration to anyone outside their practice area.

In the last couple of years, trials of ‘GP by smartphone’ software have begun which have potential for boaters. These include “GP at Hand” and “Livi” though the latter does still require you to have an existing GP registration but you can get an appointment online via the app rather than having to go in person to a surgery.

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[1] See the helpful page at https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/advice-section/what-to-do-if-a-doctor-surgery-wont-register-you-without-a-fixed-address-or-id/ and also https://www.cqc.org.uk/guidance-providers/gps/gp-mythbusters/gp-mythbuster-29-looking-after-homeless-patients-general-practice

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