How do canal boats and Narrowboaters get mail?

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Living on a narrowboat can be amazing at times, with the wind in your hair and the beautiful British countryside to explore. You feel like you are living that picture postcard life! Until you realise that you need to receive an important letter and don’t have a physical mailbox anymore! So let’s talk about what the best way is to get snail mail as a full-time canal boater!

1. Live in a Marina!

The simplest way is to live in a marina full time, and a lot of people do. Pretty much all self-respecting marinas will allow you to receive mail through them. Your mail will simply be delivered to the marina’s main office for you to collect at a later date.

2. Rent a Mail Box

Another option could be to rent a mail box from one of the many providers in the UK. I would recommend one of the big players such as Mail Boxes Etc. as they are far more likely to have a mail box available for rent close to the location you require. The major upside here is that you get a permanent address for all your important mail to be delivered to.

The downside is that you will have to pass by the location of your rented mailbox on a regular basis to pick up said mail. So make sure to choose a location close to the canals you frequent. Most mailbox providers will give you the option of mail forwarding, so you could try to have your mail forwarded to another location close to where you are currently moored up whilst retaining the same permanent address.

3. Ask Friends and Family

If you are tight for cash, you could ask a close friend (and they need to be very close in order to trust them!) or a family member that would be willing for you to use their home address as the same address you use. The major downside here is that it is much less likely that this location will be convenient for you to swing by on a regular basis unless you have a friend or family member that happens to live by a canal 🙂 If your friend or family member is the helpful type, they might even agree to forward your mail to you on a regular basis.

4. Poste Restante

The Post Office service can amaze you at times with the different services they offer, and this is no different 🙂 Believe it or not you can go into any Post Office branch in the UK and ask them to hold mail for you, the service is called Poste Restante (for some reason!). When you request this from the Post Office of your choice, they will give you a special address to use to have your mail sent to.

Just be aware that the Poste Retante service will only keep UK letters/ mail for up to 2 weeks and a month if it is from overseas. This doesn’t really give you a big window of time to cruise by and collect your mail, so it only really works if you cruise an area on a regular basis or are always within a short journey of this location. I suppose you could always stay within a 2 week canal cruise radius from your chosen Post Office, but this won’t be attractive to a lot of boaters 🙂

Additionally, something that a lot of people don’t tell you about this service is that the Post Office state that ‘The service cannot be used for more than 3 months within the same UK town’. This is probably because it was setup to serve travellers originally. So you would have to change your Post Office address every 3 months, which again is not ideal 🙂

5. Send it to Work

If you are still working in a physical location, your employers may agree to let you have your mail sent there, although be sure to ask in advance. This could be an ideal solution as you need to go to work on a regular basis, so it would be simple to pick up your mail this way. The problem I see is that a large proportion of live aboard narrowboaters (especially those that continuous cruise) earn money on the cut or through remote work rather than through a physical workplace.

2 thoughts on “How do canal boats and Narrowboaters get mail?”

  1. I have a friend who receives all my mail. He opens the letters for me then photographs them and sends the images via email. You have to find someone who you trust, and someone who understands that you need to include the whole page, and shoot it at right angles so the page is ‘square’, not distorted.


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