receiving mail

There is no simple answer to receiving mail when living on a sailboat, and options relying on services are specific to each country. Whenever possible we go paperless, and we rely on friends and family on land to receive important mail. They scan and send some letters digitally, and when we find a place to receive mail(marina, post office, friend in another country) they bundle our letters and send them to that address.

When in another country, we rely on marinas to receive packages. In our experience, they are usually okay with foreigners doing this, especially to order boat parts.

Canada-specific options

We have more to say on receiving mail in Canada since it's where we're from, and because we've spent a lot of time living on a boat there. Most marinas will not allow transients to use their address to receive mail, but local yacht clubs may help a foreign-flagged boat. Liveaboard marinas will accept packages for you if you live on their docks, although there are very few of these nowadays... and their numbers are dwindling.

Flex Delivery with Canada Post. If the plan is to stay near a specific location for a long period of time(or if you return there often enough), it is possible to have packages shipped to any Canada Post location using Flex Delivery. Having items shipped that way doesn't cost anything extra. The downside is that they only accept parcels, not letters, for letters see Poste Restante. Flex Delivery also doesn't accept courier mail(Fedex, UPS) and the service requires that you have a permanent home address to sign up(we again relied on our friends for this).

Poste Restante. When traveling within the country Canada Post allows the use of any post office to receive mail for you. "Travelers can receive mail for up to 4 months at any Post Office. Apply in person at each Post Office where you would like to receive your mail and request an application for general delivery service(poste restante). There is no charge. Please bring government-issued photo identification, even if issued by a foreign country."

UPS mailbox. Since we spent 4 winters in Victoria, we've shared a UPS box with 2 other sailor friends which permits us to receive packages from all shipping carriers. A UPS mailbox provides a street address, which gives more shipping options than a PO box. Getting a mailbox with UPS is not the cheapest option($18-25/month, prices vary per location), but sharing it makes it more affordable. This option only works if you spend part of the year in one place.

A permanent business address. For those who liveaboard near a city, it is possible to rent a virtual office to receive mail. This option is good for those who work from their boat and require a permanent address for their business. For example, our friends on the sailboat(SV Bloom) use the Paramount Executive Center in Victoria B.C. as a permanent address for their business(it acts as a virtual office) and to receive mail, but it's pricey($55/mo). They also recommended Datatech Business Solutions(again, in Victoria B.C), which is supposed to be a bit cheaper, but we have not checked.