Overview: How We Handle Mail, Taxes, Bills, Etc. While Cruising

Soon we’ll be moving back aboard the boat and resuming our adventures for the winter!  I cannot WAIT!!! But before we can sail off into the sunset, commuter cruisers have some annual arrangements to make!   Here’s an overview with some tips on how we handle certain necessities while gone cruising for six months, not necessarily in order.

1.  Caretaker.   Just as with the boat, we have a caretaker that watches the house while we’re gone.  We’re lucky to have several friends in the immediate vicinity, and while we appoint one as the “official” caretaker, reality is they all worked together when the electricity was off for an extended period while the temps plunged to minus minuses.

2.  What Happens If Your Electricity Goes Out for Weeks or Days?   I will say, in 10 years of commuter cruising, we have had alot of things happen with the house, but never had the electricity go off for an extended period…. until this winter, in the middle of the ice storm of the century.    Thanks to the help of our dedicated caretakers, we have no busted pipes or anything else seriously amiss with the cottage!   It’s important to appreciate your caretaker – especially if they were out in a major ice storm chipping ice to try and get to the water on/off at the street to keep our pipes from freezing.  I think this year we may opt to add either an override to allow our gas fireplace to be on without the electrical flicker that ignites the pilot light, or set up a backup generator just in case of extended electricity outages.    If you live in the middle nowhere as we do, it’s probably worth thinking about what would happen if the electricity goes off.  We keep ours set just to keep anything from freezing, we don’t turn everything off entirely because some years we pop in and out at different times.

3.  Sump Pump/Dehumidifier. We live in a damp area and a few years ago, decided to add a dehumidifier to supplement the sump pumps in the crawl space.  The dampness was contributing to wood rotting and mold which was not acceptable.  We opted for a dehumidifier that is built especially for crawl spaces and that automatically comes back on if the electricity has been out.  Standard home model dehumidifier’s will not automatically come back on when the electricity is interrupted, they must be reset by a human.   Since the electricity in our area of the world seems to flicker frequently, it just seemed like a good idea to have the dehumidifier located in the crawl space go back on automatically rather than ask one of our friends to crawl in to check it daily!    Now it just hums away all year long with no intervention other than to open the crawl space now and again just to hear it humming!

4.  Taxes. What a PITA!   When we were gone for six months …. i.e. literally out of the USA and out of contact other than our SSB radio for text e-mail, taxes weren’t as big a hassle as they were this year!   Since we were back in SW Florida for our mini-refit, David decided that we should be good citizens and file our taxes on time for once in six years.  Somehow I don’t think Uncle Sam minded us filing late because one of the requirements for us getting an extension was that we had to have already paid up front anything we thought we might owe.  So what’s the big deal?   Anyway, we did finally collect all the information needed and filed our taxes by the April 15 deadline.  I hope next year we are totally out of the country again!  BTW, if you ARE planning to be totally out of the country, talk to your CPA or otherwise research and find out what you need to do to get an automatic extension.  Year after year we cruised with folks that had not handled this before they left in the fall and ended up on a bad skype connection and a pokey, unreliable internet cafe trying to handle one of life’s biggest pains!  Don’t let taxes interrupt or stress your cruising time if it’s not absolutely necessary!  We didn’t and found it almost pain-free!  By the time we returned, all the tax forms were waiting, we never did it thinking we had them all only to have more 1099s show up late!   Talk to your CPA or tax preparer and see if there’s not some solution for your situation!

4.  Bills. Some cruisers arrange to have their sister-in-law handle their mail and bills, some pay a service to do it, but increasingly, cruisers are handling bills one of two ways.  First, many use online banking to handle all their necessary transactions.  Others, like us, don’t trust true online banking and opt to pay the bills automatically using a credit card OR are automatically withdrawn from our checking account.   We do this with health insurance, all other insurances and electricity.    The only bill we have that we prepay before we leave is the water bill, but since it averages $20, it’s easy to write a six month check for the water company.  We also prepay our propane bill, so far the contract rate offered is always a better deal than calling them when the propane is low.  The propane company automatically checks our tank regularly to see if we need a top off.

 

5.  Suspend Unused Services. Be SURE to suspend services that you won’t be using while you’re enjoying your cruising life!  Some that we have suspended are DirectTV, newspaper subscriptions, Verizon – when we’re out of the country and won’t need it, garbage collection, etc.  You can save significantly by suspending services and most companies have some sort of “vacation suspend” … Verizon is only for 3 months at a time and the 3 months get added to the end of my contract, but who cares.  It is a pain to have to call them after 3 months, pay for one month and then suspend for another 3 months, but it’s worth it if we’re outside of calling areas.

6.  Mail. If you’ve handled all your bills already, there should be no unexpected surprises in the mail while you’re gone.  Since we’re commuter cruisers, we opt to have friends pick up our mail at the post office once a month.  The postmaster agrees to hold it for us, but it needs to be picked up every so often by someone authorized.  I suspect it might be more formal if you live anywhere with a larger population than us. We ask friends to just thumb through and let us know via e-mail if anything seems like it might need attention.  One year we had a $13 medical payment go to overdue and then be sent to collections …. took some doing to get it removed from our credit record!  What a hassle.  Other options are to use a mail service.  Cruisers we know have used St Brendan’s Isle with success, but we have no personal experience.

7.  Turn Everything On That We Turned Off When We Left...  when leaving, we unplug everything, so the refrigerator, stove, microwave, televisions, washer & dryer, etc all need to be reconnected.  We also shut off the water to the washer & dryer and turn the hot water heater temperature way down to conserve electricity.

8.  Valuables to the Safety Deposit Box. We don’t own many valuables, but we make sure that anything of value to us … not necessarily to anyone else … such as photos, computer hard drive back ups, that kind of stuff gets put in the safety deposit box before we leave.

9.  Credit Card Notification. Be sure to call the fraud/customer service numbers on the back of any credit cards you are hoping to use … even if you’re just going from the midwest to Florida!  The fraud departments at the credit card companies are becoming increasingly vigilant about letting you use your own credit card in places that they haven’t been previously alerted to expect.    We were turned down at WalMart this winter after using our VISA there for the previous 4 months because they just noticed it was a different location … and we dared to buy gas, wine and groceries — 3 separate transactions within a few minutes.  Aaaarrrrggggg!!!  Embarrassing?  Yes, but not nearly as bad as being left high and dry by Smith Barney in Panama the year before.   All of a sudden our Smith Barney card was getting rejected randomly while we were out of the country and depending on it.  Needless to say, we were not happy and after we could not work it out, ultimately cancelled the account.   Sad after numerous years of no problem business with them!   But se la vie!  The other hint with credit cards is if you do notify your card company that you’ll be using the card in XYZ country or state different than your normal usage pattern, be sure to also alert them if you have automatic payments being charged to that card monthly – you don’t want any disruptions in those automatic payments!

10.  Back Up Your Computer! If, like many of us, use your computer for more than just e-mail, or even just e-mail, make sure you back up the hard drive before leaving.  We keep 2 external backup units, one at the cottage/safety deposit box and another on the boat so we can keep backups at each location.  Also, think through other things that could affect your life if your computer happens to die — let’s face it, living in paradise for us isn’t exactly our computer’s idea of paradise!   🙂  Heat, salt air, humidity, sand, dust, all kinds of things on a boat tend to try to shorten the life of a computer.  I’ve had three different keyboards go whacko on me while out cruising, since we use this computer for backup navigation, cruise planning, SailMail, Winlink and many other items instrumental to being aboard, we like to make sure we can be up and running on another computer if necessary with as few of delays/frustrations as possible.  For example, when my laptop was stolen anchored in Utila, we were able to buy a new laptop with an english keyboard in LaCeiba, mainland Honduras, but all my usernames and passwords were in a word document in the laptop.  How STUPID could I be!!!   Needless to say, we had to cancel many accounts and other things that we wouldn’t have had to worry about if I had arranged other ways to keep my usernames & passwords!

Think all these things through, put your plan in place and then GO ENJOY YOUR CRUISE!!!

Does my list of things to think about trigger anything that works differently for you?  Please comment and share!

 

 

Comments

  1. John Ahern via Facebook says:

    good stuff

  2. Charlotte Caldwell via Facebook says:

    Excellent article. How did you receive mail, packages when cruising?

  3. Hi Charlotte — it depends on where we were cruising … most places will allow you to have packages sent somewhere – such as a marina address (sometimes even if you’re anchored out) or sometimes an internet cafe address if you’re in the area long enough. BUT when we cruised the Western Caribbean, packages were next to impossible – if they ever made it they were outrageously expensive. For those six months, we set it up so that everything was paid for in advance – including taxes and extension. Then we had our mail picked up by friends, if they saw anything unusual, they would e-mail us. We left them several pre-signed checks just in case. I think we had to use one in six years. Our success was all in extensive pre-planning. One year – the year we were robbed – we had another cruiser’s visitors bring us some stuff. There are usually people traveling back & forth who are happy to help as long as it’s not too much.

  4. Charlotte Caldwell via Facebook says:

    Thanks a a lot. We find your blog extremely useful and will be using it more and more as we get ready to go south -we are on the west coast.

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