Polling Station (Man vyi)So, you want to cast your vote, sign on, tap the doctor for some special pills, switch bank accounts, have a wisdom tooth whipped out, and fetch 'A Memoir of Administration' by J R Hartley from the library, all in time for tea. It's a doddle if you're normal, but what if your address is My Boat, A Canal, The World?  First, let's deal with the internet...

Getting online

If you have a residential mooring you'll probably have access to the internet.

If not, the easiest way to get online is to use a smartphone: your computer links automatically to your phone, as if it were a hotspot, and accesses the internet over the mobile network (called 'tethering').  An alternative is to use a mobile dongle instead of a smartphone.  This can be cheaper if you use pay-as-you-go or don't have a smartphone at all.

The mobile internet is fast enough these days to stream video (even without 4G). In cities the network can get busy from about 5 o'clock - it still works but it's slower.

Maddeningly, the networks still offer paltry data allowances and charge an arm and a leg if you go over their limits.  Some networks offer 'unlimited internet' with their smartphones but don't allow you to tether your laptop (or they limit their 'unlimited' allowance if you do).

It's worth shopping around.  The Three deals are quite good but all providers keep chopping and changing so it's worth doing some research (and always ask about the tethering limits - it's usually only mentioned in the smallprint).

You'll find that the mobile internet gets busy from about 5 o'clock - it still works but it's slower.  In the morning it can be fast enough to give you whiplash.

Doctors, libraries and so on

As a general rule, living on the water is no barrier to health care and social services. The main obstacle you will experience is that some front line staff don’t know this and it can be frustrating, but there's usually a simple solution.

If your boat has a residential home mooring, then you won't have to worry because that'll be your postal address.

If you're on a non-residential mooring or you're a 'continuous cruiser' and have no home mooring, then you'll soon find that the world's administrators don't quite know how to deal with you.  The reason for this is very simple - the computer they use to sign you up insists on knowing your address.

The easiest solution...

...is to ask your parents, your work, a mate, whatever, to use their address.  If you do this, keep the same address for everything; if you chop and change you could mess up your credit rating.

The next best solution...

...is to use the 'no fixed abode' category that most doctors, dentists, libraries, local councils, job centres and so on can include you under.  In practice, this usually just means registering using the institution's (e.g. doctor's surgery's) own address.  Just remember that you may be the first boater that has asked the admin person to do this.  In some cases this will register you as temporary for the duration of your stay in the area.

Getting post

The only way to to do this is through a friend/work etc. - it's just one of the awkward things about living on a boat.

Registering to vote

If you're not on the electoral roll you can't vote, it can be hard to get insurance, and it isn't good for your credit rating either, but this is easily sorted out.  If you don't have a home address - or even if you do but it's far from where you keep/cruise your boat - then you can still join the local electoral roll.  All you need to do is fill out a short Declaration of Local Connection form.  Every borough/county has their own version - google the form and the county/borough to get hold of it, or pick one up from your local council offices (they might not have heard of the form).  Don't be alarmed that the form is typically designed with psychiatric patients, prison inmates and street-homeless in mind - it's also for you!

  • You need to tick the 'homeless' box - even though you have a home, namely your boat, 'homeless' in this case really just means 'without home address' - it's a fault of the form and it ought to be changed.  You won't be registered homeless as a result.
  • You will still need to give a postal address but it doesn't have to be in the borough/county and it doesn't have to be your home - it can be any address in the UK where you could pick up a letter.  A friend's address will do.
  • If the address you give is your own house/flat but it's out of the borough/county etc. you can still use that address for bank statements and the like, but your eligibility to vote will be based in the borough/county where you have declared a local connection, so that's handy.
  • The declaration of local connection expires after a year but can be renewed.  (This ought to be changed, too, as it effectively takes people off the electoral roll by default, disenfranchising typically poorer people.) 
  • If you are already on the electoral roll somewhere else, then you need to remove your name from that roll.  If you don't, you're likely to harm your credit rating and it might be hard to get insurance.  This is easily done, too - just google your old local council's electoral registration/roll pages and you'll be told how to do it.

There's another good reason to declare a local connection.  When there are disputes between local residents and boaters, local councillors are mandated to represent the residents but not the boaters.  If boaters can declare a local connection, then the local councillors have to be (or ought to be) more even-handed.