Marine Postal Delivery: Who Brings the Mails to the Ships?

Can you send a letter to someone who’s in the Navy? If yes, how does the Marine Postal Delivery work? How long will it take for the USPS to deliver it? Who’s going to be the mail carrier on the water and how they’ll locate the cruising vessels? All answered here; read on!

Marine Postal Delivery: Who Brings the Mails to the Ships?

Marine Postal Delivery: Who Brings the Mails to the Ships?

In this post of the Sailingyes, we’ll take a look at the mailing activities at the seas and overseas. Let’s start with some technical information about the departments involved in the procedures.

Responsible Departments for Overseas Post

The USPS (United States Postal Service) controls all the postal tasks within the USA. However, when the delivery must take place outside of the U.S. territory, the Department of Defense manages the tasks. DOD utilizes the US Military Postal Service to transport the cargos to the ships at sea.

The US Navy’s mail system that includes several Fleet Post Offices (FPOs) takes charges on the water and acts like the on-water branch of US Military Postal Service. Navy’s FPOs have several branches all over the world on military bases. These offices are connected to a group of Flee Mail Centers (FMLs) which are indirectly in touch with the USPS.

The Navy and Joint Military Postal Activities (JMPAs) cooperate to determine the route of each watercraft and decide what waypoints seem the best for distribution. Then they send the letters to the FPOs and let them deliver them to the FMLs.

Finally, FMLs carry the packages/letters to the closest military bases on the ships’ waypoints (determined by the Navy and JMPAs) so that the crew can receive them.

Modern Ways of Delivery at Sea

Modern Ways of Delivery at Sea

The advancement of technology has changed the way of transportation. And eventually, the marine postal delivery has transformed into a more efficient and fast way of distributing than before.

Below are some of the most advanced techniques in this field. Some of them are the updated versions of the classic methods, while others are completely innovative ones.

  • Port of Call Exchanging:

This is probably one of the oldest organized ways of distributing cargos/posts to the crafts. In this method, officials utilize the route information of each boat to determine the next port of call within a period so that the cargo can be sent there.

When the ships reach to that port of call where they’ll re-provision and refuel, a post (or military) officer transports the posts, etc. Boats can also stop by at these ports to send their mails. The DOD will take the responsibility of their shipment and carry it to the U.S. and convey it to the USPS officers.

  • Underway Replenishment:

UNREP is a classic way of exchanging loads between two ships. It was developed in the 20th century and has been a major part of naval activities ever since. In this method, a long pipe-like tool is employed to create a connecting line between two vessels with which they can exchange goods.

Back when the logistics where the most important part of a sailing trip, UNREP was a way of exchanging fuel and provision. However, in some cases, one of the counterparts of this exchange could distribute posts as well.

The USA was the first country to use a series of watercraft as traveling post offices. These crafts were able to determine the route of other vessels and distribute the cargos to them using the Underway Replenishment technique.

Aircraft Carriers

  • Aircraft Carriers:

This method is the best bet for military postal delivery at sea. Since the naval ships mainly own a landing platform, aircraft carriers can track them and land the loads on their deck as fast as possible. This way the crafts won’t need to wait until approaching the next waypoint or port of call.

Any aircraft can load up the goods/letters and carry them to the on-water operating USA warships. This is the fastest way of linking the land and the sea.

  • Hovering Helicopter:

Alike the aircraft carriers, helicopters can approach an operating vessel and distribute the shipment promptly. They can also load the outgoing posts of the crew and bring them back to the FPOs where officers arrange them.

However, this system is applicable when the on-water craft is close to the shoreline. The helicopters cannot travel long distances. And right now, the most efficient craft (AH-56A Cheyenne) can hover for 1,225 miles, which is great but sometimes not enough.

  • Surfaced Submarines:

Using a sub to convey mails sounds a bit creepy. However, this is an available option for DOD as there are situations where air or above-water ways are not accessible.

Right now, it’s not a favorable marine postal delivery system. But the US Navy is always ready to utilize subs as a distributing system for operating USA crafts.

What Was It Like in the 18th Century?

What Was Marine Postal Delivery Like in the 18th Century?

Fun fact about the marine postal delivery in the 18th century is that there was no organized method to take care of it. Sailors used to ask other mariners on the opposite routes to carry their letters.

The procedure was quite informal and moral value-based. You had to talk to the stranger mariners on the other boat asking where their destination is. Then, if their last stop seemed a satisfying one—close to your home—you’d ask them to carry your letters.

Another method for the people on the land was to write several versions of the same letter and send all of them via separate vessels. This was a way to ensure at least one of them will get to the destination. Remember, there was neither a guarantee for the delivery nor a double blue tick thing back then!

Reference (s):

Sailing Fundamentals


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