Sailing with a young family can be daunting, especially if you are new to sailing yourself. The thought of it may be idyllic – pottering around on a scorching summers day, anchoring in a small bay and watching the kids play on the beach. In practice the idea may fill you with dread and trepidation.
But fear not! Sailing with a young family is not only infinitely possible; it can also be a very enjoyable experience. Below are some tried and tested ideas to get you started. After reading this, hopefully getting out on the water with your family might not seem like such a scary idea after all!
- Start off with short trips in good weather and gradually increase the duration and distance over time – visit places where the kids can get ashore so they can let off steam
- Start as you mean to go on – Establish ground rules from the word go and stick to them
- Strap them in! For babies, strap down a potty seat or car seat in a safe place in the cockpit and then strap the child in. You can see them and they can see you. In port you can set up a baby bouncer in the cockpit hanging from the boom. Once toddling, put them in a harness and attach the harness line to a strong point in the cockpit or to the jackstays if you’re in port. Clip on netting for the foredeck will keep them from slipping over the side
- Wear your lifejacket too – If your children see you wearing your lifejacket as a matter of course they are less likely to argue about wearing theirs
- Find a safe place in the cockpit where your children can go when coming into port or tacking and gybing. They can see what’s going on, but are well out of harms way
- Be prepared – make sure you are happy with how the boat and her systems work and have done your passage plan before leaving port (you can even do this at home!)
- Sit the kids with whoever’s on the helm, leaving the other parent free to navigate and handle sheets during tacks and gybes. They can then chat, sing songs, play eye spy and other games and be lookouts!
- Involve your kids! Even from an early age get them on the helm, helping to keep a look out, tie fenders on or pass warps. Make them a part of the crew! (When tying on fenders, keep them inboard until you’ve checked the knots!)
- Explain everything, simply. If children understand why, then they are more likely to follow rules. Explaining how the boat works and involving them in what’s going on will hold their interest in sailing
- ‘Teddy Overboard’ drills! Practising Man Overboard drills is great for the whole family but also means that should a real emergency arise then your children will already know what to do
- Let them play whilst sailing in the forepeak or aft cabin, but do remember to tell them when you’re tacking!
- Take toys with large parts. Fishing around in the bilges for lost Lego is a futile exercise…
Have fun and enjoy spending time with your family on the water – sailing with children just makes the adventure more of an adventure!