by Capt Lisa Batchelor Frailey
Families and boating go together like peanut butter and jelly. My family boating experience started when I was 2 months old; Dad had converted a Navy-surplus 36’ wooden landing craft into our family cruising boat.
As a kid, I spent virtually every summer weekend and vacation boating, and I am ever grateful for the experience. Shared family time, learning new skills, seeing new ports, swimming off the boat, fishing and “sleeping out” can bring a family together like nothing else. As a cruiser and charter operator, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing families literally grow up sailing together – whether on their own boats, or on charter vacations. In this article, I draw from the tips offered by seasoned sailing parents to make chartering with kids a memorable and enjoyable vacation.
Preparing to sail with children
As in all aspects of chartering, preparation is key. Talk with your kids so they’ll know what to expect regarding getting wet, moving around the boat, sharing with siblings, and safety onboard. Since so many chartering activities are based around water, it’s best if kids can swim, and are not afraid of water. If your kids aren’t boaters yet, try to visit a local marina before your charter to get them familiar with boats. Do some research using books, movies or the internet on the local history and sights at your charter destination. The exciting Caribbean pirate culture is bound to be a hit; make a treasure map to go with your itinerary! Many sailing areas in the US are rich in the history of Native Americans, early settlers and watermen. Laminated fish identification cards give a special goal for new snorkelers. Help your kids keep a journal or log, to which they can add photos and postcards; in addition to keeping the memories fresh, they’ll have all kinds of material for school reports or show-and-tell. Make your own, or purchase one of the excellent kids’ nautical logs and journals on the market.
Kids sailing safety
Sailing gear and life jackets. To keep kids safe and to fully integrate them into the crew, they should have the same sailing gear as the adults onboard. This includes non-slip shoes, sailing gloves, hat, sunglasses, sun protective clothing and plenty of sunscreen. Explain why it’s important, and set a good example by wearing this gear yourself! Children’s life jackets are great safety gear and legally required in most charter areas. Shop with your kids to pick out appropriate life jackets that are safe and comfortable (perhaps adorned with a favorite cartoon character). Take a tip from these sailing parents: Sue and Mark set clear guidelines for wearing life jackets (or “boat coats”) – on the dock, onboard on deck, underway, etc. Sara and Chris’ children wear new life jackets at home to “break them in” and make them more comfortable. Parents can identify and fix any hotspots before the vacation. Even the family dog has a (broken in) life jacket!
Food and snacks
Food and drink are important aspects of any yacht charter. Whether you provision in advance or onsite, be sure to include plenty of nutritious foods that you know your kids will enjoy. They WILL be hungry from all the activity and fresh air, so meals and snacks are crucial. Remember to pack saltines for occasional motion sickness or tummy-aches. You’ll likely have many meals onboard; why not take a blanket to the foredeck, and picnic in the sea breeze? Travelling gives you a chance to explore new foods, and you may be surprised at what your kids will eat when introduced on vacation.
Drinks and hydration
Hydration is extremely important while boating. Be sure everyone has a no-spill water bottle with their name on it, and keep track of consumption to be sure they are well-hydrated. A little bit of powdered drink mix can make water more interesting, without adding too much sugar. When the adults sit back to enjoy tropical sundowners, the kids will love virgin daiquiris or coladas as a special treat.
Gettings kids involved with sailing
Involvement onboard is the key to energized sailing families. Kids of all ages can actively participate in the boat handling and sailing; with duties expanding as their skills and interests grow. Be sure to give plenty of opportunity to take the helm, pull a halyard or sheet, place a fender, and call out “Hard A-Lee!” Teach the kids a few basic knots before your charter, and have them tie the knots “for real” while onboard – fenders, cleats, stopper knots. Supervise and assist as needed, and give lots of praise. They’ll love to help, and to be part of the crew. Consider crew tee-shirts!
Kids also love to push buttons, and in this age of technology, they’re very good at it. But the onboard environment is very different from home video games, and pushing the wrong button can cause big problems. You’ll need to lay out the rules before any trouble occurs. Captain Andy (immediately re-named “Cotton Candy” by a set of 4-year old triplets on charter) told his charges that pushing the wrong button could sink the boat, so if they wanted to push anything, they must first come to him to ask permission. Many buttons were pushed, but all under supervision. Happily, the boat did not sink.
Consider delegating some specific responsibilities to your kids, so they’ll have something of their own to be proud of. I was the “Flag Lieutenant” on our family boat when I was 8, responsible for hoisting and lowering the flags; it probably influenced my joining the Navy! Dinghy Captain, Forward Lookout, Keeper of the Ship’s Log are all duties that kids might handle. Jim & Hedy have been chartering as a family for several years; they designate a “Captain of the Day” who calls out orders and delegates duties. The kids are now so proficient that they can take their parents for a sail!
Most charter boats have dinghies; many have kayaks, as well. Alex and Avi love seeing the absolute delight in their eldest son’s eyes when he’s in charge of driving the dinghy, and the autonomy and independence their boys feel when paddling the kayaks around the anchorage.
Kids sailing entertainment
There will be times onboard when you’re not underway, or when kids are not actively participating in the sailing. Be sure to have activities to keep them engaged – books, games, portable electronics, waterproof playing cards, logbooks. If feasible, designate an area of the cabin for each child to keep their things, where they can retreat when they need some private time. I can’t think of any kid on our boats who hasn’t created a blanket fort in a cabin. Take advantage of quiet family time to read or play games together. Avi notes that his favorite times onboard are early morning chess games with his sons; Alex loves reading stories with the boys on the catamaran trampoline at sunset.
Itineraries and Activities Ashore
Most kids will enjoy time ashore more than time underway. Many consider the voyage as a necessary means to an end (getting to the beach), so try to keep passages short. All charter itineraries should be flexible enough to accommodate inclement weather (or maintenance issues), or to linger in a favorite spot – this is especially true when chartering with kids. For a week-long charter, Hedy & Jim recommend building in a land day where the boat stays put, so you can dedicate time to shore excursions. Your kids will have ample opportunity to swim, snorkel, build sand castles, go fishing, clamber over rocks and explore pirate caves, hike to lookouts, chase chickens and goats, and search for seashells. What’s not to love?
When anchored or moored, expect your boat to become a diving and jumping platform. I once watched two young live-aboard kids entertain themselves for three hours by jumping off the bow and climbing back up the anchor line. I wish I had that energy! A moored charter boat is perfect for staging dinghies and kayaks, as well as noodle-raft flotillas. It’s also an excellent base for a natural science class – watch the fish swim around your swim platform, and use the onboard binoculars to study the wildlife along the shoreline.
Chartering with Kids – Overview
Chartering with kids can be a rewarding and magical experience for all, and a way to create family memories to last a lifetime. It’s a completely different experience than an adults-only charter; you will rediscover the joys of boating through a child’s eyes. Don’t try to pack every activity and destination into the first charter. Families are over-scheduled as it is; give yours a chance to relax and play together. Involve your kids completely, and plan for activities afloat and ashore. It’s vacation – have fun!
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to those whose ideas, suggestions and photos are pivotal to this article – Hedy & Jim, Alex & Avi, Sue & Mark, Sara & Chris, Captain Andy, and my parents, who instilled in me the love of boating!
Link to original article: http://www.asa.com/enewsletter/june2011/bareboat_charter_essentials.html