Tips for Sailing with Kids

The author reads to Braden (age 3) and Maia (age 1). Photo courtesy G. Adam.

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When I was a very young child, my brother James and I went to sea often with our parents, but when it came time for me to plan a short passage with my two girls (ages 4 and 1) and my 3-year-old nephew, I found myself wondering how we’d entertain them for an entire day offshore.

In retrospect, I should have worried more about the 6-hour car ride home – the kids were wonderful, and our day at sea passed quickly and pleasantly. The adults, my father, my husband, my brother, and shared the tasks of running the boat, entertaining the kids, and napping (the trip involved two overnights) seamlessly.

Here are a few things we learned:

  1. Watch your weather window. We had gentle weather with following winds for the whole trip. While this meant that we spent more time under power than we had hoped, it also meant that the kids could get around easily and play on deck and below without risk of injury or seasickness.
  2. Get your head out of the boat. We were lucky, because we saw a lot of whales, and whales are just plain cool. That said, there are often birds, fish, and other sea creatures to watch. Look for the green flash at sunset, the moon rise, and the phosphorescence in your wake. At separate times, all three kids sat just watching the waves. Once we arrived in Camden, the kids discovered crabs, starfish, and periwinkles on the dock pilings.
  3. Don’t underestimate the simple things. A bucket of water, two coffee cups, and a series of small items that either floated or sank kept all three entertained for well over an hour.
  4. Stick to your routine. Kids thrive on routines and get really stressed when they don’t have them. We kept meal times, bed times, and nap times as consistent with those at home as possible (all of the kids slept more and snacked more).
  5. If it looks like a sand bar, it is probably not a tide rip. Remember that you will get less sleep during the day than you would during a normal offshore cruise, which means compensating for the fact that you will be less alert. We were lucky to have four adults onboard, but we still managed to almost put the boat up on the bricks.
  6. Have fun. The biggest lesson we learned is that sailing with kids is a lot of fun. It’s not often that you get to focus on your kids without the distractions and deadlines of life on shore. Enjoy it!

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