For my parents, the decision to bring children aboard was not a choice of theirs, but a choice of nature. They had already been cruising offshore for five years before I was born in Cairns, Australia in 1982. My brother Sam was born in Mombasa, Kenya three years later.
Still, the joys of having us around did require a change of lifestyle for them, as well as a complete adaptation of Chuklyn, our 41’ Brandlemayr ketch, to suit two small children.
Making your boat child-ready
Stringing heavy-gauge fishing net along the boat’s railings, from bow to stern, will help prevent children—and their toys—from falling overboard. As well, adding lee-cloths and netting to bunks prevents nighttime accidents. Use of wooden gates isolated the galley and companionway to keep Sam and I out of harm’s way.
It is important to set rules for your kids as to when they are allowed on deck. Young children should never be allowed on deck alone. Whether we liked it or not we had to wear our life-jackets on deck and in the dinghy, even for short distances.
Knowing the basics of how to start a boat engine, use the VHF radio and outboard and row the dinghy boosted our confidence and helped prepare us for an emergency.
Teaching your children how to swim at an early age is a good idea as well.
There are two major lessons that our parents learned quickly. First, children take up more room than you think. Second, bringing the children cruising triples the amount of time families spend togethers. Parents are just parents anymore, but teachers and friends too.
To maintain your sanity during a long trip, keep a large supply of arts and crafts, books, story CDs and board games aboard to entertain the children. Maybe invest in a TV and a VCR or a DVD player.
All toys and games can be neatly stowed away in mini-hammocks and cupboards to prevent clutter in the small space available.
Boat life isn’t just about playtime, though, if children are school-aged, they must continue with their education. Distance education for kindergarten to grade 12 is available through the Open Learning Agency and the British Columbia Ministry of Education, although some programs require computer access. It always helps to have a contact at home who knows your location and can send you the necessary packages.
Don’t be surprised if your children find it difficult to get motivated. Sometimes, my parents had to devise creative methods to convince me to complete my work. For example, my dad used to pretend to be the school inspector.
It helps to adapt the school curriculum to your surroundings. For science, I was studying sea urchins and shells and coconut crabs, which made the lessons more interesting and fun.
In 1990, Chuklyn sailed into Victoria, British Columbia and Sam and I jumped onto the dock, never to fully return to boat life again. Our family voyage had ended, but our memories would remain forever.
In hindsight, Mom says cruising with children is not for the faint of heart and she wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. On the other hand, my father always eager for an adventure, encourages families to jump on the opportunity if it arises.
From personal experience, I would say that while growing up on a sailboat had its disadvantages, namely no Nintendo or cable RTV, it is those seven-and-a-half years that truly shaped who I am today. Our family is forever bonded by those experiences and I wouldn’t trade them for all the kid’s cartoons in the world.
PUBLICATION: Pacific Yachting Magazine