There are few things as adventurous and fun for kids as a sailing holiday. Getting out onto the sea, helping with the ropes, making new friends in the port, exploring quiet bays with a mask, swimming and rope-swinging - a myriad of possibilities await them. As parents we look forward to sharing the exhilaration of moving across the water with the sails full of wind!
Learning the ropes
Besides the sheer joy of it, sailing trips can educate and teach kids many life skills, including independence, responsibility, decision making, the importance of team work and preparation. Also, sharing a small space, respect for the sea and nature, how to tie knots and feeling like a pirate!
Sailing with kids, however, needs some thought and forward planning to make the most out of the family trip. If you balk at the idea of taking your little ones sailing, here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge.
Easy does it
It is highly recommended to take baby steps and introduce your kids to the idea of a boat first. Day sailing trips are a good, as are sailing on lakes closer to home. This is a sensible and safe way to assess any worries or fears that they may have and to discuss them ahead of a bigger trip. Also, see if anyone gets seasick! After that, an easy-sailing destination should be chosen to try out their water legs for a few days. Boat charters in destinations like Greece and Croatia offer ideal conditions and sailboats for family groups. If you are a novice sailor, or simply want another set of hands on the boat, you may want to consider a skippered charter, which puts the responsibility of a boat in the hands of an experienced skipper so that you can focus on family time and helping the kids adjust to life onboard.
Safe and Sound
Babies are the easiest, especially if you are breastfeeding and don’t need to sterilise bottles. Most cabins are spacious enough for co-sleeping safely and most can fit a portable playpen. You can do away with most of the other baby equipment; just a sling for getting on and off the boat. Once they are moving, things get more interesting .Toddlers will need a safe holding area or 1 parent with them at all times. Boats with a berth have the advantage of creating a kind-of play area which can be bolstered with pillows and gated off to keep little ones below.
Young children should wear a type 1 or type 2 life jacket that will keep them face up in the water. Wearing a life jacket should be a non-negotiable rule. Older children may wear a vest-style life jacket (type 3). Installing a lifeline off the back of the boat is a good idea for peace of mind and handy for kids to grab if there is a surface current or they get tired. Nylon safety netting can also be rigged around the boat to prevent child overboard scenarios.
Setting up rules for the boat is a must. All members of the family should know what to do and where to be in the advent of stormy weather or a man overboard situation . You can even set up a few drills to make it fun. A well-stocked medical aid kit that can deal with minor accidents and stings or bites from sea and other creatures is essential.
Keeping an even keel
One of the keys to taking kids sailing and avoid meltdowns is to keep them entertained. This is relatively easy to do on a boat.
Fishing rods, rope swing, snorkeling set, buckets for shell collecting and beach toys provide plenty of activities when at anchor. While at sea, small kids can get bored. For kids of all ages a box of coloured pencils and paper is always a good idea. There are a number of excellent children books about sailing, life on and in the sea; wildlife sheets and a pair of binoculars are great for spotting sea life on the trip. Learning to tie simple knots and ‘Being the Captain’ at the helm is something that can teach boating skills and boost confidence on the boat. If all else fails, the inevitable electronic devices can always be relied upon.
Middle schoolers will enjoy helping out with sails and ropes and having specific ‘jobs’ to do on the boat. These are great team building activities for your family. Having some paper charts of the area where you are sailing is a great activity for older kids who can plot the course on the chart, learn basic navigation skills and learn how to use the GPS. They will be fascinated by all the gadgets onboard and can keep an eye on the depth gauge or compass heading.
High schoolers might want to take a friend along, will enjoy land-based activities like scuba diving and sea kayaking. They are able to take over some responsibilities on the boat, like keeping the course at the helm, climbing the mast, preparing the ropes and controlling the anchor chain.
All hands on deck
With these basics covered, you can sail away into the sunset assured of the fact that you are giving your kids the experience of a lifetime and making precious family memories that will stand them in good stead as they chart their own course in life.
By Merryn Wainwright