Kids – Keeping them Safe and Happy on the Water

Whether you are an experienced sailor or a novice, it’s likely that the time will come when you have to make the decision – do you take the kids with you, or put your boating on hold until they are older? Like most things in life, there is no hard and fast rule, but with a bit of common sense, planning and give and take, there is no reason why taking kids on the water should be a chore.

The two main goals should obviously be to keep the kids safe, and keep them happy. Anyone who has had children will probably agree that if they are happy, you are happy.

Here are a few ideas which may help when planning a boating holiday with the kids.


  • The wearing of life jackets should be mandatory when on deck at any time (even when moored up). If you wear yours with pride, they won't feel different and singled out. It is best if the children have their own life jackets which fit well and that they like wearing. Life jackets should always be worn when travelling in the tender.
  • Life lines should also be attached if you have toddlers on board who are unsteady.
  • Netting can be strung round the boat to improve safety but it must not be relied on too heavily.
  • An extra adult on board is useful to keep and eye on adventurous toddlers especially when mooring up, coming in and out of harbour, or performing a tricky manoeuvre.
  • Teach them simple rules such as – one hand for you and one for the boat – no running or jumping.
  • Watch the sun and the wind and protect them with hats, strong sun cream and light cover ups. Remember that on the water the effects will be much greater than on land, especially on delicate skin.
  • Have a good quantity of wet wipes, mosquito spray and antihistamine cream with you especially when you go ashore.
  • Make sure they have sensible non-slip shoes.
  • Get them familiar with the boat before you set off, but don't bombard them with science and a list of rules. Introduce them gently in an interesting way.
  • Do make them aware of any dangers, but beware of practical demonstrations. I had a boom dropped on my head by a well meaning skipper.
  • Teach them how to behave on a pontoon and in a dinghy, especially getting in and out.
  • Remind children that the skipper's command must be obeyed immediately, whether they are a parent or not.
  • A good knowledge of water safety is a useful tool to work on before they start their holiday, as well as an idea of how to behave on a boat.
  • Remind them that although water is fun, it is also dangerous and usually very cold.
  • For older children, a sailing course before their holiday could be beneficial. There are courses specifically aimed at children.
  • Practice "man overboard" drill, so that both the adult crew members and the children are confident that they can be picked up if the worst happens.

Peace of mind

  • Try to organise the days so that you and your partner or spouse take equal responsibility in the child minding (as much as is possible) so that one person is not "stuck down below" with the kids for the majority of the time.
  • Often the boats motion is soporific and will encourage young children to sleep. But remember if they sleep a lot during the day, they may be reluctant to settle down at night.
  • Give them their own bit of space on the boat and take favourite toys, games, colouring books, DVDs, play stations etc. to keep them occupied.
  • Take plenty of non-spill drinks and snacks with you.
  • Teach them how to use things properly, such as the toilets. "Don't put anything in the toilet you haven't eaten first".
  • Give them simple tasks so they feel they are part of the crew.
  • Don't be too ambitious about passage plans and try to stop at lunchtime to break up the day.
  • Do plenty of interesting things like swimming, picnics, going ashore.
  • Let young children pretend to steer the boat, sitting on Mum or Dad's knee, in calm conditions.
  • Older children can be given simple tasks like steering the boat towards a point on the horizon, or staying on a compass setting, spotting buoys, tending the dinghy, making entries in the log, practicing knots.
  • They could be encouraged to write their own ship's log, not with things like wind speed and compass heading, but including interesting things they have seen or done each day.
  • Older children will probably be interested in some aspects of how a boat works. Try to find some areas that they are interested in and find the time for explanations and demonstrations.

Alright – I know that a lot of items on this list are common sense, but nevertheless they might be worth thinking about, especially if you are new to boating or haven’t taken children with you before. Just remember, the children should be adding to the experience, not getting in the way. So if you find that the latter is the case, maybe you should wait until they are a bit older.

Good luck and happy boating!

Author – Dee White

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