When one crew member wants to hammer upwind with the lee rail awash, while another wants to use the chart table to do their colouring in, how do you balance the needs of everyone in your crew?
1. Take time to take time
It’s easy for the skipper to get caught up in the charge to get from A to B. It’s true that time and tide wait for no one, but question whether it’s truly necessary to get up at 4am and arrive after midnight. Ease everyone in gently and be prepared to recognise that it’s sometimes wiser to motor.
2. Make it a home from home
A few cuddly toys, favourite books, bedding from home, an LED nightlight, pictures up in their bunks make the kids’ cabin feel warm, welcoming and all theirs. While some grownups would prefer to anchor in a remote spot, the comfort of a hot marina shower and nearby supermarkets and cafes make all the difference when the weather is bad.
Thanks to our regular berth at Birdham Pool in Chichester, we can make the most of the reciprocal arrangements from TransEurope Marinas. Behan’s advice for older kids is, ‘seek out other families’, which is much easier in a marina.
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3. Explore ashore
It’s always tempting to do ‘just one more job’, whether that’s retying the warps, spending the day gathering victuals, or sitting in the marina laundry. Make sure to take time off the boat too and explore the local area. Not everyone wants to be focused on the boat all the time.
A few toys never go amiss: a snorkel and mask, a pocket kite for the beach, bucket and spade, a pack of cards, they don’t have to be expensive or take up lots of room if space is at a premium. You can double up on boat equipment too, providing leisure opportunities for older kids.
For example, an inflatable stand-up paddleboard can be an occasional tender for the adults and/or the basis of a Swallows and Amazons adventure for the kids. A 4hp dinghy may be ponderous with two adults plus shopping aboard but can become a planing weapon in the hands of a 12-year-old (supervise accordingly!)
5. Share the love
When jobs do need doing, get everyone involved. Going up the mast (even two feet off the ground to start with) is all good training for your crew of the future.
Varnishing is just another form of painting for a five-year-old (as long as other surfaces are well protected!) while pumping up the dinghy for going ashore is a useful job for a nine-year-old.
6. Safety first
With young children in tow, we are cautious: scanning the forecasts, keeping watch at all times. We make man overboard and other safety drills part of the fun. We use a tracking app (SafeTrx from the RYA) for any long passages and brief those at home on our passage plans.
We also get the best safety gear we can afford – auto inflation kids lifejackets made all the difference for our two as they were less bulky and therefore worn all the time without complaint – a much safer option than them not being worn at all.
7. Use devices, wisely
While it’s true, as Behan says that “[cruising] can test a parent… it’s easier sometimes to plug them in”, modern technology does have its uses. Audio books or song playlists can make long passages enjoyable for everyone to share together.
We decided there was nothing wrong with playing games or watching a film on a tablet or iPad for some downtime when the weather was bad, or when we were tired from a long passage.
We download what we want before we set off (or where we have wifi) and then charge our devices when hooked up to mains power, or when the motor is running. Plugging them in to charge at night when there is no solar, wind or motor topping up your batteries is an incredible drain.
8. That’s entertainment
Sticker and colouring books, binoculars and learning to tie knots can keep younger children occupied for hours. On one holiday our children came up with an elaborate shell-swapping game which lasted for days.
Tying knots became an obsession. So did rowing lessons, snorkelling, fishing, calling for dolphins and spotting jellyfish.
9. Must-have snacks
Snacks and drinks in a grab bag are as useful for grownups as they are for the children. None of you want to be permanently up and down the companionway steps, especially if it’s choppy. Eating little and often can help stave off feelings of sea sickness too.
10. Keep it calm
A happy (and calm) skipper sets the mood for the entire boat. On one hairy passage past The Needles en route to Poole (notoriously choppy at the best of times), we adults sang loudly and pretended everything was fine, while exchanging nervous glances over the heads of the kids.
After a short while, our youngest daughter shouted at the top of her voice, “this is the best rollercoaster ride EVER!”
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This feature appeared in the June 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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