Getting children on boats from a young age can give them a rewarding pastime for life, says Amy Rashbrooke, but it pays to take things slowly…
Twelve years ago my husband and I bought our first boat – a Sadler 29 – before kids and even before marriage.
We relished the opportunity it gave us to get away from work and everyday life. Our swinging mooring in Chichester Harbour was our retreat, with only the piping of the oystercatchers lulling us to sleep.
We spent weekends, holidays, even our honeymoon cruising around the South Coast and across to France.
The same, but different
Then kids came along. We still loved every minute but now we were sharing with a baby on board, often in a carry cot or car seat.
The bedtime routine became more protracted. There were fewer opportunities for grown up glasses of wine while watching the sun set and the soundtrack was not so much the gentle peeping of sea birds, more the shrieks of little humans being bathed in a washing up bowl or even a bucket!
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Eventually we made a concession and moved the boat to a marina – Birdham Pool – so that we could walk ashore.
Over the next few years, we adapted our Sadler, with proud innovations like building a step to fix a car seat in the cockpit so that our daughter could be safely strapped in while we navigated locks.
When our second daughter came along, we soon realised we just didn’t have enough hands for everyone.
We said goodbye to our beloved Sadler and downsized to a Wayfarer for day sailing and picnics on the beach. We even experimented with having no boat for a while – which didn’t last long!
As soon as the kids were out of nappies and able to listen to basic instructions, we decided it was time. We upgraded to a 34ft Moody Excel and started to venture further.
With the children now 9 and 6 years old, weekends, weeks, and eventually month-long trips have been timed to coincide with the school holidays, voyaging around the Solent, across to the Channel Islands and France.
What these experiences have made us realise is that whether you are a grandparent, godparent or parent, taking children sailing isn’t a break from real life; you’re taking real life with you.
Sitting back with a glass of wine, congratulating yourself on a full day’s sailing while admiring the sunset does still happen.
But meals also need to be cooked, children need to be entertained and the comfort of a bedtime routine still has its place.
Behan Gifford, co-author of Voyaging with Kids and liveaboard blogger on Sailing Totem takes it one step further. When asked, she said: “You can’t have a happy boat if you don’t have happy kids”.
Behan thinks we need to “foster children’s ability to entertain themselves”. She continues, “It’s a radical concept in the current era.
“When we started cruising, there was a kind of detoxification period to adjust to having relatively more leisure time and figuring out what to do about it.”
Behan’s advice is to keep things humorous and not rush in to fill the gaps. She says, “Our children would say, ‘I’m bored!’ Ever the annoying dad, Jamie would say ‘Hi bored, nice to meet you!’
“I know, GROAN. But they realised we weren’t going to direct them to the next bit of entertainment… they set about figuring out how to manage entertaining themselves. “Epic imaginary games ensued. Voracious readers blossomed.”
There will be challenges along the way, perhaps even the occasional tear (that’s just the adults), but everyone we’ve met that has introduced their children to boating always says the same thing: ‘We just wish we’d done it earlier.’
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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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