Sailing with Kids: 5 Tips for Your Next Trip

August 21, 2015
Sailing with Kids: 5 Tips for Your Next Trip

What feels like many eons ago, I worked as a sailing flotilla hostess for a UK charter company based in Turkey.

We ran approximately 15 boats on one-week flotillas for newbies to the sailing world. It was long hours, hard work but also a ton of fun. The diversity of guests we had staying always kept it interesting.

We ran an easy grade flotilla, which meant low winds, minimal navigation by charts (we didn’t leave sight of land) and short passages. Naturally this attracted a lot of beginner or first time sailors.

As we got more into summer, the majority of our boats consisted of families, many with small children. Unfortunately I quickly saw a trend appearing – super bored kids!

I would greet the yachts every evening as they came into the designated port for that day, having a chat about their day, what they’d done/seen and any problems they had encountered. The kids would be like a bullet out of a gun trying to get off the boat! Not because of sea-sickness or wanting to see friends from other boats, but because they’d spent the previous 6-7 hours bored out of their tiny minds. Parents in their need to keep them safe and often instructed them to sit in the cockpit, don’t move and don’t touch.

Safety precautions, whilst important, shouldn’t completely overshadow what can be a wonderful holiday for the whole family.

Safety when sailing isn’t something to take lightly. At the beginning of the trip we would always make sure that all of the children (and adults) had properly fitted lifejackets. We were also able to provide netting to surround the boat should parents require it. First day orientation involved a full and detailed go-through of the boats safety features and any hazards to watch out for. But safety precautions, whilst important, shouldn’t completely overshadow what can be a wonderful holiday for the whole family.

In my (often personal) experience, if you tell kids to do/not do something, they’ll just do the opposite. Sailing when you’re sat in a cockpit with nothing to occupy you is boring! It’s like a long car journey on the motorway and I’m sure the cries of “are we there yet?” are often heard.

Sailing isn’t exclusively for adults. In fact if you look at some of the greatest achievements in sailing, they are from young adults who started in boats as small children with their parents. It is a wonderful experience whether you’re going for a day sail or something longer, that can be enjoyed by sailing with kids.

So here are some of my tips for sailing with kids, including them in the experience, and keeping their boredom at bay!

Sailing with Kids: 5 Tips to for Your Next Trip

1. Make sure children are familiar with all areas of the boat.

Telling them not to go to the bow is only going to increase curiosity. When the boat is safely moored, take them everywhere, pointing out how to walk properly across the deck, watching out for lines, cleats and other hazards. Take the mystery out of it.

2. Show children your planned route for the day or even include them in the decision.

Help them visualize where it is you’re going to and any points of interest along the way. What are you going to pass on the way? Lighthouses, old seaside ruins? Buoys and markers? Perhaps make a list and have them check off everything they spot on the way.

3. Some sailing spots can be very busy and popular. Ever played “red car” on road journeys?

This can be adapted for the sea! Boats come in all colours and sizes, so have children look out for blue-hulled boats or ones with a particular coloured spinnaker sail.

4. Teach them early.

There are many skills that can be taught whilst on passage. Get some thin, cut off pieces of line (old bits from fenders work well) and teach them some simple knots, which they can practice and get faster at. Find playing cards used for teaching different navigational buoys, and see how many they can spot and what they mean. My Fathers’s favourite technique: have children untangle and neatly coil lines — a tidy boat is a safe boat!

Sailing with Kids: 5 Tips to for Your Next Trip

5. Let children sail!

Together with parents, children can work winches and even take the helm. Don’t be afraid, the ocean is a big place and I’m sure you can find a spot where they won’t hit anything. Fingers and winches combined is a scary thought. Have the adult actually next to the winch and the child behind them, feeding and making sure the end of the sheet/line doesn’t get tangled. Similarly for the helm, work in tandem.

It’s probably not advisable to do this in tight spaces the first time but it can be a progressive learning experience. If this thought makes you a bit too nervous, be a cheeky Mummy/Daddy and leave the auto-pilot on without them knowing! It won’t be long and you’ll be kicking back with a beer whilst your kids navigate, bring the boat in and moor it up – that certainly worked for my Dad!


Photos by Emily Williams and Unsplash.

About Emily Williams

My passion for travel and exploring was inevitable, I inherited it from my Mum. Being a single parent didn’t stop her from travelling and taking my sister and I along with her.
After graduating university I worked in hospitality and the sailing industry in Turkey and the UK before finally emigrating to Canada in 2010.
I love hiking, snowboarding and any type of water-based activity, which I do on a regular basis at home and try to travel abroad several times a year to explore somewhere new.
All this I blog about at 🙂

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