One of the most frequently asked question even from seasoned charterers or charter boat owners, and the one with most misconceptions is: Can I / should I, bring the kids on a charter cruise? Well, my unequivocal answer is a resounding YES! for any child over 3 years old.
My son first came on our boat when he was 3 1/2. I could tell instantly he would be comfortable and that he would enjoy himself tremendously. He had this wonderful instinct all kids that age have, moving about the right way with a sure foot, properly climbing up and down the companionway etc. And because he has a curious mind, he immediately started exploring all the corners of the boat.
My son, now 12, has since been on our boat on countless one-week charters. And now, he really helps and he is happy as a clam. Incidentally, succeeding in this will (almost) guarantee he will be happier on the boat as a teenager and later.
We thought it would be useful to put together a bit of advice to make kids happy and safe on charter. By the way, we recommend a great site for additional input on these topics: Boatsafe Kids
The key to achieve a successful charter with kids is simple: make them participate in the action, explain what yu are doing, get them involved and put them in charge of some things, changing the latter as they grow up. Never underestimate children. Do not assume they are too young to do this or that, unless, of course, it is a matter of pure strength, and if the child is under 4 or 5, there are things he just cannot do. However, you can make him believe and help him discretely, so that he will feel proud to be part of the crew. Here are some things I have experienced with my son over the years.
• Systematically explain everything that goes on on the boat.
• Show and name the main parts of the boat. Explain what their functions are.
• Occasionally ask him/her simple questions about what you explained.
• In the dinghy, going slow, show the child how to steer -obviously, you keep control at all times. Tell him/her that soon, he/she will be the dinghy Captain. That works wonders!
• Take the child on your lap when you are steering the big boat (conditions permitting.) Explain what you are doing and watching out for.
• Show a couple of very simple knots, and make the child apply them in some situations. Create the situations if necessary.
• Of course, use simple words for all of the above, and congratulate him/her for every achievement.
• Have on board several picture books for children, relating to the current environment: fish and corals, stars and, of course boats.
• Make sure that he/she helps cleaning and tidying his/her room every morning. The child has to understand very early on that a boat cannot be messy.
Think I am crazy? You are in for a big surprise. Kids are like sponges. At that age, they will learn everything you will teach them.
Keep explaining everything that goes on on the boat, as well as the parts and their functions. Only now, you can be more specific and a little more technical. If the child is responding well, you can be even more technical.
Have your child near you when preparing your navigation for the next day. If he/she asks questions, explain.
When under way, use a baby chart like the one given by some charter companies to show the child the navigation path and how what you see on land relates to the chart.
• Have the child steer the big boat with you. Around 7/8 years-old, you can explain the effects of the wind in the sails.
• Explain the compass and the wind direction indicator.
• Keep him/her busy with the flag etiquette.
• Put him/her in charge of something. For example, make the child a spotter: ask the child to help keep an eye on boats which could be on collision course. Explain how.
• Show him/her how to coil as well as to do some more complicated knots. The bowline with the rabbit in and out of the hole is a winner. Make the child use the knots he/she knows. My son was doing a perfect monkey fist at 7.
• Ask the child to help cranking the small winches or tailing/coiling some small lines. If he can't do it, help discretely. If several crews are cranking hard or pulling sheets, make the child participate.
• In the dinghy, your child should be able to steer by himself (with you on board -of course! - and keeping one hand on the tiller just in case.) He is now the official Dinghy Captain. Get him/her the T-shirt.
• Put him/her in charge of making sure younger children wear their life jacket. Of course, supervise this discretely.
• A great book to buy for tons of kid activities while sailing is "Fun Afloat"
• Physical safety is the main priority when kids are on a sailboat. I personally have 3 simple rules on my boat: a) all children under 12 must wear a life jacket when on deck; b) no child goes on the foredeck when sailing; c) if the weather gets really too rough, kids go down below. I strongly suggest investing in a real, properly fitting life jacket, with a solid, easily caught grab-handle. For extra safety, a harness is also a good idea. But remember: none of these devices, however good they are, can be a substitute for parent supervision.
• Take time to inspire a good amount of respect for the water, the wind and the elements in general. Explain how these forces can bring a great deal of difficulty in no time. Do not scare children, but remind them that falling into the water from a boat is not the same as falling into a pool. The water may be colder or deeper. Some children understand this instinctively while others need to be reminded.
• Give the kids time to explore the boat while at the dock and start using boat terms such as head, galley, boom and cockpit. Show them where the handgrips and handrails are. Teach them the sentence: One hand for you, one hand for the boat. Have them practice moving around the boat while wearing their PFD. Show them how to use the head.
• When you are having fun on the boat, it will be contagious and children will have fun too. So avoid screaming or children will always associate boating with screaming. The same goes for panicking, or being grumpy. So if you stay calm, fun and enthusiastic, it will reflect on them.
• Let them be children. Do not make being on a charter cruise synonym of constant work. Let them do whatever they want, play down below etc. That is, if you want them to come back when they grow up!
• Keep the first day sail short. A 4-hour sail might be short for you, but not for a child. And make sure to have plenty of snacks and water to keep children happily fed and hydrated.
Of course, you can make your own rules and experiment much more than what I describe. But following those few guidelines will guarantee you many happy charters and the fabulous reward of seeing happy little sailors.