Boating, like any family activity, is only a “family” activity if all the members are actually involved. If family members are nothing but hostages to Mom and Dad’s hobby, they’ll quickly lose interest. By assigning kids responsibilities aboard you involve them. Your children will enjoy the boating experience, and build the foundation for what may become a lifelong passion. At the very least they will be less bored. The key is to make them — and the process — important, educational and fun. You’ll probably be surprised at how much pride they take in being part of your crew.
- Most children above age five can be assigned onboard responsibilities. The key is to make real assignments and give everyone at title (including you and your spouse). You can find lists of navy titles and responsibilities online and in books, which you can then apply to your crew. (The historical nicknames are even more fun.) Take it a step further and write the titles and assignments in a logbook.
- Make sure that each trip starts with a crew briefing on safety equipment, locations and emergency procedures — every time. This must include the inspection and donning of pdfs. Be clear with your crew that the Captain will always be available for support and assistance with their assigned tasks.
- You can start individual jobs by allowing the youngest to help with the launch checklist. They can also stow daypacks and provisions and other loose items. Kids with a bit more experience can show guests where fire extinguishers and life jackets are stowed.
As time and experience increase, duties can be expanded to include:
- Tending and stowing dock lines and fenders;
- Raising and lowering the flag, ensign or burgee;
- Standing watch; and
- Maintaining logbooks and other records.
With proper instruction, older children can also operate the radio, read charts, and even take the helm. The best way to get kids to this level is to enroll them in a basic boating safety course. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has several programs available for children, such as Boating Fun (4 – 9 year olds), and Waypoints (10 – 12 year olds). Children 9 years old and up can take Boating Safely with their parents. Courses are also available through local Power Squadron units, the Red Cross and state boating-law enforcement agencies.
Remember not to over-task anyone. Too much may be worse than no responsibility at all, as it may create a dangerous situation. Judge any questionable situation carefully. You don’t need to step in every time your crew has a problem. Unless it’s a potentially dangerous situation that could too easily escalate, let them work it out.
Don’t forget to include boat maintenance in your crew’s chores. Fueling, checking fluids and other upkeep items teaches your kids lessons that they can apply outside of boating. If you trailer your boat, your crew can help with trailer/auto connections, checking lights and other transition tasks.
Finally, don’t forget to make your boat outings fun and educational. Teach your kids to respect waterways, the environment and safety.