Sailing with Kids: 10 Things to Teach Your Toddlers About Sailboats
Kids on sailboats add a lot of enjoyment but they take a bit of patience and time too. The best thing you can do to encourage your kids to like sailing and be self-sufficient and safe, is to teach them a few basic skills.
1. PFDs are Your Friends
Children 12 and under must wear a lifejacket on a moving vessel. But even if your kids are older or the boat isn’t moving, get them used to the idea of wearing a PFD and teach them how to put one on themselves. Be sure to find one that fits and is comfortable otherwise you’ll have a battle on your hands. That said, teach your kids to swim as soon as possible.
Learn more by reading Life Jackets, Vests & PFDs: How to Choose the Right Fit.
2. Hands Inside the Boat
Boats are big—even the little ones, so never try to fend off or stop a boat with your hands. If a collision is impending, teach them that it’s just fiberglass so they should keep their body parts safely inside the vessel especially when docking.
3. Fingers Away from Winches
Teach kids the proper way to wrap a line on a winch and the safe way to ease it with their fingers held away and outward. And since a windlass is a winch, show them how to interact with it when anchoring and mostly how to stay away from it until they’ve been taught.
4. Seasickness is Yucky
Seasickness isn’t a point of shame and it can happen to anyone. Teach kids to let you know if they’re not feeling well rather than hiding it. Tell them not to go below, which can exacerbate the feeling, and to look at the horizon to feel better.
Above all, they should know that if they feel something, they should say something.
5. Taking a Cue from Adults
Teach your kids the importance of wearing sunscreen and sunglasses because the glare on sailboats from the water and the sails can be intense and damaging. And make sure they have their own water bottle and that they drink often because dehydration is sneaky and dangerous.
Find out more in Sunscreen & Sun Safety Tips for Boaters.
6. Using a VHF Radio
Although tempting to kids, the VHF radio isn’t a toy. Teach them not to play with it and stress its importance in proper communications and as a means to call for help. Have them practice making an emergency call on Channel 16 (without pressing the mic) by using the right protocol and communicating the nature of the emergency and the boat’s location because it could be you who may be incapacitated on an outing.
7. Holding a Course
To get anywhere, whether under sail or power, you need to be able to hold a course. Teach kids the visual method of fixing on something stationary on the horizon and also how to sail by the compass. This skill could save their life someday and besides, kids make great little autopilots once they learn.
Start with the basics by reading How to Navigate a Boat.
8. Where's the Wind
A sailor’s first skill is to identify where the wind is coming from and its effect on the boat. Make a game of finding the wind and guessing how strong it is either in mph or on the Beaufort scale. This little bit of orientation will help them develop the instincts to be truly good sailors someday.
9. Points of Sail
Once they’ve got wind direction down, it’s time to teach the points of sail and the wind’s effect on the boat depending on the direction of sail. This leads naturally into teaching the basics of sail trim and although trim can take a lifetime to perfect, the basics are easy enough to get a kids’ attention and give them a feeling of mastering the concept.
10. Bring Friends
Gauge how much learning your kids can take in a given amount of time and don’t cross that line. One of you will tire of sailing school at some point and that’s when it’s great for kids to have friends along to engage them. Besides, sailing is a social activity and that should be clear to them right from the start.
Bonus Tips for Adults
Choice of Boat
Depending on the age of your kids and whether or not you already own a boat, you can opt for a more kid-friendly vessel. Catamarans have plenty of level deck space for toddlers to crawl and learn to walk and they’re less likely to get seasick on a cat than a monohull beating to weather. So if you’re buying or chartering a boat, consider what will make it easier for kids.
Learn more by reading Types of Sailboats, Activities & Uses.
Kids can either complicate or enhance a sailing charter but for sure, they will make it different. For the most part, kids aren’t self-entertaining.
- Consider their ages and their preferred activities.
- Ask the charter base for additional equipment like mask/snorkel/fins, kayaks, SUPs and water toys.
- For evenings when the adults want to have sundowners in the cockpit, a TV/DVD and a few movies in the saloon can make for a peaceful boat.
Find more tips in How to Charter a Boat.