Taking your family for a sailing vacation can be a wonderful experience that will provide you with great memories as well as introducing your children to a fun sport. With a little bit of planning and safety instruction your children will be looking forward to helping trim the sails, dinghy rides to swimming beaches, and being rocked asleep by gentle waves at a quiet anchorage.
If you haven't done a lot of sailing then consider chartering with an experienced captain who can show you the ropes. If you are going to go it alone—called “bareboat chartering”—then please consider the following.
- file a Coast Guard plan
- speak with your doctor or pharmacist about seasickness medications
- stock up on salty snacks and easy to prepare meals
- bring along non-electronic games and stock up on flash light batteries
- be rigid in your destinations
- get too much sun or become dehydrated
- get stuck on meal plans
- swim off the boat unless you can get back on
- head out into unsettled weather
File a Coast Guard plan. Before casting off, phone or visit the local Coast Guard station and file a cruising plan with them. They will want to know how many people there will be on board, the name and size of the boat, and where you are planning on sailing. If weather or whim change this, then just check in with the Coast Guard again and of course check in with them when your trip is over so that they don't report you overdue.
Purchase a hand-held GPS unit or down-load an app for your smartphone that will give you an exact latitude and longitude position that you can relay to the Coast Guard in an emergency.
Seasickness can hit anyone and should be prepared for in advance. Even Lord Nelson used to get motion sickness for the first few days of every voyage!
The good news is that there are many remedies for mal-de-mer from bracelets that work on acupressure points to Gravol or little patches that you put behind your ears called Transderm-V. Speak with your pharmacist or doctor about what would work best for your family. But remember that some of these interventions must be used before you start to get the symptoms of seasickness.
Make sure to bring along the old standbys of salty crackers and ginger-ale. And if you are feeling seasick, then it is better to be on deck and looking at the horizon than being below; in fact the best place to be is steering the boat.
Look at practical meals that can easily be prepared aboard and make sure that you know how to work the marine stove and that it has enough fuel to last before casting off from the dock. No one wants to be stuck below cooking and missing out on the scenery or being the person tasked with washing up lots of pots, pans, and dishes.
Tins of soup, pasta, bread, and peanut butter aren't fancy but will be appreciated. Plan on stopping at a marina at least once in your trip where you can find a restaurant there or in town.
Bring along non-electronic games or plenty of batteries if that is your kids' favorite thing to do. Small toys such as LEGO can get lost and stuck in the emergency bilge pump so they should be avoided, but books, stuffed toys, and dolls will be enjoyed.
Most sailboats have a V-berth in the bow that can be turned into a fun play area. Once your children have this safe area to play in you will also have a place to send them if both you and your spouse need to focus your attention on sailing. Children will want to be part of the sailing adventure and will love being given jobs such as using the binoculars to be look-out, helping to steer or trim sails, or helping plot a position on the chart.
It is fun to plan sailing trips and to look at all of the places that you can stop to explore a new town or a quiet anchorage but sailing is very much about the journey, not the destination. Depending on the ages of your kids, they might get bored by a long day out sailing or bitterly disappointed that a promised stop would require hours of tacking back and forth to get to.
Let the wind and sea conditions each day help you decide where you are hoping to get to. Just make sure to inform the Coast Guard if your plans deviate too much from your cruising plan.
It is very easy to get too much sun while out sailing. You are not only exposed to the elements, but the sun also bounces off the water to give you even more exposure. Make sure to use and replenish a good sunscreen and make sure everyone wears a hat with a lanyard to keep it from blowing away.
Sun glasses with ultra-violet protection are another necessity, even if it isn't a particularly sunny day. The sun and sea can also easily cause dehydration so keep everyone stocked up on water and, of course, adults should wait until the boat is anchored or alongside before consuming alcohol.
Don't get stuck on meal plans. Have alternatives in mind for different weather. If the seas start to get lumpy the bacon sandwiches that had been planned might not be very popular.
Swimming off of a boat can be a lot of fun but make sure that you are able to get back out. Larger sailboats sometimes have swim grids at the stern but smaller boats often have high topsides (or sides) that look a lot higher when you are in the water. One easy method is to attach a swim ladder that hooks onto the side of the boat. But if your charter boat doesn't have one then hanging fenders and lines overboard can be helpful. The alternative is to have one adult be lifeguard and “puller-outer”.
Heading out sailing when the forecast is calling for strong winds might be your idea of fun but could turn your family off of the sport for life. While your family is still getting used to sailing, it is best to be fair-weather sailors and to stay in port or head into port if the weather is turning. Being at sea in a storm can be scary for even the toughest old salts and children can easily pick up on your fear. It is also, of course, foolish to put your family into what could be a dangerous situation should the most experienced sailor become injured.
With some planning and safety precautions you will find that taking your family out sailing can be a wonderful, positive experience that not only will provide great memories for you and your children but will also introduce them to a whole new sport that they might enjoy for a lifetime.
The whole family can be involved in picking out what type of sailboat they want to sail on and, depending upon your budget, where they hope to go sailing. Each year a different part of the world can be explored until perhaps, one day, your family decides to purchase their own boat. One final note: Make sure to pack a water-proof camera to capture your fun adventure!