Marine News from the Great Lakes

All In The Family

Whenever you hit the water with kids aboard, you need to take some extra steps to assure “smooth sailing”

Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From an overnight freshwater sail to a year-long deep-sea cruise—and everything in between—each time you take your kids aboard your yacht, you sow the seeds for a lifetime love of boating.

And that’s a very good thing.

According to a recent survey conducted by Impulse Research Corporation, nurturing this passion offers your children a boatload of benefits. Researchers have found, for example, that kids who boat tend to be:


  • Healthier and more physically fit than nonboaters
  • Outgoing, optimistic and more prone to becoming leaders in life
  • Self-confident and great problem-solvers, traits that come from learning a wide range of useful skills
  • Closer to their families, having spent quality time together on onboard

But a joyful, relaxing and educational family voyage requires a little advance planning on your part. Whether your youngsters are toddlers, tweens or teenagers, Pantaenius America Yacht Insurance offers these fail-proof tips to keep everyone safe, involved and having fun…

Safety First

To avoid trouble and injuries during your excursions, be sure to:


  • Make life jackets mandatory—it’s the law! All children onboard should wear a USCG-approved life jacket that fits properly and will support their weight (check labels), plus has a collar that will turn them face up should they take a tumble overboard. Choose PFDs that have handles on them and are brightly colored for high visibility. It’s also a good idea to attach a marine-grade whistle to each life jacket, and teach your kids how to blow it in case of an emergency.


  • Start swimming lessons as early as possible. It’s important that boating kids respect water, not fear it. If you’ll be cruising in deep water, it’s best that all youngsters aboard know how to float, tread water and be able to swim at least 100 yards. Let your children know that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool. They also need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather. Remind them, too, to stay well clear of propellers and not to dive into oceans, lakes or rivers, because you never know how deep the water is or what might be lurking under the surface.


  • Review the rules. Just as you have rules at home and for riding in the car, your yacht should be no exception. Kids need to be well versed in the basics of safe boating: keeping at least two-thirds of their body inside the boat at all times and no running on board, since decks can be slippery. Also practice man-overboard drills together as a family at the start of every outing.


  • Familiarize them with the radio. With the exception of toddlers, everyone aboard your boat should know how to call for help in case of an emergency.

Keep Kids Comfy

A miserable child can rock the mood on your boat in a heartbeat, so be sure to take precautions to:


  • Avoid nasty sunburns. The sun is stronger on the water, and kids have delicate skin that burns quickly. Pack plenty of water-resistant, multi-spectrum sunblock that’s rated at least SPF 30, and reapply at least every two hours. Do the same with lip balm that contains sunscreen, which also works great for sensitive areas like noses, cheeks and ears, as well as lips.


  • Prevent heat exhaustion and the shivers. Wearing life jackets on a sunny day makes kids hotter. Bring lots of water, juice and cool treats—such as ice pops—aboard to keep youngsters hydrated. On the flip side, keep in mind that when kids get wet, they get cold much faster than adults do and that even on hot days, the wind from a moving boat can quickly chill a child. So pack extra clothes and nice big towels to keep them warm.


  • Keep young bodies fueled. Growing bodies get hungry often, so pack lots of healthy snacks: trail mix, fresh fruit, yogurt cups, cheese sticks. But go easy on letting them consume too much sugar, since the last thing you want in tight quarters is hyper kids!


  • Add these items to your First Aid kit. Kids are more susceptible to motion sickness than adults are, so have Dramamine or other anti-nausea medications on hand, as well as ginger ale, 7-Up, pretzels and crackers to settle young stomachs. If you’re cruising the coast, carry vinegar to treat jellyfish stings. Other must-haves include waterproof band-aids and a pair of surgical tweezers for removing splinters.

Put Them To Work

When you give your children responsibilities on board, you create teachable moments. Plus, everyone working together as a crew instills a sense of family camaraderie.

 Even toddlers can become honorary first mates by helping to carry small gear aboard, assisting with cleanup after meals and acting as spotters when you’re pulling skiers or tubers. Or, give them a pair of binoculars and charge them with being on the lookout for wildlife or ships on the horizon.

Adolescents and teens can tackle more complex jobs—like securing all the gear on the boat, helping to set your float plan, preparing meals, checking current and expected weather conditions on the VHF radio and even helping you drive and dock.

The Fun Factor

When youngsters enjoy yachting, they’ll want to repeat the experience. So if you’re casting off for more than a day trip, make sure you have ways to keep your kids happily occupied after dark or during inclement weather and down time hours. That way, all aboard can enjoy their time on the water. A few suggestions:


  • Cater to your kids’ interests. What activities do they enjoy most offshore? If they’re avid readers, pack a stack of paperbacks. Builders? Buy a stash of mini-Lego kits. Word game freaks? Pick up the thickest book of word puzzles you can find. Gamers? Fill a box with compact board games and load a tablet with their favorite video games.


  • Shake things up. Most kids crave routine and find comfort in knowing what will happen next. But be sure to build a few surprises into your itinerary to keep your voyage exciting. These can be as simple as unplanned visits to an island to explore and feed the wildlife, impromptu water balloon fights on deck or family fishing tournaments with small prizes awarded for the biggest catch.


  • Consider letting them bring a friend along. An only child gets less bored with a BFF aboard, and siblings tend to bicker less when you add other kids to the mix.


Above all, remember that it’s the journey—not the destination—that matters most. The goal here is expose your kids to fresh air, sunshine, marine life, on-the-water adventures and quality family time. So, stay safe, chill out and make some memories you can all enjoy for years to come!

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Age-by-age survival tips from parents who’ve been there, done that

Tweens, teens and toddlers are like different species. So, depending on the age of your brood, you’ll need varied tactics to get—and keep—them interested and enjoying themselves on board. Here’s great advice from parental experts…


“Sailing with a toddler in tow can be a fun, but exhausting, adventure,” admits Traci Wennerholm, who writes at, where she shares tales of her travels with a toddler, two dogs and a husband. “We all know cranky, overtired toddlers can wreak havoc on a parent’s patience on land. But on water? Yikes—there’s no escape for you or for them!” To keep a preschooler safe, happy and entertained while on board, Traci offers this advice:


  • Childproof your boat. Fortunately, yachts tend to be remarkably childproof. Most edges are rounded, drawers are fitted with features that stop them from flying out at sea and cupboards lock. But there are still a few danger zones that require your attention. Install covers over outlets. Keep the cockpit clear of any gear (boat lines, air horns, fishing gear) that could harm your child. Secure cabin doors, keep cleaning products out of reach and install a gate at the top of any stairs. Stow, batten or otherwise secure anything that is breakable, dangerous or could cause a toddler to trip. Also consider adding guardrail netting to prevent little ones from falling overboard.


  • Follow the one-on-one rule. Toddlers tend to be high-energy, have a keen sense of curiosity and love to explore. For their safety—and your sanity—make a rule that little ones remain within arms length of a responsible adult at all


  • Take baby steps. A boat trip with a toddler should not exceed an hour or two the first few times you cast off. You can then slowly increase the amount of time you spend on the water. As you graduate to longer trips, build in periodic stops on dry land to give toddlers a chance to run and release all their pent-up energy.


  • Make naptime sacred. Initially it can be challenging to get toddlers to nap onboard. After all, being on the boat is so exciting! But you can make it easier by providing bean bags (which help to cushion the discomfort of having to sleep with a life jacket on). Add a favorite stuffed animal and/or blankie, and you’ll both get the break you need.


This stage of life—a transition from childhood to the teen years—is chockfull of wonder. But it can also be tumultuous at times. The upside is that tweens are like sponges—curious, inquisitive and eager to soak up new information and take on new responsibilities. “For tweens, the water is the best teacher,” insists Michael Samway, who, along with wife Jennifer, took their tweens (Keenan, 12, and Daria, 11) on a year-long cruise of The Great Loop, including the Bahamas in their 48-foot Kadey Krogen North Sea trawler. To assure memorable boating experiences for tweens, the Samways offer these tips:


  • Help them master boating basics. This is the perfect age for kids to spend time at the helm learning at your side. Explain day markers, channel markers, rules of navigation and basic courtesy.


  • Make them bona fide crewmembers. Assign them real responsibilities onboard—lines, watch duties, navigation, maintenance, weather checks, dinghy duty, etc.


  • Carve out family time. Tweens tend to crave independence, so don’t be offended or upset if they want to spend chunks of time by themselves. Give them the space they need, but make a routine of cooking, eating and cleaning up together so you build family bonding time into your daily schedule.


  • Turn your yacht into a living classroom. Tweens typically absorb and retain more knowledge by experiencing first-hand the places they’ve read about in textbooks. While aboard Muddy Waters, the Samway tweens read Mark Twain while cruising on the Mississippi. “We spent hours on the solemn grounds of battlefields from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War,” reports Michael. “We toured the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, visited Presidential libraries and approached Ellis Island by water.”


  • Encourage them to pursue their passions. “Keenan enjoyed photographing our surroundings from our topsides, and we’ve posted some of his favorite shots on our website (,” says Michael. “He also taught himself to play bass guitar and practiced regularly onboard, taking a few lessons along the way from musicians we met. Daria continued her love for the arts by practicing ballet regularly onboard and also by making and selling jewelry.”



The teen years make many parents cringe—and with good reason. The potential

for discontent and rebellion runs high, which doesn’t bode well aboard a boat.

Typically at this stage of life, peers are paramount to parents, and privacy a priority. How to keep tension and eye rolling to a minimum while getting your teens to go with the flow? Shelly Self, who lived aboard a 46-foot trawler for seven years with daughters Erin, 15, and Ellen, 13, offers this advice:


  • Involve them in planning, preparation and packing. When teens get a say in where you’re going, the meals you’ll be eating, the places you’ll be visiting and the activities on your agenda, they’re far more likely to be cooperative and congenial.


  • Expect them to pull their weight. Enroll them in a boating safety course before casting off. Once onboard, daily chores should include taking shifts at cooking and galley cleanup, handling the anchor, trimming the sails (if applicable), night watches, reading charts, using the radar and even supervised stints at the helm. “They may sometimes complain, but it’s empowering,” says Shelly.


  • Give them their own space and sufficient down time. Teens crave lots of privacy, so let them carve out a place they can call their own, where they can stash their stuff and retreat to when they need some alone time.


  • Create shopping guidelines. Most teens love to shop in ports of call, but boats are not conducive to carrying a lot of extra “gear. ”Aboard Oh ‘Swell, we made a rule with our girls: If something comes on, something goes off,” says Shelly. “They quickly learned that they didn’t need things so much, and that it was far better to collect memories.”


  • Provide ways they can connect with friends. A laptop or tablet and Internet service will enable them to keep in touch with friends at home via email, text or Skype. Also, when possible, adjust your itinerary to maximize time with other cruising families—especially those with teens. The majority of teenagers love socializing, and just by spending a few days catching lobsters, sunbathing or merely hanging with yachties their own age translates into making lifetime friends.

tags: Kids & Pets

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