Travelling with children
A sailing holiday is a wonderful experience for children. But for it to be equally wonderful for the parents, it does help to plan ahead. I have been sailing with my daughter in the Mediterranean and Caribbean since she was 4 months old.
Here are some things I have found useful travelling and sailing with babies and children. If you have any hints, comments, advice on what does or doesn’t work with your younger crew members, I’d love to hear it. Please let us know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll keep this page regularly updated with all the best ideas.
Travelling with babies and children
From September 1998, children who are not already included on an adult’s passport need their own passport. If a child is already on your passport, they can stay on it until the passport expires.
A car carry seat will go in the hold of the aircraft and is very useful for strapping baby in when the yacht is under way and also for parking baby under restaurant tables. Also a pouch to carry baby on Dad’s chest is useful for getting and out of the dinghy with your hands free.
It helps to ease the pressure on babies/toddlers ears if they suck on take-off. For babies a bottle, for toddlers a beaker/carton with straw. It takes ages from when the plane starts to move to actual take-off so save the drink until you feel the plane take off otherwise baby has finished by the time you get to the runway!
Remember to pre-order children’s meals on scheduled flights to the Caribbean. Virgin Atlantic are particularly child-friendly with seat back screens, choice of films and kid’s flight bags.
For the return journey take a selection of snacks and drinks with you to the airport in case of delays. Facilities at some of the smaller overseas airports are limited and can be expensive.
Lifejackets for emergency use are provided on all charter yachts. Check you have children’s jackets before you leave the marina. For anyone under 7, we recommend taking their own lifejacket that fits and that he/she likes wearing.
Our daughter wears her lifejacket at all times above deck and in the dinghy (especially at night!) When she was under 5 we tied her lifejacket to a central point in the cockpit (eg steering column) while underway so that she could move freely but only as far as the guardrails.
Remind children that the skipper’s command must be obeyed quickly and without question, whether it is a parent or not.
Particular care must be taken if you have an outboard on your tender. Children should always wear a life jacket when travelling in the dinghy - especially going ashore at night. If teenagers are in charge of a dinghy with outboard, remind them NEVER to run the motor if other children are swimming nearby and ALWAYS wear the safety wrist strap. Always have oars in the dinghy.
Sailing with toddlers
Toddlers are the most difficult crew members. If possible invite another person, couple or family along so there is at least one adult who can be in charge of children, especially coming in and out of harbours.
Some of the fleets offer child netting as an optional extra. Netting will be attached along the side rails, but it will not fully enclose the deck front and aft so cannot be considered an enclosed playpen.
It is essential that all children understand how to use a marine toilet. Children do seem to remember the rather distasteful rule: “Don’t put anything in the toilet you haven’t eaten first.” Remind them to use facilities ashore whenever you are on land.
We found a rubber ring safer than armbands for swimming in the sea off the yacht. Even now she can swim she likes to snorkel in her lifejacket for extra buoyancy.
Small babies love sitting in a bucket of water in the cockpit to splash around and get cool and the deck shower on the transom is great fun for children. Watch water tank levels though!
The motion of the yacht is quite soporific so babies/children are often drowsy while under way. I use a loose cotton beach wrap to drape over a sleeping child to give complete sun protection in the cockpit.
Long sleeved loose cotton shirts and trousers are useful for sun protection as well as high factor waterproof sunscreen. Sunhats are important (especially legionnaire caps with protection for the back of the neck) but need elastic under the chin or they soon blow away.
For swimming (and especially snorkelling) a "swim T-shirt" is useful as kids can stay in the water for hours, especially in the Caribbean, and young backs get easily burnt. (Speedo make excellent 100% UVF protection T-shirts that are lightweight and dry quickly).
For younger children take plenty of toys, colouring books, crayons, nursery song tapes. Unfortunately relaxing in the cockpit in an idyllic anchorage with a sundowner cocktail is so boring for children. However swimming with the fishes, going ashore in the dinghy and beach picnics are great adventures. Watch out for dolphins and turtles for a real treat!
Older children/teenagers enjoy the private space given by a walkman with their favourite music. Books and story tapes also allow some relaxing private time.
Wet wipes and anti-bacterial liquid soap are very useful in the heat. Mosquito spray for ankles is needed going ashore, especially at sundown, and antihistamine cream is useful for bites.
Extra pegs are useful for drying clothes on the guardrails. Some are provided but never enough for all the wet swimsuits, T-shirts, towels that kids generate.
Don’t be too ambitious with your passage planning. We try to stop for lunchtime swimming and continue in the afternoon allowing passages of about 2-3 hours sailing time.
Give children sailing tasks to keep their interest – steering towards a point on the headline or on a compass setting, spotting buoys, tending the dinghy, recording the ship’s log. Get them practising their knots!
It is important to drink plenty of water. Bring water bottles and write names on them so you can keep track of how much each person is drinking.
Take some plastic eggcups as boiled eggs are easy standbys. Sailing is hungry work so have enough snacks to keep kids quiet while on longer passages, eg crisps, biscuits, sandwiches. Gingernut biscuits are said to help seasickness.