Boats + Kids: How to have fun & stay sane
Updated: Aug 10, 2018
It's easy to imagine... a Saturday afternoon with the family on the boat, children are all coated in sunscreen, well behaved, wearing their lifejackets without complaint, and seated just exactly in the safest spot aboard.
Wake up, you're dreaming.
Ah yes, there it is, reality: sunburned kids are screaming that "he has the good lifejacket", the other is climbing a ladder while you're underway, and mom is ready to throw someone overboard, starting with dad.
It ain't always pretty, but here are a few things we've learned that can make a day (or a season) on the water more fun for everyone.
#1: Life Jackets
Fact #1: every kid hates wearing a lifejacket. They come out of the womb that way and don't change until they have a kid of their own, at which point the cycle starts again.
That said, here's what we found to make it a little bit better:
Let the kid pick out their own life jacket at the beginning of the year, or whenever they need a new one. Try to encourage one with a lower collar line- incredibly, children don't like to be choked all day in the sun. The head float collar in the back? Those are "fairy wings!" or "batman!".
Be realistic. When it's hot, life jackets suck for anyone. There are times our kids just have to suck it up- like any time we're underway. But, if we're on a hook and both mom and dad are within arm's reach, swimmies are much more comfortable for the kid, and no screaming is way more comfortable for your ears. Our oldest can swim with a parent, so she's allowed to be without a jacket if we're not moving and mom or dad are right there.
Wear a lifejacket yourself sometimes. Jumping in to swim with the kids is a great time to throw on a jacket, and it's a lot less work! Show kids that life jackets aren't just torture devices for humans under 12.
#2: Bean Bags
Fact #2: Kids will always try to be in the most dangerous place possible at the worst conceivable time. Enter, bean bags!
They're comfortable for adults and work wonders when it comes to immobilizing a little one. Admittedly this strategy has an expiration date but it tends to coincide with the time children start responding to instruction. A big bean bag chair (or 2!) is something your entire family will enjoy. When the time comes that a little one needs to be set down so that mom or dad can say, tie a line, a little one can safely be set into a beanbag and can't roll out. Simple and effective.
Fact #3: 99% of children feel about sunscreen the same way they feel about life jackets.
This isn't a problem unique to boating, so maybe you've cracked the code here already. For us, that meant imagination. Suncreen application on the face? Cat whiskers! War Paint!
Mary tells me the aerosol stuff is bad because we breathe it in. It also turns decks slippery & yellow so be mindful when applying it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though- and I love the sneak attack. It's like hunting for your own children!
#4 Make it Fun
Fact #4: Diamonds are forged under pressure.
Yes, there will be tantrums and fights. Yes, there will be days when you ask why the hell you are doing this. But my theory is that families that play together grow tighter and come out the other side better for having done it, which makes this tip the most important of this blog.
Make the day fun! Don't fool yourself into thinking that your 5 year old will love an 8 hour offshore trip. Keep the running times within reason and go to fun places. Get ice cream! Catch bait! Go to a beach! Keep special "boat toys" aboard. Find other boating families and go someplace together.
Include the kids in what you're doing- they're eager to learn. Someone told me that their childhood memory of boating was being told to sit down and not touch anything. Then they watched mom and dad fight because they weren't really all that sure what they were doing. That sucks!
Get your kids involved- have you ever met a 2 year old that hates buttons? Have them help flip the switches on the panel when you get to the boat! Let them get their hands dirty by touching the bait. Help them bait a hook or reel in a fish. Show them how to tie a line on a cleat. Let them spray the hose when you're cleaning at the end of the day. There are 1,000 things to explain and teach a kid on a boat- our imagination is the limit.
Kids are as capable as we'll allow them to be.
For me, a great day on the water with my family is perfection- there is literally nothing I'd rather do on those days when we get it right. We're away from screens, growing, learning, interacting with nature- it is simply unbeatable. As a parent most days go by and we wonder if we've made any difference. When we're together on the water I don't think twice, because I know we have.