Many of us are now getting to the age where we either have kids, or might be thinking about having kids. You might have wondered, “What’s it actually like sailing with children?”. Guest poster Courtney Galdonik and her husband, Michael, are in their 30s and live aboard with four children ages 6, 4, 2, and a baby. Courtney shares her experience and offers some great tips for sailing with children.
After a year of marriage my husband announced that he was ready to quit the rat race of modern society and live aboard our sailboat. The islands were calling to him. I found his dream interesting and exciting but as I looked at our 1958 Sparkman and Stephens New Horizons 26′ sailboat I wondered how we would fit our whole life into it’s belly. Especially since it had no water tank, no head, no stove, and it lacked about a foot of head room to accommodate my husband’s 6′ 2″ height. And what would become of my beloved books? And on the other hand how could I hinder my man’s dreams? So I struck up a deal with him. I would agree to live aboard if he bought me a bigger and better boat. A boat like Frank’s. Frank had a Morgan Out Island 33′ and I just relished all the space it’s interior layout had to offer. Much to my dismay and excitement I found myself the first mate of a Morgan Out Island 33′ with the same interior layout as Frank’s OI 33′. We had a bookshelf installed, moved in, and set sail.
Four months into our new life we made a beautiful discovery. We had a new crew member on the way! As my baby bump grew so did our excitement! If Joshua Slocum and his wife raised children aboard, so could we. We never once questioned whether this little person would fit into our sailing life or not. We just expected her to and she did.
From the time our first child, Kezia, was two months old until one year old we lived at a marina in Spanish Wells, Bahamas. Our little girl was as popular as any celebrity with both the guests and locals. The locals delighted in her sun-kissed tan skin and called her little “Bahama Mama”. Kezia grew and developed like all normal children do. She learned how to crawl, walk, and climb in our sailboat home. When she turned two we welcomed little Malachi into our crew. When he turned two our crew grew yet again as we welcomed Hadassah aboard.
We lived on land in our home port of Florida while we sold our Morgan Out Island 33′ and purchased a Morgan Out Island 41′ to fit the needs of our growing family crew. Then we moved aboard and set sail yet again. Our journey took us to Haiti this time. While in Haiti we welcomed little Cassia into our family and crew. Three girls and one boy, now we have a full crew!
Safe sailing with children
Having little crew members aboard did not keep us from sailing but it did change the way we sailed. Mostly for the better though. The first concern we had was for the safety of our children. We made some changes like selling the old hard bottom dinghy and purchasing a more stable and child friendly inflatable dinghy.
Another purchase we made was lifeline netting. This allowed the little ones to stretch their legs a bit without having to have their hand held at all times. And it saved on First Mate Mommy’s nerves!
Another important change we made was that Captain Daddy single handed the boat while First Mate Mommy put full concentration into the care and well being of the children. With few momentary exceptions this has been the rule. This means having a reliable, well working, easy to use autopilot.
Sailing can be a bit precarious at times but that is also part of the fun. Finding out what you are made of and how to work together to pull through tough situations is thrilling. But once we had children that all changed. Suddenly, the high adventure was not very appealing and looked more like danger than fun. Making wiser choices such as sitting tight until we had perfect weather rather than sailing through less than perfect weather was the new way we sailed. We have precious cargo aboard this ship and we no longer take chances!
The greatest dangers to children aboard a boat are dehydration and sun burn. To combat dehydration we keep an insulated cup of ice water available for each child. Monitoring the amount of time spent in the sun and wearing light long sleeved shirts keeps everyone’s skin healthy. Floppy hats for the boys and sun bonnets for the girls are very helpful along with polarized sunglasses. Also, a good bimini is a must for avoiding sunburn.
We have had a few eyebrows raised at our decision to liveaboard with children but we have had many more offer their support. Once we started to cruise with our children we were amazed at how many other boats had tiny crew members and how many old salts came to tell us their tales of raising their children aboard. Some have shared how they spent their childhood aboard a boat. We listened and learned from their wisdom and experiences too. If anyone questions us we reassure them that statistics show it is safer to travel in a sailboat than to ride in a vehicle.
Simple Sailing with children
Often the fun (and expensive) part of having a baby is to obtain all the gadgets and gear. Cribs, bouncy seats, highchair, walkers, strollers, swings, carriers, playpens, car seats, diaper pails, changing tables, and loads of cute outfits to name a few. In a sailboat home very little of that fits into our style of life. And that was just fine because we discovered that we really did not need all that to have a happy baby. So how do we handle a baby without all the typical gear?
First, our babies always sleep snuggled up with mama so there was no need of having a bassinet or crib. I love having my little one close at night anyways as it provides me an opportunity to quickly check on baby without having to get up and loose much sleep. We also found that this type of “family bed” is popular with landlubbers.
Second, we had a customized board cut to fit the opening of our v-berth. We could slip it into place making a safe place for little tots to play when underway. It was like our own customized playpen and it was wonderful!
A few baby things we take along and find useful are an umbrella stroller, a baby swing, a Johnny Jump Up, bed rails, a good and comfortable baby carrier, a baby hammock, and a baby bath. I also have a colorful activity mat with wire arches. Little toys can be hung from the arches keeping baby’s attention for long periods of time, especially when the waves move them around, and it takes up very little space to stow.
Having a lightweight, very compact, folding stroller is very beneficial. It helps a lot when you’re taking a hike to a grocery store. Usually what happens is baby rides in the stroller to the grocery store and then wants to be carried back home. A comfortable baby carrier is nice to have for this and then we can load up the stroller with our groceries. We can fit six gallon jugs in the seat of the stroller and many bags of groceries hung from the handles. It works better than our West Marine folding tote. Come to think of it, even if you don’t have children aboard, I recommend having an umbrella stroller. It makes for the perfect grocery cart, is easy to stow and can be found second hand for only a few dollars.
A baby bath can be a bit bulky but we found it a worthwhile baby item to have aboard as it provides a safe place to lay a baby in a slightly upright position so she can see the world around her and it doubles as a pool/tub. When our baby is hot and cranky she always enjoys kicking and moving around in some cool water.
Happy Sailing with Children
The number one question I get asked by landlubbers goes something like this: “Don’t your children become bored?” And the answer is no! We have way too much fun on our boat! Our children enjoy sailing. They like to be involved and feel needed as important crew members. We try to include them in as many jobs as possible. They have fun watching out for reefs, pulling up the dingy on the davits, handling the wheel, and dinging the ship’s bell. Another area of involvement is domestic chores. They like to help plan the menus, cook, clean and wash laundry. It does take a bit more enthusiasm on my part to motivate them in these types of duties but with enough praise and incentives we always have fun together. Another aspect of happy sailing is to provide fun activities for them. Crayons, markers, and paint are the foundations for creativity. You just never know when a piece of drift wood, shells, or sea grape leaves will need some extra color.
Being stuck together in a small space and all shook up causes bugs to fight, but when you do that to a family it causes closeness and bonding! We value our family time aboard our sailboat and fill it with singing, story telling, nature walks and watching, among many other enjoyable activities. Our children have once-in-a-lifetime experiences under their belts before they have even reached their teenage years. They know how solar power works, which hand is their port side, how to work together as a team, and how to live life to the fullest. We like to remember that some day the tide will change. And when it does, we want to have the type of relationship with our children that will cause them to take us out sailing on their boats. Like sailing, bringing up children is not easy nor for the faint of heart! But it is worth every moment! And when we combine the two together we can honestly say life doesn’t get much better than this!