The "Stay on the boat" rule only really applies to bigger boats... on a 14' Laser, staying on the boat isn't always an option....since they tend to capsize fairly regularly, especially with a relatively inexperienced sailor aboard.
However, wearing PFDs should not be optional for the kids, at least until they're in their mid-teens... A 15 or 16 year old can generally decide for themselves for the most part... but a 5 or 10 year old really needs to be wearing a PFD, harness and tether. But this also depends on how experienced the child is with regards to sailing.
If the kid has been sailing since they were four or five, chances are pretty likely they'll have a good idea of when they need a PFD, harness and tether and when they don't.
It also depends on the boat... some boats are safer boats to be on than others... for instance, my boat is 18' wide with foot high bulwarks on the outer edge of the amas... and sails with 10˚ of heel at the most. We're often out in conditions that would have most monohulls leaned over 30-40˚ or so. Someone on one of those monohulls best be tethered in with a PFD on... but the boom is over six feet off the ama or cockpit level, and no danger to anyone not actually on the cabintop. So, it is pretty easy to stay aboard my boat, even when it is blowing like stink.
I do have some rules about when PFDs are mandatory. Same about harnesses and tethers. If you're going forward or on-deck at night while underway... they're required. I don't like MOB drills, and certainly don't want to do a real one at night. If the weather is bad, and you have to go forward, you are required to be at least tethered, but preferably tethered wearing a PFD.
Staying on the boat is really key. Small kids lose body heat much faster than larger adults, so hypothermia is more of a risk with them falling overboard.
BTW, getting inflatable PFDs makes a huge difference, since they're a lot more comfortable than the big, bulky Type I PFDs, yet provide most of the safety. Don't forget to teach the kids how to check the auto-inflation mechanism and CO2 cartridge. They should do this every time they put the PFD on. Murphy's law says the one time they don't the bottle won't be screwed in or won't be there.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)
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Still—DON'T READ THAT POST AGAIN.
Last edited by sailingdog; 12-12-2007 at 09:14 AM.