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Old 06-23-2001
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John Rousmaniere is on a distinguished road
The Right Age to Go Sailing

I want to take up dinghy sailing and take my wife and one-year-old child on the boat. What is the youngest age that one can safely take a child on a dinghy?

John Rousmaniere responds:
At what age would you allow the child to roam unsupervised in the kitchen or outdoors? My experience raising two children around boats taught me that the best age to introduce a child to sailing varies with the child, the size, and stability of the boat, and (as always in child affairs) the parents' patience and agility.

A capsizable dinghy probably is not good for a young child who needs to be held or restrained constantly, since the skipper and crew will need both pairs of hands and eyes to safely sail the boat. But the cockpit of a stable centerboarder or a keelboat can make an excellent playpen for a toddler.

Regardless of the type of boat, be sure to familiarize the child with the water through early swimming lessons, and work on verbal commands that tell the child, "This is important!" Finally, put a young child in a life jacket (preferably a Type I) with plenty of buoyancy up high to support her or his relatively large head clear of the water's surface. A Type II or III may roll the child over facedown.

One final tip—slather on the sunscreen.

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