Spring break is a great time to accustom children to longer periods aboard.
Spring break is an ideal time to plan a short cruise with your children. During this week, you will see how your children adapt to the cruising lifestyle. And, of course, your children will give you a clear idea of what adaptations you need to make to your cruising lifestyle to make them happy participants.
For this first cruise, sail on a boat you know well. Sail in waters with which you are familiar so you can give your children your full attention. If you are in an area you have sailed frequently, you'll be able to surprise your children with fun side-trips and you'll always have a quick backup plan in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Children as young as three-year-old Kendall Potter can enjoy cruising with the family.
Start discussing your cruising plans well in advance of your departure. Young children may need you to guide them across the map as you explain the upcoming trip. Older children may enjoy reading cruising books, studying charts, or finding local sailing magazines so they can have some educated input of their own.
Even if you have a firm idea of where you want to sail, let all family members participate in the planning meeting. Giving children a voice in the discussion will empower them and make them feel like they are contributing to the trip. Feel free, however, to gently "guide" your children into picking the route that you most prefer by giving them hints of what is to come. If your children like to hunt for shells or snorkel, for example, you can suggest the anchorages that you prefer to visit.
During the first cruise, set aside time to share a favorite activity, such as fishing, with your children.
After you've discussed where to go, it's time to draw up a list of what to bring. Telling children to leave their electronic games at home will usually make them feel grumpy and deprived. This is a time for gentle encouragement. Let your children bring a reasonable amount of toys or games, but don't give up on trying to fill their days with hikes, swims, or other outdoor activities if that is what you prefer.
When it comes to making out a shopping list, most children have a clear idea of what they do and do not like to eat. The first cruise is not the time to broaden your children's horizons by introducing new foods.Comfort foods will often help children adapt to new environments. Indulge them with some of their favorite meals if possible.
If you have older children and you are planning to take a longer cruise with them in the future, this might be a good time to discuss your cruising budget. Over many months, paying slip fees at marinas and eating out at restaurants can put a significant dent into any cruiser's budget. Start giving your children a clear idea of how the choices they make affect the family budget and influence your cruising itinerary.
On the day of departure, establish yourself as a calm leader. Show your children where to store food, games, and clothing on the boat. Remind them how to use the head. Let your children know that you have to go through a checklist of fuel, water, and emergency supplies before you can leave the dock. Make sure everyone is wearing a PFD and a harness before you head out to sea.
As you leave the harbor, point out some of your local landmarks and let your children say goodbye. Once you are underway, get your children involved with sailing the boat, planning the day's sail, or preparing lunch. Keeping children involved is a key to keeping them happy.
Plan the first day of the cruise as a half-day sail to give everyone time to make the transition from life on land to cruising. Give your children time to check out the beach, or split into two groups and see how many items each group can check off their list as you play "treasure" (scavenger) hunt with the family.
Don't be surprised if your children want to bring some of their "treasures" back to the boat. According to author and sailor John Kretschmer, letting children fill their personal space with keepsakes and found objects increases the fun of a family cruise.
"Parents must not become tyrannical and insist that the boat be kept 'yacht like' all the time," says Kretschmer, who often sails with his wife and two daughters. "Good old Fortuna becomes a menagerie of shells, sponges, and art projects every time we head over to the Bahamas, but the kids love the boat and love cruising."
At the end of the day, come together for a favorite meal, and then discuss your plans for the next day. Keep the lines of communication open and be flexible about destinations and activities. After all, if you want your children to learn the art of cruising, you'll want them to understand what all cruisers know—we just take it day by day.