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post #1 of 27 Old 04-16-2016 Thread Starter
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How young is too young?

We spent a year sailing the Caribbean and Bahamas with our Labrador on a 39' Beneteau. (if you're a tiny bit interested you can see our blog here: and here is our general track:

We've been living on the hard for 2 years now and we're getting the cruising bug again (now that we're catching back up on bills.. lol)

We're starting to plan our next "big trip". This time we're planning 3 years of Pacific sailing (well, 6 months or so to get to the Pacific from the USVI or somewhere in that vicinity). Planning to buy the boat in the Virgins (since good deals are usually to be found there) and then south through the Panama Canal and Pacific bound.

Here's the catch.

We're hoping to have a baby by that point.
Are we crazy?
When we were on our last cruise we saw plenty of couples with children ages 2 months to 18 years.
How young is too young?
What challenges can we expect to face with a tiny infant?
Would it be better to wait until they are older?
If so, how old?
Obviously, we're pretty clueless except for what we heard from the couples on our last cruise.

Thanks ya'll!!

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post #2 of 27 Old 04-16-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

We only did a smaller cruise of about a month with our little guy when he was between two and three months old this past summer. But I can tell you that it was challenging.

Alex was no different behaviorally on board than he was at home, so I don't think he minded it at all. (And actually, the crappier the weather, the better he slept. On one occasion, he was super fussy before we got out of the anchorage. Soon as we were out and pounding into waves, he was out like a light. We actually decided to turn back and wait it out. Soon as we returned to the calm waters about a half hour later, instantly awake and fussy again)

Some of the challenges:
My wife was tied up with him a lot, and when he did nap through the day, she'd often try to nap down below to catch up on sleep. Meant a lot of single-handing, and that she missed out on a few things here and there. She breast fed him, which took out some of the complication, but limited what I could do to help.
He was a baby who spat up a lot. (Not that he was seasick, just he always spat up after feeding) This meant a lot of laundry, which we had to do by hand most of the time.
The small space and difficulty sleeping caused a bit of stress for everyone.
Alex won't remember the trip.

All that being said, we would do the trip over again, and plan to sail with him again this summer. Now that he's over a year old. I think he'll appreciate it so much more. He's really become aware of his surroundings and curious. It will be fun.

I guess there's no minimum age (for us anyway). And I'll have to let you know if the one year old will be harder than an infant on board once we find out.
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post #3 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

I think this is more about the parent(s) than the child. We had our son sailing and cruising at 18 days old.. we daysailed and summer cruised with him until he was about 11, then he started racing with us. Now in his 30s, a boat owner, racer, he had their daughter out on their boat at a week old, now 8 yrs old her favourite place is the boat and the beach.

Offshore perhaps is different, but really the child doesn't know any different. Their life is what their life is. When it doesn't go well I think its the parents that have trouble 'adapting' Our granddaughter had no idea that ALL kids didn't sail until she got to preschool. It's her 'normal'. I suspect it can be the same anywhere if the parents don't stress over it.


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post #4 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

I write as someone who just crossed the Pacific and as a pediatrician who spent 25 years working in pediatric intensive care units...

There are just too many serious pediatric problems that might develop during a 20+ day trip off-shore...

As an experienced sailor and pediatrician, I personally would stay close to shore and first world medical care with babies and toddlers.

I consider anywhere in the Caribbean as coastal cruising but I consider only a few Caribbean islands as having first world medicine. In 2009 under-5 mortality rates in Latin America, Caribbean and Oceania were more than 3 times US death rates!

Phil MD
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post #5 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

The comment about single handing are important. Everyone with infants talks about not getting much sleep. She'll be pretty busy with bambino so you sail 'alone'.
I met a couple who took their 4 yr old to S Africa to buy their cat and sailed it back to the Carib with no problems.
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post #6 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

Like a lot of things, it depends. We met a French family on a 40' catamaran. They had two children under four (one born in French Polynesia nd the other in New Zealand as they sailed) and mom was nine months pregnant - they were checking out hospitals for the delivery. They were planning to stay in Panama for a few weeks after delivery and then were heading to Tahiti. They also had grandma and grandma's boyfriend onboard so the children chores could be shared. Not sure if you can compare child mortality rates since many factors contribute to this. Access to quality medical care is significant but only one factor contributing to these rates.
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post #7 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

We have a 14 month old and last summer were very serious about taking a sabbatical cruise to the point where we had even sold our house. After doing some extensive shakedown cruising with our daughter between the ages of 3 and 8 months, we decided to wait at least until she is out of diapers and most probably until she's at an age of much greater self-sufficiency.

The main reason is that our daughter's personality as being very curious and very extroverted emerged basically from day one. She loves getting out to see new things and meeting new people. She loves play dates, story times, and singalongs with other kids. She gets cranky if she's cooped up with just the two of us for more than about 36 hours. Ironically, getting her the opportunities for these kinds of social interactions, explorations, and adventures was much trickier when cruising. Whether its that many cruising destinations offer very little for kids, or just the challenges of weather and transporting a baby in a dinghy, it's not always that easy to keep them entertained and occupied.

Beyond that, it was mostly logistics that gave us pause...

When underway, one parent has to captain the boat while the other manages the kid(s). Not only can this be stressful, but it also robbed us of more family togetherness time than we bargained for. One way to overcome this is to spend less time underway. But then we didn't get to visit all the destinations/cover as much ground as we had hoped. We were finding one or two days in port for every full day underway balanced things out, but made for very slow going.

Laundry and diapers are a huge logistical challenge. Babies generate enormous amounts of laundry and unless you're lucky enough to have a boat with an onboard washer/dryer, there's no easy way to keep up with the laundry needs. Air drying can be impossible during periods of rain and high humidity. Taking laundry between boat and shore via dinghy gets old fast. As for diapers, if you think disposables are expensive in the states, they're 2-3 times more in the islands. Yes, you can load up the boat but a baby goes through 2,000 - 2,500 diapers in the first year - and it's just not practical to carry that many.

Another consideration for us is that I don't know that the drone of the motor on days when it runs 4, 6, 8 hours is good for an infant's ears (or sanity! - or my sanity for that matter!) with repeated exposures. We were planning on doing the ICW and that's 200 hours of repeated long motoring days.

All that said, we never cruised full time before having the child and a lot of cruisers we met with very young children said it's much easier to cruise with children if you have prior experience.
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Last edited by 4arch; 04-18-2016 at 03:23 PM.
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post #8 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

I think Yorksailor is just trying to make the point that the risk in the risk/benefit proposition of having a baby on a boat, potentially far from shore and days (or longer) away from decent medical care, is not to be disregarded.

Obviously this is true to some degree doing any kind of boating for people of any age. If any of us adults were to suffer a heart attack or stroke while under way, or a traumatic injury, even a difference of hours getting ashore to a hospital could make a substantial difference in our chances of surviving or having a good outcome from such an event.

The difference with a child is that an infant and especially a newborn is much more vulnerable to severe consequences from medical problems and can rapidly go into shock or perish due to their decreased physiologic reserve compared to an adult or larger child. So some problems that might be readily resolved with something as simple as intravenous fluids, the warm environment of a neonatal unit, good monitoring and/or antibiotics, become catastrophes in an austere and remote environment such as a sailboat offshore.

And with a child, it's their parents making the decision for them to undergo such risks. As adults we take these risks for ourselves.

This doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong to do, there's some risk at any age for boating and cruising, or that there aren't benefits to both the child and parents for taking them on such a journey, but the potential for problems should be soberly considered in the decision making.
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post #9 of 27 Old 04-17-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

Originally Posted by 4arch View Post
Another consideration for us is that I don't know that the drone of the motor on days when it runs 4, 6, 8 hours is good for an infant's ears (or sanity! - or my sanity for that matter!) with repeated exposures. We were planning on doing the ICW and that's 200 hours of repeated long motoring days.
Just will mention what we did for the engine noise. Agree with all your points. I used a cheap (probably terrible) dB meter app on my phone, which indicated the engine noise would be dangerous to our guys hearing. We then ordered a pair of infant/baby earmuffs for hearing protection. (They do exist. Found our set on Amazon.) When he was below with the engine running, he would wear them. Didn't seem to bug him much at his age, but I'll bet they'll be harder to keep on this summer.

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post #10 of 27 Old 04-18-2016
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Re: How young is too young?

We started our first son sailing at 5 weeks old if I recall. That first season of sailing was great. He was basically always in a car seat, booster seat, lap or bed. We had a safe spot in the cockpit for the car seat when the weather was calm and I made some straps up to lash down the car seat when underway and he always slept when the engine was on. So much so that once, at anchor when he was fussy, I turned it on just to get him to sleep. (sorry anchorage mates, but it was probably quieter than the screaming).

The only bit we were nervous about was getting in and out of the dink. For this we opted for the kiddo to be strapped tightly in a baby carrier to his mom and the dinghy was tied alongside bow and stern with me steading it. Being strapped to mom meant not wearing a lifejacket for the kiddo, so we would have been at the mercy of the USCG if stopped. We felt it was the safest and best thing to do though.

Kiddo slept with mom in an arrangement where he couldn't roll out of bed and we didn't push the season so it was warm enough at night.

It was the second year when things really got difficult. Once the little one CAN move about, that's all he wants to do every waking minute. His balance wasn't the best and he was always falling over and banging into things on the boat. We then had another crew arrive and last year's season, with a 2.5 year old and a 1.5 year old was our most difficult so far. We even aborted our favorite trip (4th of july) half way through because it was going so poorly.

Here's some of what we learned sailing with toddlers:
1. One MUST be able to completely single hand the boat. Taking care of 2 kids down below is a big job and the other parent must be self sufficient up top. This is where docking practice and confidence help as well as an autopilot.
2. The kids need to move so time underway must be short. Short hops are best and timing with nap-time sometimes worked. I've heard that getting underway first thing in the AM before they're awake also works.
3. Be extra mindful of their comfort. We let our oldest wear his lifejacket all day at his request. We loved that he liked it so much. He ended up overheated from the sun and everybody was miserable afterwords. We try and keep them from getting too hot, tired, hungry etc.
4. Docks. We used to anchor out all the time. Now, we use docks much more often. Being able to instantly step off the boat and run off energy is key. Even when your dinghy is easy to use, it's a production to get everyone in it, and out of it on a beach. With docks, it's instant and shore time can be as often as needed.
5. Portable TV. Purists we are not any longer. Parental Survivalists we have become. I never thought I'd see the day, but I'm shopping for a wall mounted TV now for my boat.
6. Load the boat with adults. 2 toddlers VS 2 adults = the adults are outnumbered. Bring reinforcements.

Make sure to take a couple shorter trips to gain confidence and see what works for you. What we found though, is that kids change so fast that even once we thought we had our "boating with kids system" all dialed in, the kids changed so much that we had to go back to the drawing board. Be flexible and have options whenever possible and expect cruising to be differently challenging and differently rewarding.

Having said all that, go out as much as possible before they start crawling! It's when things are the easiest! :-)


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