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Discussion Starter #1
We are a family of 5 (kids 9,6,3) and are considering our first sailboat. My experience is limited to snipes, lasers and powerboats at this point. We live in the North Channel of Lake Huron and want to begin exploring this area and the coast of Superior. Our flexible works schedules would allow for multiple trips throughout the summer ranging from 3-12 days.

We keep going back and forth on whether to try it out on a small boat first then upgrade if we like it or just go big right off the start.

Small Boat (Uner 30 feet)
Pros
*Lots of good boats, ready to sail under 10k
*Less financial risk, easier to sell
*More maneuverable
*Less maintenance
*Easier to learn on?

Cons
*We will be very crowded
*We may decide quickly we want a bigger boat and be stuck waiting for the little one to sell

Big (35-40 feet) Budget 30k
Pros
*Safer, blue water, rough weather boat
*More space/more enjoyable
*Won't have to upgrade can keep for lifetime

Cons
*More money, more financial risk
*More difficult to handle, maneuver
*Harder to sell if we don't like it
* More maintenance

Anything I'm missing?

We know that we love spending time on the water. We love exploring. We love camping, paddling, hiking.

Where to begin?? Any thoughts appreciated.
 

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Grampian 34 Ketch
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I have two kids, 5 and 2.

We've been sailing with them since they were months old.

With our first kid, we took a 23 day trip up the coast to Cape Breton, NS on our 28' boat when he was only three months old.

For that amount of time, and just our family of three, that boat was too small for us. There was no space, no privacy, no escape if someone needed a break.

While the trip was great, it was too stressful on the family relationships.

Conversely, we have now done two similar in length trips with our current 34' boat (and the extra child!) and we have not had these same issues. Our boat is a center cockpit, aft cabin layout. If someone needs space or quiet, the aft cabin is the place to be.

With that boat, at the end of a 21 day stint, we wanted to keep going with the kids... we didn't want the trip to end.

For my family, the bigger boat was a must to make the trips comfortable and maintain sanity. Yours might be ok on a smaller boat, of course. Everyone is different!
 

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i think small boats are much better and safer to learn on. I cant imagine trying to gain experience when a storm comes up, or docking under heavy wind, for the first time with a 40 ft boat. It’s stressful enough on a small boat. Bigger boats are much heavier, react slower, and have exponentially more force on the sails when you make a bad decision.

3 kids on a small boat would be tough. i think 3 kids on a 40’ boat would be tough. I have 2 grown kids, I’d be tempted to throw them overboard at some point.. LOL

You need to multiply your budget amounts by 3X, unless you are planning on buying a really rough project and spending lots of time and money on it.
 

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bell ringer
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If in the end you see yourself on the bigger boat, just go big to start with. Doing small steps really does nothing other than waste time and money along the way.

I have never been on a boat less than 34’. Got a 39’ boat as my first with only 3 months sailing experience, knew it was too small within 3 months. All the 2 years of having the 39’ boat gave me was a lost $10k of expensives that could have gone into my current boat.
 

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Tartan 37
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Get the largest in the best condition your budget will allow... Going to be hard to find much with a 30K budget though but you might get lucky ;)
 

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What @T37Chef said.

A boat is not an investment, it's an expense. Go with the boat you see yourself in long term. You could do a smallish boat to use as a learning lab, but that will take a few years and won't likely be suitable for family trips.

Maintenance is costly in any case, be it money or your time and sweat. The good news is that you have a small crop of biological labor saving devices that can learn along with you and eventually become quite helpful.

The same fundamentals apply to little sailboats as do big sailboats so you have a foundation. There will be a learning curve with the scale and ship's systems, but you'll get that. Get some hands-on with a larger boat; friends and daysail charters, or sailing courses. Early on I did a couple of charters. Skippers were more than happy to do share their knowledge and answer questions.
 

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S2 7.9 Bear Lake, UT
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A small boat is going to be extremely cramped the bigger boat is going to be less cramped. Imagine sharing a half sized hotel room with 3 beds and a tiny bathroom. Do your kids like camping and can withstand some discomfort. One kid will likely have to sleep in the cockpit of a smaller boat.

If you can afford it and convinced the family will like sailing think about a 32 footer most will have an aft berth so each kid will have their own bed. I have seen a family with two teenage girls (tall) really enjoy a Catalina 25 for weekends. I think it is rare for teenagers to even want to hang out with their parents.

Maybe buy a good sized dinghy to see if sailing is the family thing or join a sailing club that will allow you to sail bigger boats and make sure it is your thing before investing in something more financially risky.
 

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Personal preference really. You need enough room for every one to sleep.

Having said that, our family boat when was a kid was 23 feet and we did multi week trips on Georgian Bay with it with a family of 5. We did two kids in VBerth, one kid in Quarter berth and parents on fold down galley table.

Now we do a family of 4 on a 21 foot boat, so it's definitely possible.

More than size, I would be very focused on condition. I would prioritize condition over size. A week fixing a broken down boat isn't much of a vacation. The more systems in board, the more there is to fix too.

I wouldn't take a bigger boat if some one gave it to me.
 

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S2 7.9 Bear Lake, UT
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Now we do a family of 4 on a 21 foot boat, so it's definitely possible.
What is your boat? I saw a picture of it beached recently and it looked intriguing on the shore for camping. I thought it was a Bolger design but can't find one to match your boats lines.
 

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Shes a Bay Hen, the biggest of Reuben Tranes Hen line. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the design was heavily influenced by Bolger.

She really isn't bad for 4. Has a fold down camper top for the cockpit. So, kids have their own private cabin down below and wife and I have our own private cabin under the camper top.

Beaching is very popular where the OP is talking about sailing because there is so much public/crown land. However, there are also lots of deep protected anchorages so a big boat works well too.
 

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That's a really difficult question. If you were just considering day sailing for a year or two, I'd go with something like a Rhodes 19. But if you are considering extended voyages, there is a strong possibility if you don't get a comfortable boat, one or more of your family will get turned off to sailing, especially up there where it can get rough PDQ.
Handling a bigger boat is in many ways easier than than a small one. It takes longer to be affected by outside influences (wind & current) so you have a bit more time to do your maneuvering. Since you've already learned to sail on the small boats, you are way ahead of the game because it's almost impossible to become a good sailor if you start on big boats. Anyway, there's just more strings and things on a bigger boat than your Snipe, so you'll be OK on that one.
Choosing the right boat can be a bit difficult. I'm of the opinion that the sailing characteristics and things like pointing ability are secondary to your comfort if you are going to be living aboard, even for only two weeks or so. Your boat has to be comfortable for all of those living aboard. Camping out aboard a boat with a wife and three kids is tough for all those except the hardiest outdoor types.
Your wife (or who ever is doing the cooking) will really appreciate a decent galley if cooking a couple of meals a day for 5. Just to find comfortable places for 5 to lounge about isn't easy on a smaller boat. There are a lot more things to consider like storage space for personal items as well as boat equipment and spares, and ventilation, but you've probably got more than enough to think about already.
 
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Hello,8

I started sailing in 2003 with a 22' Catalina. My kids were 2, 5, 8 at the time. We just day sailed for a year and I really loved it. By the next year I wanted a boat big enough for us to spend a weekend on. We owned a 29' motorhome at the time, so we were used to living in a small space, using a small bathroom, kitchen, etc. In 2004 I sold the Catalina and bought a Newport 28. I wanted a Catalina 30 but they were too much money. The Newport had all the features I wanted: inboard diesel engine, wheel steering, roller furling headsail, pressure hot and cold water, head with shower sprayer, galley with stove, and berths for five. We spent many happy weekends in the Newport and it was great for a single night and OK for a weekend but too small for longer than that. The main problem was that when we were in 'sleep mode' it was too cramped to easily move about. My oldest slept on a settee, the middle one on another settee, and my youngest in the quarter berth (which was really small). My wife and I had the V Berth. The kids were young and would go to sleep early. My wife and I would stay in the cockpit for a bit and when we wanted to go to sleep we had to dodge bags and other gear. By 2006 I wanted to go on longer trips so we sold the 28' boat and bought a 35' boat. That boat, and O'day 35 was large enough for us to spend a week aboard and we spent many happy times from NY City to Block Island.

BTW the motor home got sold in 2005 and no one has really missed it. The boat(s) got way more use on day sails than weekend or longer trips. Things like sporting events, family gatherings, car, house, yard maintenance take lots of time, etc. At least you can use a boat for a nice afternoon sail while a motor home requires at least a weekend.

Regarding your question about size of boat: what kind of camping do you do? If you can tent camp, or use a small pop up, then a small boat will be similar. If you camp in giant triple slide RV with satellite TV, A/C, outdoor kitchen, etc, then you will need a BIG Boat.

My suggestion is to start with something in the 30' range. Big enough for everyone to have a bunk. Small enough to be affordable, dockable, sailable, etc. If you buy a well known brand in good condition and keep it that way, you should be able to sell it for close to what you paid for it.

Barry
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I have two kids, 5 and 2.

We've been sailing with them since they were months old.

With our first kid, we took a 23 day trip up the coast to Cape Breton, NS on our 28' boat when he was only three months old.

For that amount of time, and just our family of three, that boat was too small for us. There was no space, no privacy, no escape if someone needed a break.

While the trip was great, it was too stressful on the family relationships.

Conversely, we have now done two similar in length trips with our current 34' boat (and the extra child!) and we have not had these same issues. Our boat is a center cockpit, aft cabin layout. If someone needs space or quiet, the aft cabin is the place to be.

With that boat, at the end of a 21 day stint, we wanted to keep going with the kids... we didn't want the trip to end.

For my family, the bigger boat was a must to make the trips comfortable and maintain sanity. Yours might be ok on a smaller boat, of course. Everyone is different!
Thanks for the feedback.

I struggle with some fear around getting my family into dangerous situations that would be easily avoided by staying on land. I don't let fear dictate my decisions, but also don't want to be reckless. How did you work up the knowledge and skill set to be confident taking your kids out on the ocean?
 

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If in the end you see yourself on the bigger boat, just go big to start with. Doing small steps really does nothing other than waste time and money along the way.

I have never been on a boat less than 34’. Got a 39’ boat as my first with only 3 months sailing experience, knew it was too small within 3 months. All the 2 years of having the 39’ boat gave me was a lost $10k of expensives that could have gone into my current boat.
Yeah go out and by a BMW7 series SUV because you know later on you are going to want one.

I started on a Hobie, Lasers, and Sunies. My firstkeelboat was 28 ft and was fun, and fine.
It was big enough for family, met my budget to maintain as well as save money for the kids college.
When after school activities, clubs and sports activities we spend less time on it. Later on when I was in a better
Financial position. I purchased a far nicer , better equipped larger boat and wasn’t stuck with an aging boat I just
Barley could afford to maintain.
 

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Thanks for the feedback.

I struggle with some fear around getting my family into dangerous situations that would be easily avoided by staying on land. I don't let fear dictate my decisions, but also don't want to be reckless. How did you work up the knowledge and skill set to be confident taking your kids out on the ocean?
Time...practice....breeds confidence
 
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Personal preference really. You need enough room for every one to sleep.

Having said that, our family boat when was a kid was 23 feet and we did multi week trips on Georgian Bay with it with a family of 5. We did two kids in VBerth, one kid in Quarter berth and parents on fold down galley table.

Now we do a family of 4 on a 21 foot boat, so it's definitely possible.

More than size, I would be very focused on condition. I would prioritize condition over size. A week fixing a broken down boat isn't much of a vacation. The more systems in board, the more there is to fix too.

I wouldn't take a bigger boat if some one gave it to me.
Great post! I'm in agreement with this.
Smaller boats get used more often than larger boats.
 

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Grampian 34 Ketch
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What chef said...

My wife and I have been sailing for close to 12 years together. We started with a 22' keelboat, then moved to a 28' and now onto our 34.

That being said, we still get ourselves uncomfortable at least once a season. It's doing something new or stupid (hindsight). Sometimes it's because things change that are beyond our control (weather) and we have to just deal with it.

In those moments, we've looked at each other and wonder why the hell we do this to ourselves. But once the moment has passed, once we're at that anchorage, sunny beach or secluded island, it all makes sense.

I'll also say that my kids (and most, from what I'm told) are pretty resilient. They've never been scared on board, so far as I know. In one of these stupid occasions where we ended up going through a fast flowing tidal channel (after consulting with a local fisherman who thought my plan was fine!) and hitting very large, very square standing waves. Water was flying everywhere, the boat was one minute flat, the next just pounding through. Our oldest was asleep in the v berth, my wife at the helm, and i was just hanging on in the cockpit.

We couldn't get to him until we'd passed these waves, but after I was able to run forward to check on him, he was laying there in bed with a huge grin. He asked if we could do it again... "uh... no..."

I would just say start slow. We started with daysailing off of a mooring ball. ( don't have to worry about docking!) Moved to overnights on a mooring ball somewhere else in my local harbor. Eventually anchored overnights, then got out of the harbor entirely. Once we had reached that level: leaving our home area, going out of the harbor, down the coast, and anchoring in a new place we'd never been, we knew we could get anywhere up and down the coast.

Reaching that level took us maybe 4 years and two boats. I'm a bit risk adverse and know others have certainly progressed faster...
 

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Master Mariner
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Thanks for the feedback.

I struggle with some fear around getting my family into dangerous situations that would be easily avoided by staying on land. I don't let fear dictate my decisions, but also don't want to be reckless. How did you work up the knowledge and skill set to be confident taking your kids out on the ocean?
Sailing is one of the safest family activities as long as you set definitive boundaries for the children. Being nice has no place in determining the rules you choose and the children must obey them.
I raised a child sailing around the world. She was only a couple of months old when we left Hawaii, where she was born. Not much problem before she learned to walk, but after that the rules got pretty strict. She wasn't allowed in the cockpit unless an adult was up there and never on deck without an adult holding her hand underway or not. Then, as she got older, many rules were eased off until she was taking short watches at six by herself, though she had to remain in the cockpit.
As far as your role in all this, if you've sailed Lasers and Snipes, you've been to the limit and beyond, a place you probably can't get to on your next boat. Just relax, watch the weather carefully and have an anchorage or marina easily available to you should the weather deteriorate unexpectedly. Take a class or educate yourself about the weather where you sail. Do not rely strictly on the weatherman.
Start with day sails until you have the familiarity with the boat and comfort to go out for longer trips. Learn to reef, a very important skill. Teach the older kids to steer ASAP. It will give them confidence and give you a break.
You don't need to be continually challenging yourself when out with the family. The only way to get good and confident at sailing is to sail a lot. A whole lot. But most of all, have fun. If you are having fun then the family will too.
 

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Catalina 250 WK
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The policy I used when trying to decide on which airplane to buy seems suitable for the sailboat choice as well. Get what you really want, the bigger more capable craft. But be very conservative in the way you use it until your doubts fade and your rough condition experience increases. Be especially cautious about increasing the difficulty of reachIng a safe haven. Get experienced help onboard to develop your judgment and exercised skills when weather is somewhat challenging and do so with only sailors on board. Armchair help and advice just inspires overconfidence. Reduce your limits when short handed. You aren’t a professional scheduled service so be very loose on predicted arrival times so you don’t feel pressured to go when you should wait.
 
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