13 Apr Get ready for sailing with young children and keep your zen
Many families wonder if they should take the sea with a baby or a toddler. Sailing occasionnally on weekends is different from extensive periods at sea when you have young children. If you wonder if you should take the sea with young children and live your dream life anyway, the answer is why not! The real question is ‘How to get ready for sailing with young children and keep your zen?’.
First of all, let’s demystify sailing with children: travelling or living on a boat can be a form of continuation of a life on land. The big difference lies on the equipments of your boat and the intensity of the life on board. But assuming your boat is well equipped and cosy, this could be considered a floating home (apologies to the racers who won’t bear such a comparison) which the children adapt to very quickly.
So, now let’s say you already had the habit to look after your child full time as a couple (meaning without exterior help of family/ nannies/ nurseries), this would just be a continuation of your current experience.
On the contrary, if you have a lot of help today and plan to stop working and take your toddler out of the nursery all at once… we would not advise you to start sailing immediately. A good suggestion from experienced cruisers would be to first create a buffer zone, a few months off maybe, to adapt to this bubble family life (well covid helped a lot in that respect since 2020!) and moreover understand your child natural rhythm and adapt to his needs.
As parents, taking off stress when starting sailing will just help you focussing on the new technicalities coming with a life aboard your new floating home (which sure requires a lot more maintenance and skills…).
Some aspects have to be well prepared to make it an enjoyeable experience and help you to keep your cool in most circumstances (we never said than travelling at sea was never stressful).
Practical aspects before sailing
Safety on board
Health and International Insurance
Balanced sailing time
01. PRACTICAL ASPECTS BEFORE SAILING
You may consider opting for a boat which can be single-handed. This means that one parent can be at the helm and manoeuvring while the other takes care of the child. Other considerations may the comfort of the cockpit so that your kid can enjoy being with you while you are at the helm. Many families prefer a catamaran with more living space. Weigh the benefits of space versus manoeuvrability of your vessel.
Sailing as a family with young kids, you often need more arms. We really appreciated to have a third person with us for our first long navigations. Considering an additional care giver like a member of the family or a nanny. A trending option may soon be an ‘au pair’ to share the adventure, at least this would be something we could consider on a catamaran where each side of the hull has its full privacy and independence.
If not already done, register at once your toddler in a swimming class. If you are talented, doing yourself the teaching is great too. Just start as soon as possible to give your child this confidence that he can stay afloat the time to be secured. This learning can come with many challenges as the secured warm pool environment is not the same than the high sea. In any case, familiarisation with security back position or natural kicking is a must.
02. SAFETY ON BOARD
Subscribing an international health plan with a regional or worldwide coverage can release a lot of pressure. Most prime insurances include rapatriation and 24/7 contact with nurses. GP doctors are also available during the day and call back in max 2-3 hours. We chose AXA Global Heath care and already used their international online doctors for consultation which was really effective. We received on the same day laboratory analysis prescription along with a referral with a detailed case explanation in French for a specialist consultation. Mental health consellors are also on call (hopefully we won’t need that one but family tensions can escalate dramatically in small floating houses…).
As a back up, we made also sure to inform a Family Doctor about our travelling plans and we chose a doctor who is himself sailor. It can help a lot to resume a situation such as the time my husband was stuck in the cabin with a blocked back…
We obviously have all basic medecines onboard for us and our child. You may plan to take your first aids course or course refreshers and any other available course available.
If you are not big on the stiching part maybe as there are great new gluing technics, but having a first aid course can help you to keep calm and act rationally while contacting medical experts.
If needed, you can ask your doctor for basic antibiotics for child and self for long crossing. We wondered about risk of peritonitis risks (for self and child) and it seems that some antibiotics can help you reach the end of an Atlantic crossing. We would definitely have them.
Last but not least, pack the travel sickness gums for children (as from 4 years old – we started using at 3 with half dose). Keep them at reach in an accessible spot nearby the cockpit as going down in rough sea when you already are nauseous can end-up throwing overboard (in best cases …)
03. HEALTH AND INTERNATIONAL INSURANCE
Planning to go abroad, subscribe to an international health plan with a worldwide coverage. This includes rapatriation and 24/7 contact with nurses. GP doctors are also available during the dayand call back in max 2-3 hours. We chose AXA Global Heath care and already used their international online doctors for consultation which was really effective. We received on the same day laboratory analysis prescription along with a specialist consultation. Mental health consellors are also on call (hopefully we won’t need that one but family tensions can escalate dramatically in small floating houses…).
As a back up, you can inform your kid’s paediatrician and keep contact by email/ whattsapp if needed (some are flexible).
For young young kids there are not many medicines except paracetamol … So except from your standard natural medical kit and emergency kit, we would recommend to pack tablets for motion sickness. Usually these are not before 4 years old but we were told than children could take half dose as from 3 and we had to proof it a couple of times (consult your doctor for any medication).
Tip before sailing rough seas: Stick to dry food, water for hydration but not too much milk (this didn’t work well for us, ever….).
04. BALANCED SAILING TIME
You will have to define what is right for your family. The duration and the frequence of your day cruising versus long crossing. And plan the activities to keep the kids entertained meanwhile. We adopted a formula which works for us: a maximum of 60-70 nautical miles per day.
During the cruise, we listen to music or stories. If possible, download offline contents and make sure batteries are loaded in case of bad weather.
If the swell is big and uncomfortable, the best you can be is a pair of cuddling arms. Stay on the deck and breathe quietly.
Finally, sailing as a family is a great opportunity to enjoy your family time to the fullest.
Some pro sailors say that sailing is less fun with little ones as their attention is fully absorbed with the baby care. However, we think that this would not be much different on land, all parents have it hard, let’s face it! Life can become extremely complicated for young parents. But there are so many moments of pure enchantments that the balance is definitely positive. The many opportunities for the children to enjoy the beach, lagoons and sealife is like offering them a life of holiday in nature. You may find that your kids are even more relaxed and missing their boat if you take them away.