Sailing vacations can be some of the best additions to a family’s life experiences. Ann-Wallis White, owner of Annapolis, Md. based Ann-Wallis White Yacht Charters, explains that careful planning is key. “Be patient, be logical. Do not expect too much of yourself or your child, and sailing will become more a part of your life rather than less. That has always been my goal. We are proud and happy to say we have third generation clients sailing with us. So, very careful planning works.”
The first step is to determine the best age to take your child on a charter.
Scott Farquharson, North American director for Dream Yacht Charter, says, “The earlier the better. Get them indoctrinated while they are young. This makes it all a lot better as they age and become a full part of the crew.”
“If the charter is a once in a lifetime vacation, the ideal age may be between 8- and 15-years,” suggests Ian Pedersen, assistant marketing manager at the Moorings, headquartered in Clearwater, Fla. “Of course you want your children to remember what a fantastic time you had! Additionally, at this age parents can most likely leave the kids to their own devices while on board, allowing everybody to enjoy the time on the boat in their own ways.”
“In general,” adds Jules Norwood, vice president at Carolina Wind Yachting Center, based in Washington, N.C., “kids of any age can be right at home on a boat. We’ve had charterers whose toddlers had a great time seeing dolphins, steering the boat, and wearing a pirate hat. Older kids and teenagers can help with handling sails and dock lines, and with navigation.”
Secondly, consider the optimal size yacht for a charter with children, and how this fits into the family budget. Generally, the bigger the boat the more expensive.
Carolina Wind’s Norwood says, “The kids will want their own cabins, which means a bigger boat. Everyone needs a place to have a little privacy from time to time. Parents also need to plan some ways to keep kids engaged and entertained.”
Third, think about whether you want a crewed yacht vacation so there are extra hands to help keep the kids busy.
“This may not be a realistic expectation on a yacht with just two crew – captain and chef,” says White. “Two crew cannot reasonably be counted on to successfully do the additional job of babysitter, especially underway. Crews of two are usually stretched pretty far with ‘multi-tasking.’ This means that parents must know how to manage their children’s safety.”
On the other hand, there are plenty of ways to keep kids amused on either a crewed or bareboat charter.
The Moorings’ Pedersen says, “Kid-friendly activities include snorkeling, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and exploring vast stretches of white-sand beaches (everything the adults want to do too!). For the more technologically inclined, Wi-Fi is available on many charters allowing you to watch movies and play games while on board.”
“Ashore,” adds Carolina Wind’s Norwood, “there are museums, pools, tourist attractions, beaches, and more, depending on the location of your charter.”
Fourth, choose where to charter.
“The Chesapeake is a great place because the passages are short, the water is relatively calm, and the gunkholing is spectacular for kids to explore,” says Dream Yacht’s Farquharson. “I recommend the Bahamas too, as the passages are short, the area is very safe and friendly and the on shore activities are kid friendly.”
Carolina Wind’s Norwood suggests Ocracoke. “There are lots of activities, from surfing and kiteboarding to biking and parasailing. The island is fun to explore and chock full of history, including pirates and ghosts! Charleston, S.C., also offers pleasant sailing and lots of history and activities.”
Lastly, there are ways for parents to be better prepared to make their family charter flawless.
“Consider bringing kid-sized masks, snorkel, fins and possibly a life vest,” recommends the Moorings’ Pedersen. “Or verify ahead of time that these items will be available at your destination.”
“Having some backup activities and distractions for the kids is always a good idea – something to bring out if boredom sets in,” says Carolina Wind’s Norwood. “Otherwise, it’s just a matter of being prepared for the weather and the agenda. Sunscreen, bug spray, and towels are things I always remind charterers to bring.”
Most importantly for a safe journey, “It’s never too early to go over the rules you expect children to follow on board,” says Dream Yacht’s Farquharson. “There are three simple rules to follow: No child leaves the cabin without a lifejacket on. If they go forward, they go in pairs. And always, one hand for you, one hand for the boat.”
A little pre-planning while on land will make your time at sea with your family a special time for everyone.