Sailing with kids can be a lot of fun and a great way of getting them into a sport they will use for the rest of their lives. You need to be gentle at first – but not over cautious. Here’s a career plan for getting your kids sailing in such a way they may well grow to be enthusiastic crew for years to come.
Early years – easy does it
I walked away from a free yacht charter in Greece this year. Working with the client I knew too much about the feisty winds of the Aegean to want to plan months in advance. I’m the only accomplished sailor in my family and if hit by a screaming Meltemi I’d have put my entire family in danger.
By contrast, in the cabin of the ferry to France on my eventual holiday, my 4 year old was singing “We’re on a boat! / We’re on a boat!” for so long I nearly wept with boredom! That was however a sign she was thoroughly enjoying it.
The short lesson is when sailing with kids at an early stage you need to be gentle. Big, slow boat in easy conditions. That really means, other than a ferry, you should consider sailing a decent sized yacht on local waters with relatively short notice based on local weather reports. Nothing more than a Force 3, getting your kid into the sport safely and with just the excitement of being afloat.
This could mean a heavy Wayfarer dinghy, which can be a lot better than a yacht as they can engage in the tacking / gybing routines a lot more easily than a yacht with its winches.
When sailing with kids, push boundaries gently
From those long summer days cruising around the bay at an early age you then have a choice as to how to push them – gently of course. On a yacht that could mean a treasure hunt up the coast, anchoring for an evening and then sailing on in the morning. On a dinghy you could move to a more responsive boat like one of the bigger Lasers.
Each time they should feel a little stretched but never get to the point they are unhappy. Weather conditions should be benign without the risk of having to run like hell for port or the beach. Crying, stressed kids don’t like sailing with Mummy or Daddy.
You could consider the Optimist circuit which has world championships and is often seen as the training ground for Olympic sailors. The smaller Lasers like the Pico can happily take a couple of smaller kids on a nice F3 wind. On a yacht, an after-dark mooring?
Bringing in crew to sail with your kids
Here at Onboard Space we are about connecting skippers with crew. When it comes to having anyone aboard who will be in close contact with your kids, you need to take the sort of care that comes with any adult / child contact. That’s one of the advantages of our system – you can make your own judgements even before going sailing with them. My headmaster at school was into kiddies in a big way – by his demeanour and looks you’d never have guessed it, though for me it wasn’t a shock when he went to prison for it (a long story).
If you are invited to crew with a family, remember just to keep a certain personal and physical distance from the kids. Again, as a crew on someone’s boat you too need to make your own judgements. That should come naturally but teen boys and girls sometimes get blown away by how an older man or woman looks and acts. Teenage crushes can be a nightmare!
Teenage hormones – the need for speed!
I write this article having listened to a few people who were bored out of their skull by Dad taking them out on Wayfarers into their teens. Not a good move. Especially after a young sailing career, teens need excitement. Remember they are full of sex hormones and with that comes living life on the edge a bit. No – not just ‘a bit’! The advantage of sailing with kids from an early age is that by the time they are full of hormones you can start talking day / night passages and weather that challenges your own comfort zone.
Get rid of that bloody Wayfarer unless you’re planning heavy weather sailing! Teenagers these days could consider one of the newer foiling boats or certainly a feisty catamaran like a Hobie or a NACRA. You may be slowing down yourself by that stage so as the teenager rejects you as ‘boring’ so you’ll hope they are so wedged into the local sailing crowd it’s a natural choice for them to sail with their peers.
Onward to the horizon
How did you get into sailing yourself? Sailing is often an inherited condition, shared through the genes! Your own sailing career as a kid may have involved scary moments but I bet you remember the early years pottering about on lakes and around the bay with an almost dreamy haze. There’s nothing better for a kid than farting about on a boat. Don’t stress them too much and they too could be looking for advice on sailing with kids one day!