An excerpt from The Best Tips from Women Aboard, Edited by Maria Russell, ©2000 ISBN 0-9663520-1-7 To order call 1-877-WMN-ABRD or click on

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  • Get the kids involved!  Even grammar school kids can do the math to figure the scope needed to safely set the anchor. 

  • They can help plan each day’s route.  Multiply average expected speed by the time available until you would like to be secured for the night in order to find the maximum comfortable distance you can cover in a day.  Then check the guides for a suitable marina or anchorage near that location.  For short distance cruisers, there are still lots of variables that the kids can consider.  The more involved the children are, the more fun they’ll have and the more accomplished they’ll feel.

  • They can learn to steer, read a compass, follow a chart, cleat down a line and throw it.  Knot tying and learning to stow lines and fenders properly are basics for children living around the water. 

  • Do rotate watches.  A certain length of time “on duty” followed by time “off duty” breaks up the sometimes tedious wait for youngsters anxious to “get there.”  It also keeps everyone aware of where they are, and how they got there.   These skills, and the ability to use the radio, may save lives somewhere down the line.  Remember, the most skilled captain may eventually be incapacitated by illness or injury.  Your family and even your guests may be the only possible way to get the boat back to shore.

  • It’s important to get input from the whole family during the planning stages of any adventure.  Everyone should be able to have a voice in where they will go and what they will see and do as they travel.

  • Keep a supply of books about various aspects of where you are and where you’re going so that children —as well as adults—can learn about things that exist beyond the beach border of a state or country.

  • Often what begins as “play” evolves into a learning activity, so encourage the natural sequence of events.  Children’s minds are like sponges: they absorb a lot.  Take this natural curiosity and channel it into an awareness of the world around the boat.  Soon they won’t miss the mall. 

  • Establish boat rules early, making sure they aren’t all “don’ts.”  To function as a good team, everyone must feel that they are needed.  Assign chores and jobs, equally mixing the have-to-do’s and the want-to-do’s.

  • Before a cruising trip, the whole family should go to a local YMCA and/or sports club pool to learn swimming safety and CPR.

  • Teach basic piloting and navigation as soon as your child shows interest.  

  • Allow older children to steer and stand short watches.

  • Look at the stars of the night sky.  Talk about how mariners of old navigated to uncharted lands.  Introduce mythology.

  • Books on tape provide an excellent way to pass the time, especially when you’re underway, standing watch,  or holed up inside the boat due to bad weather.

  • Emphasize the importance of privacy and alone-time.  It’s a good idea to set aside a certain hour of day to spend with one’s self, reading, journalizing, writing letters, etc.

  • Give each child a “Do Not Disturb” indicator so that the concept of privacy can exist even if the reality is marginal. 

  • Consider having your child’s best friend join you for part of your cruise.  Not only can the anticipation of seeing friends be exciting, but it gives your child the chance to show off her world.

  • Encourage letter writing.  When sharing their experiences on an on-going basis, writers are more likely to pay attention to the details of each new discovery.

  • The ability to play a musical instrument provides loads of entertainment, both for the musician AND his audience!

  • Include state or national parks on your itinerary.  When you get there, find a ranger and get a full tour.  Their enthusiasm is entertaining and oftentimes contagious! 

  • If the park isn’t staffed, find local information and have your own expedition.

  • Have each child keep a combination diary/log/photo album.   

  • The memories of unique times and special places will last long after the cruise is over.

  • For safety’s sake, develop some easily recognized ship-to-shore signals for dinghy pick-ups or general attention-getters.  Batteries have been known to run out in handheld radios.

  • If teenagers are out, especially with the dinghy at night, check-in time is not an approximate—even in home port.  The reasons should be obvious.  Give each child a handheld radio for his or her 13th birthday and explain that parents don’t want to be just goes along with the territory.