A DOCTOR'S GUIDE TO BOATING WITH CHILDREN by Dr. Ethan Welch

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 www.womenaboard.com

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     I once saw a quote from the writer Robert Benchley that compared traveling with children to “traveling third class by train in Bulgaria.”  It may not be for everyone, but traveling or boating with children can be a most rewarding and unforgettable adventure for both parents and offspring.  From my own experience (we have four children), I can say that our boating and traveling experiences are cherished memories, frequently embellished in the telling and retelling of stories.  There are a number of common sense recommendations for recreational boating and travel.

     Planning is a must.  Parents should keep in mind the goals of the travel.  Plans should include the children’s input.  Allow rest stops along the way, particularly for travel to and from boating grounds.  As a parent, you may not mind having a few parts of the travel planned on a “play it by ear” basis, but this may be difficult for children.  Book and secure reservations to allow as few failures as possible.  When possible, ask for bulkhead seats for maximum room on airlines.  In addition to your own requirements lists, generate a list for each of the children several weeks ahead of the trip.  The exercise gets everyone thinking and planning; anticipation is part of the fun.

     For extended voyages or overseas travel, a visit or phone call to your pediatrician is advisable.  Immunizations should not be given at the last moment.  If anyone in the group is on medication, be sure to secure enough for the trip.  Check appropriate dosage for pediatric requirements, particularly for a general broad-spectrum antibiotic.  Carrying a portable cooler for beverages is always a good idea, whether during flying or aboard a vessel.  Paying attention to hydration in the young traveler is important.  Avoid salty junk food and caffeinated drinks.

     One common question regarding traveling with young children is, “How young is too young?”  Should a nursing mother plan on that charter vacation?  I think much depends on the mother’s tolerance to the boating experience, or to travel in general.  There is no doubt that breast feeding certainly is convenient, but if the mother gets seasick, then somebody has two very big problems to solve.  Again, common sense is the answer.  For the older infant, extra baby food and dehydrated food is an answer to travel needs.

     So age itself is not a final restriction, but knowing how to keep youngsters safe on a boating trip and aware of the dangers of the water is a full-time job.  My suggestion is to start young, but not too young.  The comfort level is yours to decide.

     I recommend carrying the first aid kit as part of carry-on baggage.  It is amazing how many times you need a Band-Aid while going or coming from your destination.  Medications may be checked by your pediatrician, but should include the following:

1         Decongestants

2         Throat lozenges

3         Anti-diarrhea medications

4         Pain and fever relievers, such as aspirin or Tylenol

5         Anti-nauseants for motion sickness

6         Topical ointments such as hydrocortisone (1%)

7         General items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, thermometer, and lip balm

     For tropical destinations, mosquito netting is an essential item.  The supplies and medications for your young travelers should complement your regular adult first aid kit.  Carrying an extra pair of glasses and sunglasses for everyone in the carry-on luggage is a good idea, particularly in the event of lost baggage.

     The phone list should include, in addition to your pediatrician, emergency phone numbers and poison control center numbers.

     If your plans include travel to unusually remote destinations, contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) for a list of English-speaking physicians in the area.  IAMAT is located at 417 Center Street, Lewiston, NY  14092.  Other emergency numbers include the International SOS Association at 800-523-8930.

     For each destination, put together a list of points of interest along the way that will enrich the experience.  Spend some time with your travel agent on this aspect.  If planning to snorkel while sailing in the Caribbean, for example, do a little research on the sea life that you anticipate identifying.  We found keeping a log of the travel experience a marvelous help in recalling various adventures.  For the older child, learning to keep a journal or sketchbook is fun and can become a lifetime habit.

     Above all, don’t forget the big picture.  Everyone wants to HAVE FUN.  Leave some unscheduled time to be creative.  Spending leisure time together can give families a marvelous opportunity to communicate, often about topics they might not find comfortable talking about at home.  Traveling together is a grand time to get to know everyone better by just having fun.  And who knows?  Even Bulgaria by train may not turn out to be all bad.

Dr. Ethan Welch, is the founder of MEDICAL SEA PAK CO.  He is Emeritus Clinical Professor of surgery at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.  He received an AB from Harvard University and MD degree from Johns Hopkins University.