Many of us with kids have found out our children don’t enjoy boating as much as we had hoped they would. To us adults boating is a way to relax and get away from the pressures of everyday life. To our children it can seem like a prison. When I met my girlfriend and her son I had visions of time spent on the boat together enjoying the outdoors and each other’s company for days at a time. After the first boat trip I realized her son didn’t share the same views and being “stuck” on the boat wasn’t his idea of fun.
It seems I projected my views and feelings onto others without taking the time to understand we are all different with different likes and dislikes. When I was a child I wanted nothing more than to be on the water and would do anything to be on a boat traveling and exploring new places. I lived in Florida and spent most of my time growing up either in the ocean with my parents or deep sea fishing with my dad. Those are some of my fondest memories of that time in my life.
We are seasonal liveaboards meaning my girlfriends son stays with us most of the summer on the boat. Over the last few years I’ve learned a few things that work for us to make everyone happy and make boating enjoyable for us. Being in a larger cabin cruiser we miss out on some activities like tubing and skiing but with the help of friends with smaller type appropriate boats we manage to get those activities in.
Some of the things I’ve found that help us are:
This may seem like common sense but it’s a big one. Allow your child’s friends to spend time on the boat with you. We are in a marina that is mostly childless. Occasionally there may be someone with a like aged child around but for the most part we are the only ones with children at the marina. Having one of your kids friends (especially one that is excited about boating!) along for the day or weekend makes for a memorable time that you and your child can remember for years.
Boating to me is a way to unwind, remove technology from my life and meet new people. My girlfriend’s son enjoys XBOX and streaming TV shows. For me I always thought being outdoors and experiencing new things trumped playing XBOX and resisted any type of electronic games on the boat. I installed a gaming system on the boat and allowed him to bring his games onto the boat now we will sit and play games together and have a bonding experience where we not only game but talk to each other. If you have no room or electricity for an XBOX or something similar play board games together at anchor or at the dock.
It’s boring sitting and watching the adults talk while underway. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. You may have several adult guests aboard. Some might be indulging in adult beverages, some talking or sightseeing and others operating the boat. Making your child an active participant in boating is both an educational experience and a fun thing for most kids. We bought a book on tying knots and with short sections of rope practiced until all of us could tie all of the basic knots needed for boating. I also ask for help on lookout and explain the rules of the road for boating and safe operation of the boat and share how important it is to be on watch. When we are underway we discuss the mechanical operation of the boat and things like the gauges and controls so when he is ready he will be able to operate the boat safely and without damaging the systems. When it’s time to clean the boat after a day on the water we all participate in cleaning and washing. It doesn’t seem like much but being included in the operation of the boat and in maintenance kids gain a sense of belonging and responsibility.
On our traveling adventures we try to select marinas with amenities that are child friendly. Boating on the Chesapeake bay we are lucky we can find things our child loves to do like swim in a swimming pool or bike around the marina. We also like to anchor out and swim or float in the bay. I carry a few water games and toys like floats, a football, squirt guns and an underwater camera. All these things are easily stowable and quick to deploy. This year we bought kayaks to use at the marina and to take with us and we each have our own kayak we paddle around in. We also have a small dingy that he gets to operate (he is the legal age in our state) while we are in it with him. The smiles and joy that we get while putting around in the dingy are worth more than gold to me.
Hopefully with some understanding on both sides and with a little work you and your children can enjoy boating together and build lifelong memories that will pass on to future generations.