Monday, April 13, 2009

Cruising Mainsheet - April 2009; Sailing With Children

When people talk about sailing with children, I hear two refrains - how to keep them safe, and how to keep them from becoming bored. The first requires more attention. However, with a few good rules of thumb, there should be few problems. The following information comes from our experiences, the experiences of fellow Albergers, and a modest amount of research. For the most part these comments are for parents with younger children – eight or under.


Number 1: Lifejackets ALL the time for the smaller children.
For adults this may seem like an onerous request. However, kids do not seem to mind. The trick is to find one that is comfortable and fits well. Our rule when they were very young was that the life jacket went on before they hit the dock. Now as they are older (6 and up) they must wear a life jacket whenever on deck while we are under sail. When at anchor, the rules are relaxed if they are in the cockpit. I know of three Albergers whose kids have fallen over the side while at anchor. One of them was my oldest, who was trying to get into the dingy while I was down below. I came up to find her hanging off the edge of the boat, with her legs flapping in the water trying to catch the dingy that had drifted out from under her while she was getting aboard – she had a lifejacket on. (My wife found this out for the first time while proof reading this article!)

There are plenty of stories of kids going over the side. The common theme is that when it happens, it happens quickly, and especially with small kids, it seems to happen as a result of routine activity (like sitting down or walking). Obviously care must be taken when walking from boat-to-boat in a raft-up.

Number 2: There needs to be a Safe Place. The definition of a “safe place” changes based on the age of the children. For people sailing with small babies, this invariably means that folks have made a playpen down below. The Coopers on Cookin had a play pen slung from the handrails over the port main cabin bunk. The Morris’ on Solstice created a hatch for the v birth so the kids could see out, but had to stay there. The literature seems to favor taking a car seat aboard to strap small babies into. I have done this once on a very hot summer day. I found that the kid needed to get out of the seat just to cool off! It was August. Our kids were a little older when we started, the youngest was three. The whole area down below was their play pen. The key here is that when you need the kids out of the way, you need to know they are safe, so you can attend to the task at hand – dousing a spinnaker, docking the boat, or those pesky tasks associated with preparing the bar for an invading hoard of rafted Albergers.

As kids grow older, the Safe Place changes. For us it is on the bridge deck, with their feet up off the cockpit floor, and safe from being entangled. I have seen others put the extra folks on the cabin top while the boat is being docked. Regardless of where it is, children need to be forward of the helmsperson. Having a little kid behind you is asking for it. While underway, a child can go over the side in a heartbeat.

Number 3: Do not go over the side! This may seem an obvious rule. However, I am always struck by how little thought seems to go into the difference between dealing with safety issues prior to someone falling over the side, and that of after it has happened. Once someone is in the water, the game changes considerably. The obvious solution to this is making sure one does not go overboard in the first place. (See rules #1 and #2.) Our solution to this when they were very young was to keep them in the cockpit while underway. As they get older, this is harder to enforce; they are allowed to be on the foredeck if they are straddling (“strangling” as they say) a stanchion. I am considering getting harnesses, and running a jack line forward from the cockpit. This has mostly been on my mind when I am by myself with the three kids. The second obvious solution to this is to be well practiced in the “man overboard drill.”

Number 4: Hydrate and Slather! No one is happy when they are dehydrated or sunburned, or both! And no parent wants the guilt, or the whining, associated with either. Enough said.


The issue of boredom is relatively easy to deal with – kids rarely get as bored as parents think they will. Everyone’s children are different, their attention spans vary, and they each have different things that keep them amused and happy.

A number of new boat owning parents have expressed surprise that their kids have been happy while the boat is underway and generally find ways to amuse themselves. We bring a number of toys (we make sure that there are no small pieces), an assortment of books and writing/drawing supplies, and have also engaged the kids in understanding charts and helping navigate. We got surprising mileage out of some kids’ star charts. Often, if the right distractions are aboard, the kids will play for hours below. During the last day of this Canadian Friendship Regatta, we had two children aboard (ages 6 and 8). They played below the entire time.

In addition to toys, we bring a good supply of food that can be quickly prepared. As the kids grow older they are able to wait for food, but while young – this is virtually an unheard of trait. When they want food – they want it NOW!

Another useful method of ensuring that kids are happy is to give them a task- get them involved. Scrubbing the deck – or better yet the dingy while you are at anchor provides hours of fun. While underway, provide them the opportunity to steer or work a sail. Depending on their age, this may not last too long, but it gives them a change of pace, and perhaps most importantly some attention from one of the parents. Another thing to think about is that with children aboard, you cannot expect to have long 12 hour sailing days. Plan the trip so that you are at anchor after a five or six hour sail versus a 12 hour haul.

With attention paid to these two issues, sailing with children is a great way to spend time with the family. We look forward to many wonderful experiences as they grow. If anyone has any interesting experiences or ideas or recommendations, please drop me a line. Perhaps I can compile a “best of” fpr a future column.

Cruising Mainsheet - May 2009; Looking After Our Bay!

Well, sailing season must actually have started. I have lost my first hat over the side – and recovered it. Time to get out the hat leashes.

The boat is in the water, although still a bit forlorn and naked without the sails on, and the first Association events are approaching. The Early Bird Cruise on the 18th, and the Spring Rendezvous at the end of April will have happened by the time this is published. The next big event is the Memorial Day Cruise (and race). For our family this has generally been the first real over nighter. And while I have enjoyed the race, the kids have really enjoyed the visit to St Michaels, and the following day up the beautiful Wye River. If you look on my web site (, and follow the people pics link, you will get to the pirate pictures from last year – great fun. I hope to see people there.

On a different and more serious note, I want to make a comment about the Chesapeake Bay, and the way we are approaching the environmental issues that face it. Last month, the Annapolis Capital reported that the State had allowed construction of piers to start in Sullivan’s cove off Round Bay on the Severn River. On the same day, it reported that the construction on Dobbin Island in the Magothy River, that had been completed by a construction company owner without many of the required permits, could remain. Clear evidence has been presented that the single biggest contribution we can make to the health of the Bay is to protect the critical shoreline areas that contribute significantly to controlling run off. However, it appears that if you have money to hire lawyers, you can get de facto waivers to the laws that were established to control this very issue. I corresponded with a number of our legislators, and my conclusion was that with the profusion of laws, it is possible – and often politically expedient - for politicians to claim that the issue is out of their jurisdiction. One can make the case that our legislators have passed a number of laws geared towards protecting the Bay – just recently they passed a septic pollution bill. However, rarely have they acted to uphold or put any teeth to the legislation.

This has been on my mind recently. Not only because the weekends on Sullivan’s Cove have been marred by the sounds of trees being cut down, and pilings being driven into the wetlands through old White Cedar stands, but also as I have worked with members to plan the summer cruise. We will be cruising on the Upper Western Shore – an area of natural beauty. I have not been there by water for about 20 years, and I look forward to going again. I know there will be incredible change that has occurred, and I am hoping that it has happened in a responsible and controlled way. Development must be balanced, and promoted in a way that does not harm land owners, or stifle change. We know how to do this, it just takes a well educated and vigilant public, some leadership from our elected officials, and a focus on what is good for all – not just those that can afford the lawyers.

As an Association, we benefit from what the Bay has to offer, and owe it to ourselves and our fellow sailors to be vigilant and persistently communicating with our elected officials. Numerous sites can direct people to the appropriate governmental agencies. Because I live off the Severn, I am most familiar with the site for Sullivan Cove: However, I know that the many of the communities have web pages that can provide information on what is happening and how to get involved. I encourage you to sign in and engage!

This topic has been fairly emotional for many. If you have comments or would like to provide feedback, please feel free to do so. I know that there are a number of people within the Association who are knowledgeable and engaged on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you and learning about what we can do as responsible “consumers” of the Bay to make sure we do our part to look after this nautical playground. Feel free to contact me by email -

See you on the Bay!