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My wife and I are thinking about sailing with our ~ 6 month old baby boy.
We understand this is not something to take lightly, and we're planning either a canal/river sail or a sail in a very calm sea (considering my seasickness question).

I wonder if there are locations you think are better for sailing with an infant, what to do and what to avoid.

Clarification - I'm talking about a sailing trip, which means about a week aboard a yacht/boat.

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2 Answers

I have friends with a sailboat who wanted to take their <1yr infant on their sailboat with them, and so consulted the (Canadian) coastguard about how best to protect her.

The good news is that very young children (< 2 yrs, I think) don't count as passengers from a legal point of view; so there are no legal requirements to fulfil, just what you need to do to be as safe as you feel necessary (again, that may be specific to Canada)

Their approach to this was to get a standard carrying seat and strap on to it enough flotation material (mainly polystyrene foam, I believe) until the seat floated upright in water supporting an equivalent weight to their daughter. They then took her sailing on the Great Lakes. The seat already came with straps to hold her in place, and she could be left in the seat (below decks or otherwise in a safe space) during docking and other maneuvers that required two people. Actually I think she was left in the seat pretty much all the time they were under way.

The daughter is alive and well and studying marine biology, so it must have worked out.

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We took my youngest with us in a punt on the river Cam when she was ten days old. Slightly different age and size but as they are effectively immobile, they are actually easier than once they hit toddler age.

Some things you do want to check:

  • are you both very strong swimmers? If there is an issue, whoever is holding the baby needs to be able to keep themself and the baby safe.
  • do you have solid/foam buoyancy aids? Inflatable ones make it hard to hold onto a child if you have to jump in.
  • keep the buoyancy aid on and tightly tied the entire time.
  • avoid open water (you mentioned this) - a canal is an ideal place to start. If your boat has a low transom you can also introduce your baby to the concept of water flowing past.
  • make sure the boat is big enough that you can change a nappy if necessary. It can happen at any time:-)
  • don't plan for a long cruise. Give yourself a short starter sail.

Update

As you are planning on a week's sailing I would add the following:

  • plan each day well. Organise half days of relatively short cruises that won't require both of you to work hard. Personally I prefer to sail, but a motor cruiser can be less effort.
  • scope out docking locations. Assume that you will have to dock single handed at each - you may have to. In any case, as docking is relatively high risk with an infant, make sure whoever is holding the baby is not trying to attach mooring lines or step on or off the boat until you are tied up.
  • if you are sailing, choose a boat that you can reef single-handed. Again, you may be able to leave the baby in a cot for short periods but if the weather worsens rapidly you don't want to have to take in emergency reefs while the baby is being thrown around the cabin!
  • on that note, don't go out if the weather forecast is at all dodgy. Here in the UK that would be a challenge, as weather and conditions are not that predictable at any time, but if you are in a country where you can predict with some degree of confidence then pick a good time.
  • don't be embarrassed to radio for help if you need it. Yes, you may feel silly calling for assistance if the weather gets up, but you'd rather be silly and safe than have an accident.

Other than that, enjoy - its lovely getting kids interested in sailing or boating.

I am currently just waiting on my youngest (nearly 7) getting a bit stronger at swimming then I plan on taking the whole family sailing round the Greek islands for a couple of weeks. As they are all mobile, it is an entirely different challenge. In fact, I have asked the equivalent question here.

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Thanks for your tips, I edited to clarify what I mean by sailing in this case. –  David Kohen May 14 '13 at 5:58
    
+1 for the nappy part! :D –  Unsung May 14 '13 at 6:21
    
Punting on the Cam isn't exactly a challenging water-safety environment. The bank is never more than about twenty feet away, and much of the river you can stand up in. –  DJClayworth Sep 12 '13 at 20:58
    
@DJClayworth - yep fully aware of that. I also sail open ocean in > force 8. Not really the point of the question though :-) –  Rory Alsop Sep 12 '13 at 23:28
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