Inspired by this question on taking an infant sailing, as it is quite different when they can move, I thought I'd ask the same question in respect of a toddler or child.
What essential safety considerations should I meet?
Children are a relatively high risk on board a small boat. At 4 or 5 years old they don't know enough about safety, and by their teens they are either convinced that they are invincible, or terrified that they will drown, so at either end of that spectrum there are challenges.
I used to teach at an RYA sailing school - the essentials I used to teach on day one are appropriate here:
Yes. Infants & Toddlers most of the time will not know about safety. It's best not to even sail with them. If you REALLY want to sail with him/her (I suggest doing if you need to), make sure you have:
If you are missing any one of these it becomes all the more important to have the other three.
Do not go if...
Do not go if you have...
If the PFD is Wrong-sized, it's the same as not having one. Don't go.
We did a few cruises with our kids, and had experienced the traditional (and good !) recommendations you can read below/above. I will add a bit of the reality with our rules/experiences - take it and adapt it as you like. We have always been in the situation of 2 couples with 4 children between 5 and 12.
If the crew stress, the kids will stress and behave in a weird/noisy way, so you have to prevent this with a trained crew for kids: - one adult take care of the kid, which means NOT the others, - one adult take care of the kid, which means not participate in any manoeuvre, - the others adults take care of the boat, which means NOT of the kids, - ask/repeat them to stay quiet/calm during manoeuvres (difficult :) - do not scream at kids, or make kids responsible for what's going on, - remember sailing must be fun for them too, so let them go around the boat with the correct equipment and the correct supervision in a appropriate weather (your evaluation),
The captain must sail for family if you want to sail another time with your kids: - no big cruise - no more than 4/5 hours a day, and water activities planned everyday ( swimming, diving, snookering, beach, dingy trip around the boat, etc...) - know the weather forecast (like always), but don't leave the harbour if the family can't manage the sea conditions (where the boat and the captain can !) - plan your trip to have backup plans, plan the trip with the captain, check with him even if you are not an accredited sailor... - better stay in a place and being late for giving back a rented boat (or giving it back in an other harbour) than taking a risk for your family, - have lot of activities for them: bring some printed songs to sing, knots exercises, fishing, photo and video cameras, books, binoculars for them (as they might not be allowed to use the boats'one) etc, etc - as sailing is never their favourite activity ! It might not seem a security rule but it is :) as you have to consider your kids as part of the boat life and can't expect them to stay quiet (especially when you need to !) if the trip is a nightmare for them, - make them participate in the easy manoeuvres, let them hold the helm - always in a way it will be a positive and safe experience. Don't do it you or the captain can't manage it.
instructions sessions before leaving the harbour: - the captain does a briefing at the beginning to all the kids together, make them repeat the important points, ask the oldest ones to remind the youngest ones, and try to make his crew/kids confident (do NOT scare them) so they can enjoy the cruise, with a limited number of simple rules, - the briefing for kids focus on kids behaviour, do an other brief for the adults (fire extinguishers, water use, manoeuvres, etc...) - the captain take care of all his crew, especially the kids: Never scared, never cold, never hungry - and the trip will be fine :) make all the crew comfortable with sailing. - if the boat navigation is done with a tablet (ipad, etc - very trendy and practical), do not use it for kids ! (battery life, dropping risks, availability when needed, etc) - they must have they own (or others) devices to play with. Stay firm on that one, at least during sailing time !
Last bit for younger kids: - at anchor, always PFD on kids to swim if deep water, even if good swimmers, - in the harbour, PFD on kids as soon as they get on the pontoons, as dramatic accidents happen with kids falling between pontoons and boats... - at anchor, you can tie all the fenders together to do a floating belt at the back of the boat - it helps kids to be more confident, and jump/swim in deeper water than usual. - think about wristband and other techniques to prevent sea sickness (what doesn't work for you can work for them, and <->).
It's too long, huh ? All those recommendations are complementary of the other posts. Sailing with kids is amazing, enjoy and it will be an unforgettable time if the crew is prepared to sail with kids, and the boat doesn't sail when it shouldn't.
PS: a last one for the captain, he must be more conservative with the surface of sails - as realising a reef is always easier than taking a reef... kids are not compatible with performance/race sailing in my mind :) but with "comfortable" boat pace.