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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?

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Key to answering this would be context. There are many lakes in Ontario that in July or August I would quite happily take a child along with a lifejacket on and no other specific considerations. Or do you mean an ocean expedition? –  sdg May 15 '13 at 23:07
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Sdg - that is an important consideration:-) –  Rory Alsop May 17 '13 at 10:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

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.

  • Ideally you want everyone on the boat to be a very strong swimmer. This dramatically improves your chances in the event of an accident.
  • Additionally, everyone should wear a buoyancy aid with an automatic strobe beacon.
  • Small children should wear a full harness permanently attached to a runner any time they are on deck.
  • If your children are no good at following orders, you will need to impress upon them the consequences of their actions. A good way to do this is before before you go far from land, practice your man overboard drill - all adults, and teenagers should be able to helm or act as spotter, as in an emergency you don't know who will be first to the wheel. Spotters should make sure they never lose sight of the man overboard. The children should all have a shot falling overboard - especially if it is cold this helps persuade them not to mess about :-)
  • Know local coastguard numbers/frequencies and make sure you have multiple devices that can connect - mobile phones are fine inshore, but you need a decent radio further out to sea.
  • Let a friend or neighbour know your expected return time and planned course.
  • Ideally take your first sails with children in good weather so you can easily practice raising and lowering sails, reefing, mooring and anchoring, making way under sail or power, rules of the road, lights and buoys, tides and navigation etc
  • Involve the children in every part of it - if they aren't involved they could get very bored, but if they help plan courses, choose times to meet tides etc they will learn valuable skills and hopefully enjoy themselves and get the sailing bug.
  • Take more food, drinks and snacks than you expect. You can burn a lot of energy on the water, and when heading back to shore you don't want utterly exhausted children.
  • For the same reason, try to spend the first half of the day generally heading upwind. Tacking is fun anyway, but this gives you more leeway in terms of time when trying to head for home. Nothing worse than realising you have drifted so far downwind that you cannot reach home within hours of your planned arrival time.

I used to teach at an RYA sailing school - the essentials I used to teach on day one are appropriate here:

  • Knots
  • Setting and trimming sail
  • Understanding your actual course (as opposed to apparent course)
  • Understanding wind and tide direction and variation
  • Understanding the limitations of the boat
  • If you can get them out in dinghies, getting them to capsize is useful - it helps them understand what it will feel like if all has gone wrong
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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:

  1. Buckles
  2. Right-sized PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices)
  3. A buddy to sail with
  4. A full First Aid kit ready

If you are missing any one of these it becomes all the more important to have the other three.

Do not go if...

  • Child is less than 4 years old. (See the infant question for that)
  • Child wanders around a lot.

Do not go if you have...

  • first aid kit only
  • buckle only
  • buddy only
  • first aid kit and buckle only
  • buddy and buckle only

If the PFD is Wrong-sized, it's the same as not having one. Don't go.

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I'm going to disagree on the "under 1 year" suggestion. Both my kids were in canoes starting at 6 weeks. A dinghy is surely safer and easier to take a baby in than a canoe is. PFD is, however, utterly crucial. –  Kate Gregory Jun 29 '13 at 19:27
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Also, we have a separate question for infants. This question is about taking a child over 1 year specifically –  Kate Gregory Jun 29 '13 at 19:28

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.

  • the children are ALWAYS in the cockpit for any manoeuvre (any time, any weather)
    • one of the adults stay with them for them (not doing anything else at all)
  • the adult must be clearly designated as in charge, and be aware of it, stay with them, and choose an adult who is not sick !
  • if there a rough sea or the boat heels, they don't seat on the top/side of the cockpit, but inside, on the benches (or inside the boat...),
  • Always a PFD (even in the cockpit) on them at sail until they are a good swimmer/ aware of risks (8 to 12 ? age depend of the kids and the parents),
  • Always a PDF (even if older) out of the cockpit (unless mooring / at the harbour)
  • never alone outside of the cockpit, with an adult or a teenager if moving out of the cockpit (in nice sea conditions anyway!),
  • the children are ALWAYS in the cockpit during harbour approach / manoeuvre
    • one clearly designated (and aware of it !) adult to supervise/entertain them (as lots of unexpected/quick things can happen and the crew must be ready to act)

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.

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Some excellent points there. Thank you. And welcome to the site. –  Rory Alsop Jul 8 '13 at 8:54

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