Baby On Board: Cruising with Kids and Dangerous Parenting

Windtraveler Baby on Board

Brittany Meyers

By now you have heard of the unfortunate events surrounding the rescue of Rebel Heart and her crew. It has, quite literally, exploded into a media firestorm with just about every news source, local and international, covering it. I have absolutely zero interest in recounting the story of my online friend and fellow boat-mama, Charlotte, nor do I feel like speculating on what went right or wrong but one thing I have noticed following this story is the fact that it has morphed from a "rescue at sea" saga into a pretty ferocious debate on parenting.

I have already vehemently defended our lifestyle on this blog before, and I have also learned that arguing with ignorant, closed minds is pointless. But what I would like to say to the many people out there who are not closed-minded but simply uninformed, is to look before you leap onto this bandwagon of judgement and hatred because there is another side to this story...

Thousands of children live very happy, healthy lives on boats with their parents. For many years before the Kaufmans, and for many years to come, families with children (yes, even babies) have embarked on journeys across the worlds oceans without incident. We don't hear these stories of course, because they are not what make headlines...No, instead we hear of those that fail, because those are the stories the masses want to hear. Torre DeRoche, one of my favorite bloggers and author of the fantastic memoir, Love with a Chance of Drowning, said it best in her response to media frenzy:

All the people who never had the courage to live their dreams and do something meaningful and inspired with their lives are having a field day right now. Charlotte dared to do something amazing with her family, which evokes furious jealousy in those who are committed to living out fear-ridden and inane existences. But oh how delicious it feels to those types when the dreamers fall down. "See?" they say. "The easy and mediocre choices we made were the right ones". - Torre DeRoche

As someone who spent a significant amount of time living on a boat raising a baby, I feel compelled to show that boating with a child (or children) is not, despite what the masses may believe, inherently dangerous, selfish or irresponsible. In fact, many of us who sail with our babies are incredibly capable, self-sufficient and mindful parents. Before we embarked with Isla, Scott and I (having cruised as a couple for almost 2 years prior) had a very good idea of what to expect from a life at sea with a little one and we took what we saw as the necessary precautions: we bought a boat that was easy to single-hand, we made the choice to stay "coastal" and "island hop", and invested in various safety measures (from life line netting to infant antibiotics) to ensure our baby would be safe. Both of my pregnancies were boat pregnancies and we even cruised right up until the final trimester of my twin pregnancy. Month after ballooning month passed without incident or complication but had something gone wrong with me or our babies during that time, no doubt I would have been blasted for my selfishness and carelessness instead of celebrated for being the adventuring mama I was. I took calculated risks by staying on our boat in the islands during that time and I had luck on my side. It's the type of gamble all of us as make on a daily basis whether we take our kids sailing or strap them into carseats.

I don't think too many people can argue with my belief that the most important thing we as parents can give our children - particularly from the ages of zero to three - is that of our time. There's plenty of scientific data to back this up. We, along with the Kaufmans and all the other cruising families out there, found a lifestyle that gives this to our children in spades. Furthermore, our kids spend almost all of their waking hours out in nature, and again - there are loads of scientific articles stating what a profoundly positive effect that has on a child's development. Living on a boat with a baby is certainly not for everyone, but can be an incredibly rewarding way to raise a child and there is no one who will persuade me otherwise. I have seen first hand the results. It's incredible and beautiful and amazing. Of course, it is not without challenges and risks, but raising children - be it on land or sea - is inherently demanding and risky. I feel very lucky to have been able to live this way, and I know every other cruiser feels equally privileged. We adventures stand united on this front, and as my friend Behan said so eloquently, "Irresponsible? Crazy? If that’s the bucket we get tossed in, well, I’m proud to be a member of the tribe that’s chosen to raise children differently." Amen.

We all take risks every single day, whether we know it or not. Bad things happen that are out of our control on land and at sea. No one is immune. We cruisers choose not to live in constant fear over what "could" happen and instead embrace life as an adventure to behold. Fellow cruiser, freelance writer and boat mama, Diane Selkirk, wrote an excellent piece entitled Raising a Child Dangerously_ in an effort to restore a little balance to the reporting of the Rebel Heart saga. Her words are powerful: _"I’m not going to lie: Our lifestyle comes with risk. There are storms at sea, illnesses in remote locations, white-knuckle moments, and near misses... But to me, the potential payoff has always outweighed the risk." _ The bottom line is this: we all do our best as parents with what we are given. None of us are intentionally putting our children in harms way, though some of us might be more comfortable living outside the box than others. But I ask you, who do you think is more at "_risk": the solitary child sitting in front of the television eating fast food and playing video games all day or the child who is spending almost every waking hour with one or both parents, outside in nature, with the opportunity to live differently and see the world?

I know my answer.

Sail on, Rebel Heart, sail on.

If you are a Rebel Heart sympathizer and would like to help, please consider donating to the fundraising page that has been set up by friends. Thank you.

Enjoy this short video compiled of images of hundreds of boat kids from all over the world put together by a fellow boat mom in support of Rebel Heart. This is our tribe: