Tips For Chartering With Kids On Board

Set ground rules, plan ahead and get creative when bareboat chartering with kids.
Chartering with kids
Bareboating with the kiddos Denis Moskvinov/

A bareboat charter is perfect for kids. It’s fun, it’s educational, and it bonds parents and children. Rediscovering the joys of boating through the eyes of a child is a remarkable experience that transports you back to your own first days on the water. 

But, as with everything involving kids, you’ll need to plan ahead for success. 

Set the ground rules long in advance, reinforce them before you cast off, and offer subtle reminders during the charter. The most important rule is that the skipper’s word is law. With two families aboard, parents should sort out the various issues in private. Bottom line: One person is in charge.

Life jackets are essential, but how and when you require them is up to each parent. In my case, all preteens have the run of the cockpit and the cabin without life jackets. Set one foot on deck, and the life jacket rule is in force. Adults should set a good example by wearing their own PFDs so that the kids don’t feel like outcasts.

Before you depart for your charter, find comfortable life jackets for the kids: Wearing bulky PFDs is a quick way to turn a swell trip into a hell trip. Life jackets for youngsters should be lightweight and flexible for their active lifestyle, and ideally have colors that are “cool” designs. With a comfortable PFD, kids won’t think twice about wearing it constantly. If possible, have them wear the life jackets before the trip to make sure there aren’t any chafing issues.

Kids also need nonslip shoes just like adults, and they need sun protection in the form of hats, sunglasses (with cord!), sunblock and protective clothing. And, to fully integrate them into the “crew,” they should have their own sailing gloves as well.

No running and no horsing around until they get ashore. And no kids on deck unless an adult is present. No youngster leaves the boat without permission from an adult. For smaller kids, no one goes forward (even at anchor) without an adult present and on watch.  

When it comes to swimming, the buddy system is always in effect, either with another youngster or with a parent.

The Boat and Trip

For several reasons, I’m partial to catamarans, both power and sail, when it comes to kid charters. Cats have more room inside for playing, they’re more stable, and kids love the trampolines on the foredeck.  

When planning your charter, try to break the distances into small chunks to prevent boredom. A four-hour passage between two harbors can benefit from a short beach stop that creates a pair of two-hour trips, and lets the kids unleash that pent-up energy too. 

 As any parent knows, comfort foods can save the day. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch or a special cereal for breakfast, make sure you have all the makings on board. It’s a good idea to pack some of their favorite treats in your luggage too because snacks and candy brands aren’t universally available.  

Trust me, kids will be hungry from all the activity, so take plenty of nonperishable snacks. It’s nice to think that they should all be nutritious, but, hey, this is a vacation. Mix up a routine of potato chips with cereal bars, and dried fruit with peanuts.  

A bareboating pleasure for adults is the happy hour, so include the kids. Create virgin piña coladas or Shirley Temple daiquiris to enjoy with the grown-ups.

Time for Fun

Snorkeling is a part of bareboating, but let them try it first in shallow water on a beach. Not only does it feel more secure when they can put their feet down, but it’s a lot easier to adjust masks and fins in shallow water.  

Most charter companies offer masks, snorkels and fins with their charter package, but my experience is that children’s sizes are slim pickings. Buy these at home so you know they fit, and take them with you.  

Kids need sun protection in the water, so take some tightly knit T-shirts to protect their backs. Since they’ll want to explore the beaches and reefs, have reef-runner slip-on shoes too.

Get the kids involved on the boat. Let them take the helm, crank a winch, place a fender. Give them a piece of line, and teach them a few knots before the charter. Then, during the charter, have them tie a few knots for real projects such as fenders or dock lines. Reinforce these efforts with praise. 

For better or worse, this is the digital age, and many kids are addicted. One professional skipper solves this problem by telling young guests that he has to confiscate their gadgets because, as on airplanes, they interfere with the navigational equipment.  

On the other hand, kids love the electronics on board, and a chart plotter (with supervision) can fascinate the youngsters with planning courses and setting waypoints.

Share the responsibilities. One family regularly appoints different youngsters to specific duties, with titles such as dinghy captain (tending the tender), buoy officer (pointing at the buoy for the helmsman when mooring) and forward lookout. Most kids get a kick out of cooking, and the barbecue on board is the perfect chance for them to learn how to flip burgers and steaks. After all, every restaurant has a sous chef to handle the details. Why not a bareboat?

A bareboat charter is a wonderful educational opportunity in so many ways. One family takes books on birds, fish and the local area. Learning about the islands and the wildlife then becomes the key to evening trivia contests.

Encourage and help your youngsters to keep a journal or log of the charter. They can add postcards and drawings, as well as everything from shells to postage stamps from the area. These are not only fun to look at in future years, but they also provide the basis for school reports or show-and-tell sessions. There are a number of logbooks aimed at youngsters in most marine stores, or you can make your own.

Kids need their space, so be sure to designate areas where they can keep their things and have their private time. Have enough blankets and pillows available if they want to curl up for a nap (or make a blanket fort). 

Don’t forget the simple stuff. Being allowed to stay up late and sit on deck with the adults to gaze at the stars (a star chart is helpful) is always a special treat. On one drizzly charter, we taught the kids to play hearts, and they loved beating us. 

One last piece of advice: Don’t overplan everything. Families already have overcrowded worlds with too much scheduling. Use your bareboat charter as a chance to play together, enjoy each other, and just relax.

 Most important, chill out and have fun.

Award-winning writer Chris Caswell is a regular CW contributor and the ­editor and publisher of Charter Savvy, a digital magazine for bareboat charter. 

Pirate Treasure 

Treasure map
Treasure map “found” in a bottle. Chris Caswell

Pirates are endlessly enthralling to kids, so you might trace a treasure map that, amazingly, matches your itinerary. It could be “found” in a bottle on a beach, and it might just lead to a trove of chocolate doubloons. You’ll need to take the bottle with you (glass, not old merlot), along with parchment-type paper, a pen that seems old (not a ballpoint), and doubloons. Stash the “treasure” and then “find” the bottle. Don’t forget the “10 paces due west from the colored rock” directions. —CC