Baby On Board: Keeping a Baby At Bay While Passagemaking

Here are some things that worked for us to keep our baby a happy little camper on the high seas.

Windtraveler- Isla
Brittany Meyers

"I can't imagine taking my baby on a sea voyage. What if she got sick, bad weather, boat troubles, I think it's very poor thinking on your part. It's your business...but selfish." Having a baby on a boat is, apparently, a novelty that many of our readers are - err - interested in. I'd say over 50% of the questions we field are in regards to having a baby on board, and after our recent offshore passage - the questions doubled. The main question, of course, was: How the heck did you keep a baby entertained at sea for five days? And then, of course, there was that ridiculous email above from Mrs. B to which I kindly replied with a big, fat "Thanks so much for the unsolicited advice - how about you raise your 'baby' the way you want to, and I'll raise mine the way I want to?" The nerve of some people, really. Sheesh. (What the heck would she say to these people?!)

The funny thing is, it wasn't Isla's safety that was my concern (I mean, do I really need to go into the statistics of the safety of a baby on a boat versus, say, a baby in a car?). Oh no! The biggest concern that kept me up at night was how the heck I was going to keep her entertained. I mean, we've been living on the boat with her since she was six months old, and actively cruising for the past four months so we had found a little groove and sort of knew what to expect. But living on a boat with a baby is one thing...actually cruising on a boat with a baby is another...and doing an offshore passage with a baby is a whole new can of worms. Isla is an incredibly active and energetic thirteen month old who, when awake, does not sit still. She climbs, explores, pokes and prods. She has no fear whatsoever and she is wicked smart. I often take her to shore at least once a day to play on the beach or take her for a walk to burn some energy and provide some stimulation - but at sea, it would be all boat, all the time. So how did we do it?

I am happy to report the trip went better than any of us imagined. She was, for the most part, an angel and while it was definitely a full-time job to keep her happy, we all came through unscathed (minus the couple times she projectile vomited in the cockpit, of course...that was just gross). Here are some things that worked for us* to keep our baby a happy little camper on the high seas:

1. Safe place to sleep: Isla sleeps in a Phil & Teds traveller crib, in the V-berth. We have secured it semi-permanently to the port side and it has been amazing. It's big enough for her to stretch out in but small enough that when the weather gets rough she's not rolling all over the place. She cannot climb out and - most important - she is comfortable and safe. She has slept soundly in that little bed while sailing upwind in twenty knots bashing into eight foot waves. Having a secure place for a baby to sleep at sea is imperative.

2. Medicate: Our mini shakedown sail got a little rough and Isla got sick not once, but twice during that passage. This was not the most auspicious beginning for a five day, windward sea voyage. Of course I carry Pedialyte in the event of dehydration, but I didn't want to get to that point (and do babies actually drink that stuff?!?! It's like straight up corn syrup!). I hit the interwebz and did some research about how to prevent sea sickness in babies, which turned up nada. I had thought ahead and ordered some children's dramamine and even though it is not recommended for babies under two - I made the executive decision (as a mom) to give Isla 1/4 of a tablet every four to six hours. She never got sick again and was happy as a clam in even the roughest of seas.

3. Several safe "areas" to play: I made lee cloths to contain Isla in both the vee berth and aft cabin. While the change in scenery wasn't much, it was nice to have a few areas to "hang out" with her. We'd read books and play with her toys in the vee berth when it wasn't too rough, we'd play with her iPad and listen to music in the aft cabin. Of course fresh air and vitamin D was a must too, so we'd play up in the cockpit from time to time when weather permitted. A little variation was nice.

4. A dedicated "babysitter": I know this might not be possible for every family cruising, but having a baby on the boat renders one parent pretty much useless as a crew mate. Sorry, but it's true. Scott and I were prepared for this, which was why we bought a new boat that can be easily singlehanded. Doing regular cruising and island hopping is fine with just the two of us, but if you are going to sea with a baby for an extended length of time (three days or more) I would strongly urge you to take on additional crew to help out. We had two volunteer crew mates and they were AWESOME and super helpful. Having them aboard meant Scott was able to get some rest and I was 100% available for Isla.

5. Gradual introduction of new toys: Compared to her landlubber peers, Isla has very few toys. We don't have the luxury of a basement or a big closet to store all her stuff in so she has a small hammock for books and stuffed animals in her room, and a tote bag under the nav station for her toys. I tried to introduce "new" toys and books every other day to keep her interested because, to be honest, the attention span of a baby (if you're lucky) is about fifteen to twenty minutes before they want something else. I kept things on a rotation. Also - baby's don't need fancy toys! The simplest things will entertain them: pots, spoons, and old coffee bins are all "toys" in a child's mind. Isla's favorite discovery? Getting in and out (over and over and over again) of a small plastic dish washing bucket.

6. iPad: This one was a toughie for us. Scott and I have made a very conscious decision to limit screen time for Isla. "Screen time" obviously means television but also includes "educational" computer games and - yes - iPad games. Five days at sea with a baby is a long time. We do not have a television on board and Isla has hardly had any exposure to the boob tube whatsoever so we figured that a little friendly iPad action here and there for our passage would be acceptable. I filled our iPad with free "baby apps" from Fisher Price and LeapFrog that included songs, flash cards, and very mildly interactive games. I am happy to report she preferred getting in and out of her plastic bin to the iPad, but I am still thankful we had it. It gave me 15-20 minutes of rest with her where she'd actually sit still. That said, we haven't used it with her since the passage and will probably only limit it to long passages and special situations.

7. Tether and harness: Isla never wore a lifejacket this entire trip. Instead, we used her West Marine infant tether and harness whenever she was in the cockpit (we never went beyond the cockpit with her this passage). We have several life vests that we use with Isla in the dinghy, but when we sail, she is almost exclusively tethered to the cockpit. It allows for easy movement, it's less cumbersome (not only for her, but for anyone holding her) and it's safe because it means she will stay with the boat. A lifejacket might keep her afloat, but our first priority is keeping her on board.

8. Sleep schedule: This is numero uno in my opinion. I could go on, and on, and on about how important I believe sleep is for little ones. Before Isla was born I was given the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by a very seasoned and wise momma friend who I admire completely. "This is all you will need, forget about all the other crap" she told me as she pressed the book in my hands. I owe her everything (love you Bijal!). I "sleep trained" Isla from three months of age. She naps twice a day (9am, 1pm) for an hour and half each time, and goes to bed each night between 6pm and 7pm waking up with a beaming grin 12 uninterrupted hours later (for the record, this happened naturally, she has never "cried it out"). This is not magic, it's exactly the schedule the book recommends and promises if you follow the guidelines. While I was nervous her schedule would go haywire at sea, I'm happy to report she stuck to it without a hitch. Having Isla on a sleep schedule makes passage making and cruising SO. MUCH. EASIER. She is well rested and happy, and we get lots of breaks which allow us to have down time, making us better parents.

While some folks certainly think we're insane, we beg to differ. We think this life is rife with amazing opportunities for little ones. Isla is absolutely thriving aboard and, for now, we can't imagine raising her any other way. She is one awesome sailor baby, that is for sure! If you want to read more about how we cruise with a baby on board, read our post "Bringing up Baby (On a Boat)."

  • Reminder: This is what worked for us. It might not be what you would do and it may or may not work for you, and that is OK. To each his own, right?

When two people, with the same life long dream of sailing around the world find each other, there's only one thing to do... make it happen!
Scott and Brittany departed in 2010 with big plans to "see the world" from the deck of their sailboat. After sailing from Chicago to Trinidad via the "thorny path", they are now back at it with their first baby and second boat. Check out all the juice at .