Call us “irresponsible”, but we didn’t worry one bit about bringing up a baby on a boat. Despite the warnings, the leery eyes, the sympathetic nods of caution and the flat out “you’re insane” from well-meaning people, we never thought twice about bringing Isla on the boat. Not even for a second.
First and foremost, turns out we’re pretty laid back parents. I say that only because I think this is a very large part of why this is working so well for us. We don’t hover, we let her take her tumbles and we’re very relaxed about most things. We don’t feel the slightest bit of angst at not being able to give her the latest clothes and toys, nor do we feel that we’re missing out on a single thing by skipping out on organized “baby classes.” Scott and I believe strongly in the less is more approach, particularly when it comes to baby stuff (aside from love and attention, of course) and, so far, our methods have produced one seriously awesome child. Isla is incredibly smart, fun, and sooooo happy and while “nature” is part of it, I think we have a pretty hefty hand in the matter as well.
But this isn’t a post about parenting style and how amazing our daughter is, this is a post about how we manage to live on a boat with an incredibly active eleven month old. So far, for us, it’s been smooth sailing. This is not to say that having a baby on a boat is not without challenges, but we know no different and to be completely honest, having her on board makes cruising even more fun. Keep in mind we’re only making short hops, have a very “easy” baby and we have the luxury to move only when the weather is good. Add that to the fact that the current adult to baby ratio is 2:1 and you have a pretty good foundation to begin life at sea with a little squirt.
With no further ado, here’s how we do it:
Where does she sleep? We bought a Phil & Teds Traveller Crib with the intention of using it when we traveled, not necessarily on the boat. But we loved this thing so much that we have semi-permanently mounted it into the v-berth. It’s perfect because it’s big enough for her to move around and play in, but small enough that when we’re under way she’s completely secure. It packs up small (less than seven pounds and slightly larger than a yoga mat) and is relatively easy to break down and set up again if necessary. Another great feature is the fact that the front of this pack & play zippers open so we can access her easily without going over the top. We have been bashing into 5+ foot waves in 20+ knots of wind and Isla has slept safe and sound in this little bed with no problems.
Where and what does she eat? I am still nursing, but in addition she eats three meals a day with us. Isla sprouted teeth early (4 months) and thus started eating early. She eats lots of fruits and veggies as well as small pieces of whatever it is we are eating (hummus, stir-fry, ratatouille, curry, etc). We have two “high chairs” for her that are boat-friendly. One is the Inglesina compact high chair, which clamps on to almost any table, and while we used this a lot in our travels, we have yet to use this on the boat. The best meal time seat that we have found, however, is our Bumbo chair with tray addition. Babies are messy, especially when they insist on feeding themselves, so being in the cockpit is ideal. If we are under way, I put this on the low side or on the floor and she happily eats away. When docked or at anchor I like to put her in the top of the companionway steps where I can see her at eye level, put food on her tray, and continue doing whatever it is I’m doing while keeping a close eye on her. I also brought with us a pretty hefty arsenal of organic baby snacks that we bring with us everywhere.
What about bath time? Isla bathes in a Safety First Inflatable Tub and it’s great. Depending on the weather, we can bathe her on the aft deck out in the open air or, if it’s windy and chilly, it fits in the base of our aft head shower. What’s great about this tub is that due to it’s inflatable nature, it takes up very little space and it has a drain (many inflatable tubs do not). Isla bathes with a view 90% of the time. She’s a whole different type of spoiled!
How do you keep her contained? As I wrote in an earlier post, boats are pretty well baby proofed by design except for the whole “surrounded by water” thing. Keeping her contained is key and there are several ways we do this:
Down below: We have a baby gate which separates our main saloon from our galley/nav station area. So far we haven’t needed to use this too much (unless I am using the oven), but I envision it will be an absolute necessity once she knows how to climb up the companionway stairs (which is right around the corner I am afraid).
In the cockpit: Center cockpit boats are great for children because the cockpits are so well contained. Isla loves to play in the shaded cockpit of Asante and all we need to do is put in the hatch board for 360 degree security. She LOVES to play peek-a-boo by “hiding” behind the board and popping up, and throwing toys down the companionway is a favorite pastime. We have learned, however, that we are going to need to add six inches to this VERY soon as it has become apparent that we have a climber. The child is fearless.
On deck: We installed lifeline netting. It. is. awesome. She roams free under close supervision and we have been known to have little dance parties on the bow (have I mentioned this baby has rhythm??).
Underway: We have a West Marine child safety tether for her and keep her clipped in at all times in the cockpit. We also have two different infant life jackets but have found the tether is more practical for long periods of time when there is not a direct threat of her going overboard. She has no problem wearing either, but prefers the tether.
What about when it gets rough? We brought along our infant car seat and base and jury-rigged a way to secure it both above deck and below. It has come in handy plenty; particularly when the weather gets rough, when we are about to set sails, raise or lower our anchor, or when we catch a fish. While Isla is not a huge fan of being contained in a carseat, we feel good knowing she is safe and secure.
What about ashore? I have been a HUGE fan of “baby wearing” since Isla was born, and while she is too active to be worn most of the time, I still love wearing her in the dinghy and ashore. We have found our ERGO baby carrier to be perfect, she can be worn on front or back and it is light, simple and easy to store. She is usually worn when we are going anywhere in the dinghy, and we wear her on shore excursions as well. We also have a Maclaren stroller that we use from time to time if the roads are paved, but have found that the baby carrier is much easier. If we are exploring via kayak, we usually put her in the Bumbo seat and life-vest and she happily watches the world around her as we float by.
How about playtime? I could (and probably will) write a whole blog post on how this lifestyle offers so many incredible opportunities for child development – but suffice it to say that the world is her playground. In comparison to most of her landlubber peers, she has very few “toys” and it is our preference to allow her to use her imagination and play with simple, everyday things. She is constantly out in nature, looking at waves, birds, trees and lizards. She is seeing physics and teamwork in action all the time when Scott and I work to keep the boat moving. She is exposed to different voices, cultures, and people on a daily basis and, as a result, has virtually no fear of strangers and loves making new friends. Of course we listen to music, read books, and play with toys in the boat just like any normal baby, but we find fun everywhere and spend most of our time outside. In addition, we are very mindful to give her a fair amount of “alone” time where she plays and explores without us urging her on with the primary goal being self entertainment, and this has worked very well for us.
The thing is this: babies are incredibly adaptable. They are the most ‘go with the flow’ little people on the planet. This is Isla’s life. She knows no different. According to her, the world rocks back and forth pretty regularly, “home” is surrounded by water, our “car” is a dinghy, her modest bag of toys is plenty, and the scenery changes almost daily. We feel so lucky to be able to give her this life and be with her every step of the way. It most certainly isn’t for everyone, but we cannot think of a better way to start off in this world.
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 .