The Grim Teacher

Liveaboard families often discover that there's a fine line between teaching kids safety near the water—and just freaking them out.

Del Viento- girls

The girls with their fear monger papa in the background. They donned their goggles and are showing their displeasure with the onions I’m chopping in the galley–
drama, drama, drama.
Windy Robertson

“Eleanor, Frances: we are surrounded by death,” is how I started my safety briefing to the girls when we arrived in Victoria. I knew that up to this point, their lives afloat hadn’t prepared them for the danger of Canadian marinas. They were used to running around on Mexican docks, surrounded by 85-degree water. Accidents happen and they’ve fallen in before; Frances even rode her bike off the dock once. But here, where a layer of sheet ice forms on the salt water surface some mornings…well, I thought my intro was apropos.

“If you scare the life out of them, they’re not going to be able to help themselves,” Windy said later when the girls recounted to her my safety briefing.



“The girls said you told them they’d instantly go numb and not be able to climb out.”

“Well, I just want to impress upon them…” I didn’t continue. She may have a point. I thought I was doing a service by scaring them, but I risked creating a situation wherein someone falls in and is then unable to play an active role in their own rescue because they’re too freaked out, paralyzed with fear.

So, in a brilliant act of redemption, the next time Windy was out, I showed both Eleanor and Frances where the marina rescue ladders are located and how to deploy them. When Windy returned, my prodigies gave a demonstration that impressed.


Check it out:


If six-year-old Frances can manage this, every marina dweller over 50 pounds should be able to deploy the ladders in the marina they frequent. They may save a life someday.

In teaching my kids where to find the ladders, I realized I was blind to the ladders prior. Like fire extinguishers in a building, rescue ladders and other safety devices are so ubiquitous they can go unnoticed—and can then be difficult to locate and deploy in the stress and chaos of an emergency.



I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at