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Advice for a Family Bareboat Charter — Rules

By Chris Caswell
Photography by George Sass Jr.

The starting point is to set the ground rules long before you begin your charter, reinforce them when you board the boat, and offer subtle reminders during the charter.

Life jackets or PFDs are essential , but how and when you require them is up to each parent and depends, to some extent, on the age of the youngsters. For one family I know, all the preteens have the run of the enclosed cockpit and the cabin without life jackets. Set one foot on deck, however, and the life-jacket rule is in force. The adults can set a good example by wearing their own PFDs so the kids don’t feel like outcasts.

ground rules

Before you depart for your charter, find comfortable life jackets for the kids: wearing bulky uncomfortable PFDs is a quick way to turn a swell trip into a hell trip in a kid’s mind. Life jackets for youngsters should be lightweight and flexible for their incredibly active lifestyles, and they are now available in a multitude of “cool” designs from Spiderman to Barbie. If possible, get a life jacket with a solid and easy-to-grab handle. Given comfortable PFDs, kids won’t think twice about wearing them continually. And by the way, if possible, have them wear the life jackets before the trip to make sure there aren’t any chafe issues.

Life jackets aren’t the only gear that kids need though. They require nonslip shoes just like the adults and they need sun protection in the form of hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and protective clothing. And if you choose a blowboat over a stinkpot, to fully integrate them into the “crew,” they should have their own sailing gloves as well.

Another important rule is that the skipper’s word is law. With two families aboard, this sometimes causes concern, but the parents can sort out the various issues in private. Bottom line: One person is in charge.

Kids love to run, but never, ever, on the boat. No running, no horsing around until they get ashore. And no kids on deck unless an adult is present. Teach them the following adage and repeat it regularly: “One hand for you, one hand for the boat.”

No youngster leaves the boat without permission from an adult and, 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.