Advice for a Family Bareboat Charter — OK, Time For Fun!
By Chris Caswell
Photography by George Sass Jr.
Whatever size boat you have, get the kids involved! Let them take the helm, place a fender, toss a dockline, spot a buoy. 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 hanging fenders or making up dock lines. Reinforce their efforts with praise, too.
This is the digital age for better or worse, and many kids are addicted to their electronic games. I know a professional charter skipper who solves this neatly by telling young guests that he has to confiscate their electronic gadgets temporarily because, just like on airplanes, they interfere with the navigational equipment.
On the other hand, kids love the electronics onboard, and a chartplotter (with supervision) can immerse the youngsters in planning routes and setting waypoints.
Share the responsibilities and put the kids in charge, too. Some families regularly appoint 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 grill onboard is the perfect spot for them to learn how to flip burgers and charbroil steaks (with close supervision). After all, every restaurant has a sous-chef to handle the details. Why not a bareboat?
Depending on the age of the kids, a kayak is a worthwhile addition to your bareboat package. It gives the kids the freedom to explore on their own and instills a sense of independence. Set strict boundaries for how far they can venture though, and have an adult keep an eye on them as well.
Before outboard motors became so commonplace, two kids in a tender with a pair of oars could amuse themselves for hours, and learn to row pretty well, too. I certainly did!
Pirates are always fascinating to kids and, before your trip, you might even trace up a treasure map that, amazingly, matches somewhere on your itinerary. It could be “found” in a bottle on a beach and it might lead to a pirate stash of chocolate doubloons.
A bareboat charter is a wonderful educational opportunity, and many families take books on birds, fish, and the local area. Learning about the islands and the native flora and fauna then becomes the key to evening trivia contests at dinnertime.
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 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, too, 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!)
And don’t forget the simple stuff, either. Being allowed to stay up late and sit on deck with the adults to gaze at the stars is always a special treat. There are plenty of free apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices that can help you teach the kids what they’re looking at. On one charter in the San Juan Islands where regular drizzle was expected, we taught the youngsters how to play canasta and hearts. It seemed a good idea at the time, and they loved it … especially when they started beating us regularly!
One last piece of advice: Don’t over-plan 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 of all, chill out and have fun.