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We recently took our kids sailing for the first time. We’d been thinking about it for a couple of years, but finally decided to bring them with us to St Martin. If you’re contemplating doing the same, we’ve put together some handy tips to help prepare you for a stress-free, relaxing and fun family sail.
1) Laydown the rules as soon as you get on board
We started the week by saying if they are not in the saloon or cockpit (under sail or at anchor) then they must wear their lifejackets at all times. This became more relaxed as the trip went on, as they grew in confidence, and by the end of the charter they did not wear them at anchor or under sail (in calm winds). We stressed that the most important rule was that they must be accompanied by an adult if they were walking from the cockpit to foredeck.
2) Make wearing a lifejacket as comfortable as possible
The charter company will often be able to provide a child’s lifejacket, but be warned that it will usually be a large foam one that kids don’t like wearing. We are often asked about bringing one from home with a gas cannister in them. These have an advantage as they are smaller, but it is down to the airline’s policy as to whether they are allowed as baggage. We took a comfortable, light, all-in-one lifejacket with us which met our flight policy. These were successful as the kids didn’t complain about wearing them and were also great for swimming in the sea.
3) Pack the right clothes for life on the ocean
The right clothing can really make life aboard easier. The main thing is to keep the kids safe from the sun, so bring with you poncho-style towels, sunglasses and caps (plus spares in case they blow away!) and all-in-one swimming outfits. Remember to keep applying the sun cream throughout the day, as you’ll feel pretty guilty if your children have turned into lobsters by bedtime and none of you will get a restful night’s sleep!
4) Choose the most suitable yacht type for families
When choosing your yacht charter, think about what type of yacht fits your needs the best. Catamarans offer a family-friendly sail and have more space. Kids really love the trampoline too, as it feels like they are sailing on a climbing frame between islands and that’s seriously good fun!
5) Bring the right kit for swimming and snorkelling
Snorkelling is a major part of any yacht charter, so It is worth bringing goggles, snorkels and flippers from home that you know fits your kids. Don’t underestimate how much time they will spend in the water. Our eldest, who is six years old, spent longer than the grown ups snorkelling in the sea or playing in the waves by a beach.
6) Plan for plenty of activities
Kids will need occupying on board, just like they do at home. We planned treasure hunts, collected different objects or we let them help with the cooking. We took plenty of colouring and activity books, downloaded films and programmes onto a tablet and found that audio books went down a treat. It’s always a good idea to take classic children’s card games too.
7) Be realistic about eating out
You’re on vacation so you can take the kids out to restaurants in the evening past their bedtime, but they will be extra tired from sailing and swimming in the sea, so they are likely to end up asleep at the table. We chose to eat on the yacht more than eating out and fresh fish and veg on the BBQ went down well with the whole crew. This option is more relaxing than getting the kids to be on their best behaviour in restaurants.
8) Allow them to get out of their sleep routine
At home, all parents and kids survive on a routine. On the ocean, you can relax a little. Life on board is tiring with all that playing in the sea and wind in their hair, and you might find they want to take naps. Even if your kids aren’t the napping type, you will be surprised how willing they are to go and have a quick lie down in the middle of the day.
9) Take their favourite foods
Kids like comfort so bring a bit of home along with you and pack some of their favourite snacks. They get hungry a lot when sailing and seem perfectly happy doing activities in the cockpit without getting seasick under sail.
10) Fly without drama
When boarding the plane make sure you have spare clothes, liquid paracetamol and let them take their own backpack for toys. It’s a long flight if you aren’t prepared!