Sailing with kids: how to keep all of you safe and happy

Sailing with kids: how to keep all of you safe and happy

What are the basic guidelines to follow in order to make your boating holiday with small children both safe and enjoyable? The key is to choose the right safety equipment, adapt the route and select a boat with the whole family in mind. Check out our article to find out how.

Whether you're sailing with your own kids or your friend's, the trip and the boat need to be adapted slightly to ensure that everything goes smoothly and, above all, safely. Here are the most important guidelines to follow and tips to make life easier on board with babies and toddlers. Some things must be planned ahead of time, but not every child is a natural-born sailor, and the world of sailing carries certain risks for the smaller crew members.

The tools for a safe family holiday: Safety equipment

When sailing, there is a wide range of safety equipment available. We've compiled a list of the most important ones for keeping small kids safe on a boat, both during the voyage and while in port.

Lifeline netting (safety netting)

Lifeline netting is like a fishing net fitted around the railings on a boat, preventing small children in particular from falling through the railings into the sea. As a result, you can let your little ones walk around on deck without worrying too much (although you should never leave a child completely unsupervised on a boat). If you are interested in safety netting being fitted to the boat of your choice, please inform our sales or customer service staff directly when booking and they will be happy to arrange it for you — you can arrive with peace of mind that the boat is already set up for sailing with kids.

A child in a life jacket on the deck of a ship near the safety net.

Safety nets won't restrict your sailing, but they can save your child's life.

YACHTING.COM TIP: In an emergency, a safety net can be improvised using string skillfully tied to the railings. String can be found at any supermarket or marina store. And while making it takes quite a bit of time, it can ultimately save your child's life.

Children's life jackets are made for infants too

Did you know that life jackets are also available for infants? Of course, they aren't automatically provided and will need to be requested from the charter company — again, this is best done when booking your boat with our sales team.

Life jackets should be given to all kids who aren't proficient swimmers, and not just when sailing but in port too. You never know when a child might slip off the gangway or fall over the railings. We recommend having at least one more life jacket on board than the number of crew members. There's always a chance a life jacket can get blown overboard by the wind, which would leave someone without important lifesaving equipment.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Detailed information on what types of life jackets are available on the market and how to choose one for an adult crew member can be found in our article — Life jacket: do you need your own?

 A little boy in a life jacket on board a ship. Life jackets for infants.

Life jackets are produced for infants and for larger children.

Kid's sailing harnesses to keep your child secure

If you're expecting rough conditions or if your little one is simply clumsy, we recommend renting or buying a children's safety harness. This will keep your child secured (similar to a leash) when moving around the deck and will also give them a perimeter to move within. The downside is that a harness can get easily tangled and someone could trip over it. However, it is still the most effective way to keep your child secure on deck. 

Safety lines so the kids can move around safely on deck

A harness alone can easily get caught on the railings or other chrome fixtures on board, such as handles and poles. To avoid this, think about getting a safety line fitted. This is a line running from bow to stern along the deck on which you hook your child's harness. It is made of highly durable materials and allows your kids to move back and forth on the deck as they please. And if they should accidentally fall, they will never fall further than the length of the harness.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Ask our customer service team about all of the safety equipment we've mentioned when booking your boat. We'll do our best to provide you with kid's life jackets, safety netting, and harnesses with safety lines so you can enjoy your holiday safely and with peace of mind.

More sailing tips:

Choosing the right boat

Holidays with small children start with booking the right boat. Of course, some adventurers may say it's possible to circumnavigate the globe in a wooden barrel with small kids. But we want to enjoy the holiday, create amazing memories and avoid all potential risks of injury or emergencies.

Catamarans are the best choice for families with children

A catamaran is probably the most sensible choice for families with kids. If you love heeling, you might disagree, but the pure stability and comfort of a catamaran is simply perfect for small children. In addition, catamarans also offer more space. The larger galley allows you to prepare baby food, milk, and virtually anything else to eat without having to make compromises. You'll also appreciate the cabins in the individual hulls being more soundproof — a screaming child won't disturb the other family in the middle of the night. Also, for the bigger kids, the trampoline net between catamaran hulls is pure fun.

Mom, dad and son lying on the net of a big catamaran.

Everyone will appreciate the trampoline on a catamaran — the kids for running around, the adults for sunbathing and the captain for enjoying a drink at sunset

If you do choose a sailboat, we recommend one with a centre cockpit, or an enclosed cockpit positioned more towards the centre of the boat. This will limit your toddler's movement in the cockpit without putting them at risk of falling out the stern. Unfortunately, centre cockpit sailboats aren't widely available for charter. If you don't find them on the list, be sure to check out all the other boats and especially the photos of the cockpit. It is true that the more enclosed the cockpit, whether with a bench at the stern or a raised swim platform, the safer it is for children. A boat with a large swim platform, where children can play, dangle their feet in the water, swim, or sunbathe, will be appreciated by the entire family. This will also protect them from slipping on the steps.

Which boats are most popular for families with children?

  • Sun Loft boats, which have a very interesting layout, with the two rear cabins having their own separate entrance. This is similar to the layout of a catamaran, although it is a single-hulled sailing boat.
  • Hanse boats which often have a self-tacking jib, giving you more time to spend with your family.

Choosing a route and itinerary for a family holiday

If you are sailing with small children, it is possible to race with the wind, do overnight crossings and sail far out to sea for the whole week battling large waves. The kids, on the other hand, won't thank you for it. So, we've compiled a list of tried-and-tested tips from sailing parents on how to plan a family sailing holiday.

  • Keep an eye on weather, wind and wave forecasts (for example, on and try to avoid rough conditions. You don't want your child's memories to be just about seasickness and "feeding the fish".
  • Do shorter crossings, such as half-day trips. Don't be too ambitious with your itinerary and don't be under the illusion you'll be able to sail the whole Adriatic in a week.
  • Spend the night where the children can go swimming.
  • Find a list of inflatable theme parks or a place with fun things to rent, such as kayaks or paddleboards.

Other tips for sailing with children

In addition to all the safety gear (life jackets, harnesses, netting, safety line), here are some further tips on making boating with children safe and fun.

Keep things neat and tidy

Try to keep the boat tidy, even more so than usual. Don't leave knives or glasses lying around in the saloon or anything that could fall on your little sailors. Make sure the lines are out of the way as these are often left loose on the cockpit floor, making it easy for a small child to trip and fall over.

Ropes on board the ship

Keep the ropes neat and out of the way to prevent little crew members feet getting tangled or tripping over

Set an example and wear a life vest

No child will be happy if they are the only member of the crew having to wear a life jacket. The best motivation is to lead by example. If mum and dad are wearing a life jacket, their child won't even think twice about not wearing one and they likely won't even protest. Of course, the same is true with other sailing practices — leading by example and doing things right is always the best way to teach your child sailing skills and safety principles.

Explain and demonstrate

A newborn probably won't understand your pointers and the trim of the sails, but you can show older kids how things work on a boat in a simplified way. For example, demonstrate the MOB rescue manoeuvre with a fender to show how dangerous falling overboard is. Take a knot tying station with you on the boat to teach the kids how to tie nautical knots (see our article on the 9 essential sailing knots for instructions). Not only will they enjoy these things, but in a few years, they'll be helping you tie up the boat and be a valuable crew member. Why not do a pirate treasure hunt as well? — the kids will love it. In fact, the only limit is your imagination.

 A man holds a child in his arms on board a ship.

Children are inquisitive creatures. The sooner you start introducing them to the boat, the sooner they will love marine life.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Be wary of flying pirate flags as it's a bit problematic. While we have encountered boats flying pirate flags multiple times, under maritime law, any vessel has the right to sink a pirate ship. This definitely won't happen to you in the Adriatic, but keep in mind that this symbol shouldn't be taken lightly. If you are unsure about all the different flags on a boat, check out our article: What flags to fly and where to put them on your boat.

Catamarans are the most suitable for family holidays. Take a look at our offer:

Do you have requirements for specific boat equipment? We can arrange that too. Get in touch.

FAQ How to make a sailing holiday safe for children