4 Tips for Beginning Boating as a Family

boating with kids

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Last year my mother-in-law gave us a boat. A BOAT? Yes, a 28-foot Four Winns cabin cruiser. She and my husband’s dad bought it years ago, and a few years after he died she decided it was time to pass it on to somebody else in the family.

Wow! A boat – and a pretty big one, too, for a couple of newbies. Immediately we found ourselves a slip, and while Jon started reading up on boating rules and terminology, I fantasized about a new nautical-inspired wardrobe.

But it’s one thing to dream about the boating lifestyle and another to actually venture out on the open seas well, Lake Michigan anyway with five kids in tow. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned as a beginner boating with kids:   

1)   Plan around boredom. For an adult, what could be better than a leisurely afternoon cruise? We love to feel the wind whipping in our hair while we soak up the sun. The kids, on the other hand, get tired of the scenery quickly and want to move on to some action. When you’re boating with the whole family, make it kid-friendly: plan to drop a line in the water, go for a swim, or take a ride on a tube at some point on the excursion. For those times when you just want to take a slow cruise, pack fun snacks to keep younger ones entertained.

2)   Keep the boat stocked. In addition to basic boating supplies like first aid kits and life jackets, plus snacks and bottled water, we have extra sunglasses, sunscreen, swim trunks, towels, and reading material stored on our boat. You never know when you might forget something (and once you’re out on the water, it’s not exactly simple to run home to pick it up).

3)   Always have a Plan B. Last year we had to turn back three separate times when we got in the channel and realized that the water was way too choppy for us to feel comfortable taking the kids out. After all the hassle that went into pulling together our excursion, it was tempting to throw our hands up in the air and declaring the day a waste. But not so! When planning a boat outing, understand that things might not go according to plan and keep an impromptu barbecue party (getting to know your boating neighbors is part of the fun!), fishing off the back of the boat right in the slip, or taking a dip in the marina pool as an alternative.

4)   Safety first. I admit I’m a nervous Nellie when it comes to boating. We live on Lake Michigan, which can get surprisingly wicked at times. But I think that’s a good thing: If I were really relaxed I might get complacent about boating safety. To feel more confident when you head out on the water, check out this list of boating safety tips. Kids should always wear a life preserver when above deck!

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