Our eldest was throwing up chunks of carrot on me and I was moaning on our bed with our youngest child. I was 6 months pregnant and offshore sailing with my husband, a friend and our 2 kids aged 2 and 3 years old.
We had sold our business, our house, cars and all other possessions to live the pure blissful life of exploring the world on a sailboat as a family. As I was a getting tossed around on our bed off the coast of South Carolina I hadn’t imagined that it would feel like this.
I had envisioned sun kissed kids counting the dolphins that were splashing around our bow, Carl and I both steering with arms around each other, eyes all glazed over with love. Yep, feeling like death and smelling of my 3 year olds puke was not apart of my plan. We had hit the hard truth of what it was like to sail offshore with young kids.
Over a year earlier while we were educating ourselves on the technicalities of sailing with kids we looked into the perfect age in which to do so. We researched and found other families that had begun the journey with young children.
Rebel Heart: Charlotte and Eric had two beautiful girls onboard. She has a great blog about their life with birth stories and great pictures. They no longer live on a sailboat but their blog is definitely worth checking out.
Totem: Behan is a legend amoungst all us sailing mummas, some have met her and some just dream about meeting her (me). Behan and Jamie started their journey back in 2008 and are still at it. Their 3 kids are all grown up now but started when their youngest was 4 years old – the golden age. Follow their journey from start until now. Her website is also a great doorway to other cruising families, it’s all there.
Windtraveler: Brittany and Scott are what I pictured the lifestyle to be like, they have somehow perfected living aboard with young children and looking beautiful while doing it. Check out Brittany’s blog, she is an amazing writer and captures their life perfectly.
Bumfuzzle: This family has done a lot together. Their kids spent the first few years on a sailboat and now they see the world via car and caravan, in a truly vintage way. I always love keeping up with their blog because their kids are the same ages as ours.
SV Seabean: If you’re after a blog that has young kids right now check out Chloe and James and their two little fearless boys. We met them recently in St. Marrten and they plan to cross the Pacific in the near future.
Where the Coconuts Grow: Jody and Peter have their first little coconut baking. Follow them through infancy and beyond as they bring up a little baby boy aboard SV Mary Christine in the Caribbean.
So if you’re being lazy and prefer not to scour their blogs, drooling over wonderful pictures and a dreamy lifestyle that you always thought was unattainable, just take the short cut and read what we learnt from these families. I do really encourage you to delve into their archives for some truly useful and motivating information and check into ours as well.
Well, what did we learn from the above?
Don’t cruise with kids younger then 4 years old.
Thats it! That’s the magical age in which kids will flourish onboard, be able to do some things for themselves and not be complete a-holes while you’re trying to anchor.
Now a lot of families have sailed with younger kids and I’m sure they loved it, after all this is my personal opinion, we’re all welcome to one.
We learnt far more then just this tid bit but I find it is the most significant and helpful point when deciding to jump in head first like we did. I got lots of great ideas for kid proofing a boat from Windtraveler and homeschooling info from Behan on Totem. You do need to read all their posts; skip netflix tonight and make it your mission.
As for us, once we learnt the golden age it was too late, we had already sold our business and had our house under contract, but knowing, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything for us, we wanted to do it and wanted to do it NOW! Of course to make matters worse we found out we were pregnant just after our business was sold. Bugger.
A lot of families choose the marina life until their kids are old enough to toss the lines and sail off into the sunset. The thought of living on a boat at a marina made my heart fall into my stomach. If I’m going to sacrifice all of whats wonderful about living in a house (ie. long hot showers, flushing toilet, backyard, full kitchen) to live the same life at the dock, there was no way. It’s hard living on a sailboat and so if I have to bathe my kids in a bucket and live out of a fridge the size of a bar fridge in a hotel room then I’m going to do it in an exotic place.
Everybody’s different, Brittany (Windtraveler) loves marina life and a lot of other mums do too, I’m just not one of them. As I write this I’m sitting in Nanny Cay Marina in the British Virgin Islands and it’s totally MAGICAL, I’m sure the glitter will shake off and we’ll be ready to move on after our month long dockage is up.
We moved on board Salty with our 2 and 3 year old kids AND I was 4 months pregnant with our 3rd. Pretty crazy, right? I look back now and see we actually were NUTS! Not only was I pregnant but we broke the cardinal rule of the youngest child being at lease 4 years old, TWICE!
It truly wasn’t all that bad and looking back now I would do it all over again in a heart beat. I do feel like a fierce mum and hope that our struggles help inspire others to follow their dreams.
Living on a boat with an infant and toddlers is totally amazing. Your life gets so simple that the only thing that matters the most is living in the moment. I honestly believe that without the boat our kids wouldn’t be the wonderful little creatures they are today. I think by starting them as young as we did we helped them adjust and not only open their eyes to the world but to fully accept without question that the world is really a wondrous place to live in.
I’m going to be bold here and toss out that “4 year old rule” right out the window. I’m going to toss it out a porthole and hopefully it won’t get stuck up the nose some poor turtle. If you plan on sailing for a year or less for all means go tackle that turtle and pull that rule out of his nose and you’ll be happier for it, but if you plan on cruising long term then go fourth and multiply onboard.
Every family is different and you will know deep down if you can handle a toddler on a boat – infants are basic, they don’t move, but a toddler likes to explore and toss things overboard.
Below are the items I found invaluable onboard our boat, I hope it helps with some of that “I’m going to sail off the edge of the earth with my kids” anxiety.
Snuggle Me Organic Co-sleeper: I wish we actually had this for our bed. I ended up making my own out of a pillow, it worked great but honestly who has the time to be Martha Stewart these days.
Lotus Travel Crib: we could fit this crib in a bunk bed. It has a side and top opening. It’s super sturdy, we would take it when we visited family or went on a road trip.
Merry Muscles Jumper: baby Crew had so much fun in this jumper. Carl fixed a strong hook to our headliner and he could be upright all he wanted. There’s also head support for young weak necks. When he wasn’t bouncing I would lay him underneath and tie fun toys to it – 2 activities in one!
Baby Bouncer: you can never go wrong with the basic baby bouncer. When we sailed Crew would be quite unstable when laying down and needed a bit more support. Find the smallest bouncer possible so you can fit it in the galley, cockpit and salon.
Baby Wrap: for a newborn I found a baby wrap to be really useful, a little tricky to put him in. Doubles as a cover-up while breastfeeding.
Ergo Baby Carrier: a carrier is a must. I found it really difficult to deal with the insert so I opted to use a wrap when Crew was itty bitty. After a bit of practice I could nurse in the carrier.
Cotton Swaddles: these cotton swaddles worked for everything from nap time to cover up while nursing to shade from the sun. A must have for tropical climates.
Salus Marine Baby Vest: this life jacket is amazing!! Specifically designed for babies 9-25lbs it’s the best infant life jacket I found. Crew would often fall asleep in the dinghy wearing his life vest.
Stokke Flex Bath: we used this collapsible bath tub up until Cali was 4. There was a time we could fit all 3 kids in the tub. There is an attachment you can buy that’s for infants, very useful but cover it with a towel to stop your little one slipping everywhere.
Baby Sunsuit: I couldn’t find the one that we bought but this one looks similar. Crew didn’t like to go in the water a lot but being in the dinghy, on deck and on the beach put his delicate skin in the sun a lot. We don’t like to use a lot of sunscreen and prefer to cover up instead. This is a great option for babies.
Manual Breast Pump: I hadn’t planned on pumping but we did get thrown a curve ball when Crew had to spend his first 2 weeks in the NICU in the Bahamas (you can read our birth story here). I would recommend a manual pump in case of an emergency but I ended up upgrading to an electric one. I tossed my Medela out the window and bought Spectra Pump, it was a game changer!!!!
DayDreamer Inclined Sleeper: We actually had the Nap Nanny for all our kids and worked out great, they have since been recalled but this one is pretty much the same. I would ditch the bouncer for this if you only can make room for one. We also used the sleeper in our bed as a co-sleeper, our kids all had reflux issues.
**We brought our stroller with us from land knowing that we’d like it when the baby was born but we don’t carry one anymore. We were fueling up at the dock. Carl was watching the girls play on the dock (we had the stroller out to go to town quickly for food), he popped inside quickly to get his wallet and in the time Cali pushed Capri off the dock into the water. We were lucky that she wasn’t buckled in and could swim enough to keep her head above water. We pulled the stroller out and found a new home for it.
Infants still need a few things onboard but not as much as most people (including myself) buy on land. Keep it simple, less clutter will guarantee a happy crew.Toddler:
Tula Toddler Carrier: I LOVE my Tula, we still use it and Crew is 3. It kills my hips to carry Crew but my Tula helps distribute his weight better. I found our Ergo was cutting into me a bit once Crew got larger and the Tula totally solved it.
Salus Marine Nimbus Vest: this is the next step up from the baby vest. We use the Nimbus vest for all our kids. They are soft, don’t ride up and rub on their chins when seated and come in really cool colors. My kids picked their colors so they’re happy to wear them.
Child Harness: our two girls wore these harnesses a lot on our last boat. They’re light and don’t restrict movement. We prefer to use harnesses over life jackets while sailing, especially in the tropics, to keep their little bodies cool. Make sure you get or make a tether that is light, our kids hated big bulky clasps.
To summarize this beastly post. If you plan to sail for less than a year then for sure follow the 4 years and older rule but if this bogus adventure is a long term lifestyle change then anytime is good to sail with your growing family.
Make sure you do think ahead with your boat of choice. If you plan to have more kids along the way there will need to be enough room to accommodate the extra stow aways.
Crew turned 3 a couple of days ago, the girls are now 7 and 5 and we are still going strong. We did take almost a year off when Crew was 1 for personal reasons. Taking a breather is ok, when the world is pressing down on you; book a hotel room, stay with family or just simply rent a car and get some not so salty wind in your hair.
Make sure you pick up a copy of Voyaging with Kids, it’s a great read with awesome pictures and a ton of useful information.