Family sailing: Top tips for cruising with kids 

With school due to be out soon, here are our top tips for cruising with your kids over the holidays. 

Wide shot of boy and girl getting involved in sailing

Get them involved

Ever thought about how useful an extra pair of hands would be when getting your boat off the dock?

Letting your kids get stuck into sailing is the answer, by giving them certain tasks under the guidance of a confident and experienced skipper. 

There are heaps of ways to get the kids involved while cruising under sail or power. The key is sparking their interest by trusting them with responsibilities onboard. From helping to plan the trip, to tying knots and even steering the vessel from time to time.

Family sailing offers the perfect opportunity for adventures, building memories, and sparking your kid’s interest in being on the water.

Family on bow of yacht sailing - mum and 2 kids

Are we there yet? 

Bored kids don’t make for a pleasant family sailing trip! To combat this, get them excited about activities on the water before stepping onto the boat.

Let them help you with passage planning by showing them maps and charts so they know where you’re heading. Show them pictures of attractions you might see along the way, including landmarks and wildlife. 

You can even show them what clouds to look for and, if under sail, how to spot the wind’s direction, using their face to detect it. 

Make them feel like what they are contributing is essential to getting the family sailing.

A little bit of knowledge 

If you’re planning a family sailing trip for the first time this year, there are two short RYA introductory courses for the whole family. These courses give kids and inexperienced adults alike a relaxed, practical, and fun insight into the ways they can help stay afloat.

wide shot of child steering a boat with supervision

Start Yachting provides a two-day introduction to the yacht. This includes: ropework, getting underway, rules of the road, man overboard recovery, clothing and equipment, emergency equipment, precautions, and meteorology from a new crew’s perspective. 

Start Motor Cruising allows kids as young as eight to participate. It can be completed as a one-day standalone course or at the same time as the grown ups complete their Day Skipper or Helmsman courses. 

Participants learn to steer the boat, prepare and throw mooring lines, attach fenders, read GPS, and many other practical skills. 

Personal safety is also covered, including correctly fitting a lifejacket, and recognising the problems that can occur at sea. As well as your role in an emergency and how to raise the alarm. 

The RYA’s Go Sailing! book is a beautifully illustrated children’s book with vibrant illustrations and an easy reading style. Perfect for children aged 7-12 it’s a great introduction to sailing.

wide shot of smiling family walking on dock

Wear a lifejacket / buoyancy aid 

With all the fun of family sailing comes the responsibility of keeping yourself and your kids safe. Lifejackets should always be worn, and if you’re telling a young person to wear a lifejacket lead by example and do the same.

Specialist lifejackets are available for infants and children. Lifejackets come in different styles and sizes, and some will work better for different body types than others. Where possible test your lifejacket in a controlled environment to check that it will work for you and your family.   

It’s important to remember that inflatable lifejackets are useless unless they work. They must be checked regularly and serviced in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. 

Safety first 

A child’s sense of adventure and inquisitiveness means you often need eyes not just in the back of your head but both sides of it too! A few simple rules can help make for safe family sailing. 

Do your briefing on the boat so they are switched on to their new environment.

Simply because they are shorter, getting on and off a cruising yacht or motorboat will be more difficult for kids. Depending on their height they may need help from an adult to get safely on and off board.

wide shot of child being helped onto boat by mum

Remember all kids are different 

You might get one youngster who wants to do everything while another is more hesitant or nervous about getting involved in practical tasks.

There are still plenty of important jobs more reluctant kids can be gently encouraged to do. Such as, looking out for landmarks, filling in the logbook, watching the weather and helping to prepare lunch or treats for those onboard. 

With family sailing, all kids should have fun whether it’s through a game of I-Spy or helping to make hot chocolate, just keep them involved.

If everyone is smiling when you come back ashore you have done your job!

Find out more about RYA training courses for you and the family and get set for fun on the water.