For family fun, try a motor boat


With the ability to venture further quicker, a motor cruiser is a popular choice with many families, offering a spacious cockpit, minimal rope, and a helm station with a familiar wheel, instruments and controls.

Fire up one or two reassuringly manageable engines, and, before long, you are clear of the marina, flying over the waves, heading for a picnic anchorage or a sandy beach for a swim.

If you are planning a longer outing, the interior is spacious and bright, with easy access, and good views all around. When the day is done, it takes but a few moments to pack up the boat and be homeward bound, with memories of a great family weekend or day out.

Families hoping to sail longer distances may be attracted by the greater sea-keeping capabilities of a yacht. But motor boats have other abilities, which give them access to waters that are closed or difficult for deep-keeled, less manoeuvrable craft. Canals and rivers are obvious examples, but, with care, motor boats can creep into shallower and more sheltered anchorages. The higher speeds of motor cruisers give greatly increased range, at least in relatively calm conditions.

Keeping busy

Although quite straightforward to handle, motor boats still have plenty to keep young people occupied. Casting off and stowing warps and fenders is a starting point, but, once in open waters, young people quickly get to grips with steering to a visible mark, and later to a compass course. Encounters with other boats along the way can be used to introduce elementary pilotage and rules for preventing collisions.

Wildlife is abundant in many places, and dolphin or seabird spotting is a great pastime.

Chart work and basic navigation understanding can be introduced to older children, and the chart plotter is endlessly fascinating to the video-game generation. With a generally level platform, domestic activities are easier, whether it’s card games on the saloon table or preparing meals in the galley.

Be prepared

Cruising under power must still be tackled with care and preparation. Despite familiar controls and instruments, conditions change quickly, and a family afloat must gain some understanding of an unfamiliar environment. Cruising, even in coastal waters, requires a degree of self-sufficiency, and there will be a range of challenges to face which don’t happen ashore.

Rachel Andrews, Chief Instructor, Power at the RYA, says, ‘Motor cruising is a great way to get out on to the water. A motor boat can be fairly easy to manage, but even so, it pays to have some instruction before you set off on your own.’

The RYA offers a Start Motor Cruising Course aimed at crew members, which is suitable for people aged eight and up. From here you can graduate to a Helmsman course and then move on to Day Skipper level.

Where to go

Rachel suggests combining your training with a holiday. That way, you can combine learning with a holiday location you’ve always fancied visiting. ‘A new location is a good way of testing your navigation skills too. The family could even do a variety of courses, and then everyone could have their own field of expertise.’

A typical mix might be Start Motor Cruising for the children, with Helmsman or Day Skipper courses for mum and dad.

Rachel has experienced many of Britain’s best cruising grounds, so we asked which she would recommend for a perfect motor boating holiday.

‘The Falmouth Estuary and Helford,’ she said, without hesitation. ‘There’s a lovely variety of scenery and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. The water quality is clean and clear. There’s enough traffic to make it interesting, but not too much, and lots of places to visit ashore. It’s a great place to have a motor boating holiday.’

Start Motor Cruising

The RYA’s one-day, stand-alone Start Motor Cruising Course is designed for potential crew who are complete novices. Suitable for people aged eight and up, it covers: personal safety, seamanship, dealing with emergency situations, coming alongside, picking up a mooring, and boat handling. No prior knowledge or experience is required.

At the end of the course, you will be a useful crew member, and able to assist the helmsman. It can be run in conjunction with higher-level courses (when it lasts two days) so would be perfect for children whose parents are taking a Helmsman course at the same time.

The Helmsman course lasts two days and includes, among other topics, boat preparation and handling, engine and drive operation and maintenance, safety and seamanship, mooring and berthing, and man-overboard recovery. From here, you can progress through Day Skipper up to RYA Yachtmaster.

For details of RYA courses, visit

There is also a list of training centres that offer courses for under-16s.

Ten Essentials for Cruising with Kids

  • At least as much shore time as sail time
  • A beach – an essential ingredient in any destination
  • Onboard entertainment. Mix the old – cards and family games – with the new – computer games,
  • DVDs and an iPod
  • A wet weather plan – easy access to museums, cinemas, etc
  • Crabbing – a line, a hook and a bucket will keep them happy for hours
  • Familiarity – take favourite toys and books
  • Safety – buy good-quality, properly fitting lifejackets, wet-weather gear and footwear
  • Food – cook popular, but balanced, meals and choose child-friendly restaurants
  • Warmth – a cold, damp child will not be a happy child
  • Learning – anything from tying knots to steering and simple navigation can be fun


  • Take medication early
  • Keep passages short
  • Avoid rough or cold weather
  • Avoid fatty or spicy foods
  • Pack sufferers of to bed; keep warm and hydrated
  • Do not take chronic sufferers sailing

Books for little ones

The RYA’s range of ‘Go’ children’s books will help youngsters learn how to sail in an enjoyable way.

All of the books are packed with colourful illustrations, clear instructions, and lots of fun.

There is an accompanying RYA Go Sailing! activity book, which is packed with hours of games, quizzes, and stickers, providing learning opportunities for budding young sailors.

The Log Book for Children is an introduction to navigation and log-keeping, to help children and their own answer to the question, ‘are we there yet?’ Prices vary from £4 to £9.34 (RYA Members’ price). Call our order hotline, 0844 556 9518, or visit