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There are many great sites that talk about what you can do while you’re land-based to help prepare yourself for cruising life (see links below). This article takes it a step further and focuses on helping you help YOUR KIDS prep for cruising lifehelp YOUR KIDS prep for cruising life. Here we go!

1. Give them positive cruising life experiences.

Now if you’re like us, you probably don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. You’re saving money and making financial decisions that will help you go on your future family adventure. There are lots of things you can do right now to prepare your kids for cruising experiences on the cheap! 

  • Go sailing! This seems obvious, but in some places there is less opportunity. It doesn’t have to be on a cruiser boat; it can be on a Sunfish or Hobie Cat on a lake. Do the best with what you have access to. Even kite flying can help them appreciate using wind power.
  • Teach them how to swim. This is a big one, not only for their enjoyment, but more importantly, their safety (& momma’s sanity). They can take formal lessons, or you can teach them the basics and provide them with lots of opportunities to practice.
  • Visit beaches. Play in the surf. Build sand castles. Go tide-pooling. Comb the beaches for shells. Help them understand that THIS will be their playground!
  • Go fishing. This doesn’t have to be from a boat. Fishing is a great kid activity, and there is lots to learn: patience, safety, and fun!
  • Visit an aquarium. Help them love their underwater playground! There weren’t many tropical creatures where we lived, but my kids already loved dolphins and turtles, and visiting good aquariums helped them fall in love with even more. (Octopus, parrotfish, starfish and fan coral are our family favorites.)
  • Teach them how to snorkel. It does not have to be in the ocean! Before cruising, we lived in Missouri. (Not many oceans around there.) We used pools! Once they felt confident, we’d throw in some coins and the kids practiced picking them up from the bottom. They LOVED this!
  • Spend time outdoors. This seems obvious, but depending on your lifestyle and the pace at which you’re living, your kids might not spend unstructured time outdoors. Heck, go camping! Sometimes cruising feels like camping on the water. Play outside. Explore nature. Enjoy.
  • Go hiking. Cruising involves a lot of walking and exploring. Be a tourist in your own town! Walk around. Sightsee. Find trails to explore. (And a few miles will help everyone sleep better at night.)
  • Teach them nautical stuff. For example, boat language. (“It’s a ‘head’ not a ‘bathroom’, followed by lots of giggles and questions.) Another thing is knot tying, a sailing essential. (Other kids will be pretty envious of the only kid on the block that can throw a flying bowline, like Moana.)
  • Introduce the idea of boatschooling. School will take up much of your day, so start introducing the idea that not only are you their parent, but you’ll also be their teacher. If you’re able, start homeschooling before you go.

And yes, if you have the money, as a trial run, rent a barebone charter for a week or two, and live the experience. Provision. Sail. Beach it. Enjoy. If you don’t have the ~$10,000, invite some friends or family to join you! This will help offset the cost and help them understand what you’d like to do in the future.

2. Conserve Resources

This is a hard, but very important one. I don’t know about your land-based community, but the one we lived in, everyone had big TVs, a house full of toys, and an excellent wireless connection. This was not good preparation for cruising. I’m not suggesting you take everything away and make life miserable. Take baby steps to smooth the transition to liveaboard lifestyle. 

  • Start downsizing now. Space is a valuable and limited resource on a boat.  Supply a big tupperware container that can be filled with their ‘most favorite, definitely taking’ stuff. They’ll start making decisions based upon space in the container, and this will help them understand that size and quality matter. Do my kids have toys on the boat? Yep, and arguably too many. Even THEY see this now. What do my kids play with most of the time?  Each other, crap priceless artifacts they find on the beach, and their imaginations. Some kids don’t have a lot of experience using their imaginations. If yours don’t, give them more opportunities.
  • Minimize the TV watching. Mobile devices have made TV and movies mobile. On land, wifi is everywhere. On the water, not so much. There is an amazing world to explore, and you’ll be giving your kids an amazing advantage by showing it to them! Your cruising days will be filled with boatschooling, sailing, swimming, exploring, etc. and you’ll probably find very little time for TV, BUT when there IS downtime, will TV be your kids ‘go to’ activity? This is a personal choice and there are no wrong answers. Be conscious of how much TV your kids are watching now and, if it’s more than you like, help ween them with something (see ‘They can entertain themselves.’ under #3).
  • Save Water. Water’s importance can’t be over emphasized. Teach your kids to take boat showers (water on to wet, water off to soap, water on to rinse).  This also goes for brushing teeth and washings hands.  
  • Repurpose. This is one that I hadn’t fully grasped before living aboard. What happens when the kids forget their ball on the beach or that deck of cards is missing a few? The land-lubber me would just pick up another one the next time I went on errands. On a boat, errand runs like this are a rarity, so kids learn to make do with what we have and be more responsible (see #3).  So, the ‘pink ball’ now becomes the ball for soccer AND beach volleyball, and the incomplete deck of cards becomes bookmarks and crafting supplies. Start living this way now. It will help the kids get used to the idea of not being able to run to the store when ‘the want’ arrises.
  • Work on kid communication options now. Seek friends’ address. Write letters and emails. Start a blog, Facebook Page, or Instagram account. Let your kids help you design and populate it! Making social media connections with friends and family now will help them keep in touch later. Are their friends’ parents on Facebook? Friend them so the kids can keep in touch. When you’re cruising, and bandwidth is available, they can even Skype or FaceTime, but working out the tech now while you have a good connection makes good sense.
  • Let cruising gear be your presents! And no, I’m not talking about a water-maker. If you’re going to spend money, give them new snorkel gear and let them use it! How about a fishing pole? Get them dry fit clothing, rash-guards, and bathing suits. Do they have water toys: boogie board, goggles, floaties? Do they have beach toys: buckets, nets, shovels, and beach towels? Don’t misunderstand. You don’t HAVE to buy all this stuff. I’m just suggesting that if you’re going to spend money on your kids, buying cruising gear that they’ll love is practical (and you were probably going to buy that stuff anyway)!

3. Be more responsible.

Of course, age is a factor here, but even a six-year-old can be a responsible member of the crew.

  • Pick up after themselves and put things where they belong. If this is something you struggle with at home, you will struggle with it on the boat. Boats have limited space, and when stuff is on the floor or in the wrong spot, it’s dangerous. With practice there is hope. My kids have gotten a lot better, but there is still work to do.
  • Let them help by ‘dream routing’ with you. This is a fun one. Buy a map of the cruising grounds you hope to visit and some cruising guides. Go online and bookmark cruising and tourist sites. Explore them together! This is a great family activity. Let your kids look at the guides, get excited about visiting someplace and mark it on the map. This helps them see that they are literally helping you plan your upcoming adventure.
  • They can entertain themselves. Help your kids find a hobby that they can do themselves, takes up few resources, little space and a lot of time.  There will be downtime for them on the boat while you are busy.  Your kids will need good entertainment.  Reading, writing, drawing, photography, logic puzzles, cards…these are all good.  
  • Let them help plan and try ‘boat meals’. You’re probably learning about provisioning and menu planning. Encourage your kids to help! Learn about shelf-stable ingredients and find recipes to try. Did all our meals work? Heck no! BUT involving them in this process helped them understand the staples we’d have aboard and allowed them to have a say in our boat menu.
  • Prep for ‘boat jobs’. There are jobs around the house they can help with. Doing this will help them understand that they are part of the crew and not merely a passenger. Kids are great job assistants, but they need to know the difference between a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers. Teach them the names of tools and what they are used for now.  Also cleanliness on a boat is a matter of safety.  They can help you pick up and clean around the house too.

Wrapping up…

This is the article I wish I had while I was worried about how the kids would transition when we were preparing to cruise. Sometimes we’d find ourselves waist deep in preparation stress and think about our kids and this massive change ahead of them. I’d worry if there was anything else we could have done to help prepare them. The good thing is…kids are pretty malleable.

And try not to stress if they’re hesitant or resistant. For example, if your kids try snorkeling, but are terrified by the idea of putting their face under the water to see living creatures…you have some work to do. Don’t worry! I know it can be done because THAT WAS US! My youngest loved snorkeling in the pool, but the first time she really snorkeled, she’d see a lil’ fish and freak out! We’re talking a screaming (through her snorkel), jumping up and down, splashing with her arms (to scare away the fish) freakout. We kept at it. We’d introduce her to different snorkeling spots, interesting shells, and fish. She’d snorkel for a bit, holding our hand, loose interest, then play on the beach until we were done. Fast forward to now, this same child is my child who has zero reservations about going snorkeling with stingrays and sharks and loves trying to dive down to the bottom to grabs shells. So, don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t love something at first. Reintroduce and have patience. They’ll get there and love it as much as you do!

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