Bringing Baby on Your Family Charter Vacation

Chartering with Babies and Toddlers

Before baby, did you used to love chartering? Have you thought about booking a sailing charter boat somewhere warm this winter but were concerned about bringing your baby or toddler? I have, especially in winter in Baltimore. It is 17 degrees outside as I write this. I’ve also thought about the logistics of flying somewhere with my kids and their stuff and sailing gear.

McGuire family charter sailing photo by Dana Lovette

The biggest hurdle to family chartering with young children is making sure the boat is baby and toddler proof. This is a lot harder than one would think. When you have your own vessel, you can carefully think through where baby will eat, sleep, and play (I shared some ideas about that in the April 2018 SpinSheet). However, it is much harder to plan on a boat you’ve never boarded.

What Charter Sailing Parents Say

I reached out to experienced charter-sailing parents for input. Helen Weigel, who sails the Whitby 42 Alembic out of Maine, recounts fondly her chartering days with her family of five. They brought their oldest son out when he was three months old. At that point they stayed local to Maine, yet as he grew older and they added two girls, they would charter in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.

McGuire family charter sailing photo by Dana Lovette

Her advice: “Simple is key.” Weigel would bring an umbrella stroller, a baby carrier (the kind the parent wears), and her kids’ “lovies,” as well as their personal floatation devices (PFDs). They would allow each child to pack a small bag and would buy diapers and food at the location. She also recommends bringing books for flora and fauna identification, as children enjoy reflecting on their experiences. The Weigel kids were well accustomed to wearing PFDs, and for safety were often tethered into the boat.

Weigel feels that parents need to be intentional about the commands given on a boat and avoid threatening ones, such as, “don’t move, or you’ll fall in.” Responding in a calm and appropriate manner goes a lot further than catastrophizing threats. The family was in many storms, however;  in one particularly bad one the children (in PFDs) were placed in the cabin, and the oldest at eight years old entertained his little sisters. As an aside, this is another reason I’m so passionate about promoting family sailing—what a responsible kid!

McGuire family charter sailing photo by Dana Lovette

Where To Go?

Now the next question: where to go? Captain Val Doan who runs a private catamaran and has spent her entire life on boats, recommends the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for the flat water and easy day sails. She advises parents to ask in advance if any equipment can be provided including baby lifejackets, a car seat, baby harness, Pack ’n Play, or netting.

Since so few families charter with babies or toddlers, many charter companies do not keep this equipment around. Most of these items including, perhaps the most important, baby-sized PFDs, harnesses, and tethers, are not readably buyable on the islands. Horizon Yacht Charters will provide netting for an additional fee, however. Captain Val and other charter captains also advise bringing your own baby food if your child has specific needs. Of course, diapers are going to be cheaper state-side, and again, if your baby needs a specific brand, it is better to bring them with you.

Obstacles and Challenges

The two biggest obstacles charter captains see are parents transferring baby from boat to dinghy in a car seat and containing toddlers in the cockpit. I would strongly caution that if you are going to use a carseat in a dinghy, do not strap the child in, because car seats are not floatable; and you do not want the baby to sink to the bottom like a dead weight. We have always used a harness and tether to keep our kids secure in the cockpit. This is important at the dock as well as when adults may be less attentive.

McGuire family charter sailing photo by Dana Lovette

All parents know sleep is an issue whether on land or at sea. On a boat, it is more about where to place the child to sleep than getting them to sleep. My informal survey collected responses ranging from cushions on the cabin sole to a car seat to co-sleeping. To be clear, the only truly safe place for a baby to sleep is on her back in her own bassinet or crib/Pack a’n Play. If you’re a baby boomer and your eye is now twitching, I offer that there has been a substantial reduction in infant mortality since we started taking this issue seriously.

Some companies make an extremely light and small travel crib. We liked the Phil and Ted’s version; however, you need to find the right spot for it on the boat. We have used the car seat for containing our babies or for naps, but it does pose a SIDS risk. There is a lot of controversy around co-sleeping. What is clear is that you need to make sure that there is no chance of the baby getting caught between cushions. Some berths are flat, and others (such as the convertible settee on our Beneteau) have a curve that could trap a little one. This is the stuff that makes chartering hard. You will really not know until you were on the boat.

McGuire family charter sailing photo by Dana Lovette

Issues such as seasickness and general illness seem easy enough to deal with by a pediatrician’s visit beforehand to plan. Our doctor recommends having sunscreen, ibuprofen, and Benadryl on hand. As for seasickness, try to have kids look at the horizon, stay hydrated, and if needed, take an antihistamine.

Chartering with young kids may feel daunting, but is doable with the right planning. It is certainly worth the effort.

By Sharon Praissman Fisher