Kids and Boating

Kids and boating

Are you teaching your kids how to operate and maintain the boat? Start now with these ideas for every age group.

Kids and boating can go hand in hand.

Kids, especially siblings, squabble. It happens with toys, clothes, you name it. But squabbling over a responsibility?

That’s the reality aboard Glen Ader’s and his wife’s boat. Their boys, ages 11 and 8, are typically happy to tackle different tasks on the 32-foot Grand Banks. But when it comes to handling dock lines, each wants to be the only one to do it. Ader laughs in relating how he and his wife gently remind the boys to take turns: “It’s like, ‘C’mon, dudes, share.’”

The couple may be unusual in some respects—they held part of their wedding ceremony on the back of their then-boat, a Trophy. But they’re no different than hundreds of other parents who are also passionate boat owners. The Aders have been raising their boys to become cruisers since they were in their car seats. Car seats that got carried from the family automobile to the boat, naturally. So, as their sons are growing up, the Aders encourage them to learn more about the responsibilities of operating and owning a boat. They know that kids and boating is the best combination.

Ader is a firm believer that kids are never too young for parents to start this education process. “Kids love to learn, and love to learn with their hands,” he avers. He grew up boating and recalls that by his teens, he took the family boat out more than his dad, a tugboat captain who regularly enjoys the lifestyle to this day.

Ader’s experience as a child and his own children’s ongoing experiences underscore the findings of the 2013 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract, published by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. It reveals that nearly 8 out of 10 adults who boated that year had also done so as children. Furthermore, the report found that people who enjoyed the lifestyle as children were more likely to do so as adults, too.

If you’re a parent or grandparent and haven’t yet thought about teaching your young ones the ropes (no pun intended), here are some general age-oriented tips to get you started.

Elementary School

Five- to 10-year-olds can learn a variety of things, some of which depend on their dexterity:

• Knot tying. If your kids can tie their shoelaces, they can learn a few simple knots. Imagine your child’s pride when you use his or her handiwork the next time on board.

• Wind and current. No need to go into detailed dissertations on the Beaufort scale or sea states; the Ader boys were each around five or six when they began learning the basics on how wind and current affect a boat.

• Handling dock lines. Let your kids practice when the water is calm and there aren’t a lot of other boats around to get comfortable. “It’s something they can do where there’s not really a lot of risk of them getting injured,” Ader says.

• Simple maintenance. If you do your own maintenance, show your kids what good vs. dirty oil looks like. They can stand by with tools for other tasks and even pitch in while you supervise. Ader says his 8-year-old has likely used a wrench in the bilge more times than his 11-year-old.

• Washdowns. When you’re finished hosing down the boat, hand your child a chamois and turn ‘em loose on rails or brightwork. Consider making a game out of who can dry off the boat the fastest (and safest).

Middle School

All of the above responsibilities can be taught to 11- to 14-year-olds if not done so previously. These additional tasks are appropriate as well:

• Using a boat hook. Practice tossing items into the water for your kids to retrieve using the hook. Depending on your child’s abilities, he or should may even be able to try this at an earlier age.

• Reading helm instruments. By now, your kids can better understand how an autopilot works, what a GPS displays, and more. Consider teaching plotting, too

• Taking the boat out of gear. While none of us wants to dwell on “what if” scenarios, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. Show your children how to shut things down if for some reason you can’t get to the helm. Consider teaching this if your kids are nearing middle school, too.