Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Our Favorite (Affordable and Practical) Products for the Boat Baby

Babies on boats (specifically aged 3 and under) are kind of our "thing". We have yet to meet another family who has our configuration of small children aboard. I'm sure more exist, but if boats with kids on them are the minority, boats with babies (plural!) on them are even more so. That said, we have learned a thing or two about boating with infants, and since so many people write us asking about the products we use, I thought I'd compile a new list here. Of course I must say that these are products that have worked for us, we are not in the business of telling people what to do and I'm very much of the mindset "to each his own." Every parent, family, and child is different and we must tailor to our own needs and lifestyle choices.

We have many other such lists from back when Isla was a baby (check out this oldie), but times (and opinions, and gear...) have changed, so a new list was due. For more of our articles on all things "cruising with babies", please visit our Baby on Board page where all my boat-baby related articles are kept.

Here's my list of products we have found useful for our three boat babies, I hope you find something useful in it!

1) Harness and Tether - The goal is to keep the baby on the boat, at all costs. While a life jacket is great, the harness and tether when clipped onto the boat will not only be more comfortable for the kiddo (some kids, like our Mira, despise life jackets) but will ensure the baby stays on the boat. We use the West Marine infant harness and tether, but if we were to do it again, I'd by the Edelrid Fraggle full-body climbing harness as it looks to be a better product.
Believe it or not, this is Isla, not Haven! Sailing off the coast of Grenada 2013
Here you see a LOT of our faves; harnesses, fisher price hairs, and the netting.
2) Lifeline Netting - Many boating families call lifeline netting a "false sense of security" and while I understand the argument, I respectfully disagree and there is no way we'd go without it on our boat. Our lifeline netting not only keeps the kids from slipping through the very large voids between the lifelines, but it keeps gear they throw around on board too! It's saved hats, suits, toys and all sorts of stuff from going overboard. We installed our West Marine lifeline netting over two years ago and it's still going strong (see our article about Installing Lifeline Netting), with not a single spot of chafe. I also sewed a mesh "door" that we put up to cover the bow at anchor (the one spot the lifeline netting does not cover) so our boat becomes a giant playpen. We consider netting a "must" for our boat and something we highly recommend. I've heard that there is some great UV resistant sport netting out there that some families use, which outlasts the generic brands. That might be worth looking into as well.
When we first installed it, Isla (pictured) wasn't so sure. Ft. Lauderdale, 2013
3) Life vest - A no-brainer for the boating baby. While I admit that our girls are not in life jackets 24/7 (it's not practical), they give us tremendous peace of mind when we're in the dinghy, on docks (I am way more nervous about our girls running around on docks than I am when we are at anchor) and visiting the un baby-proofed boats of friends. There are many brands of infant life vests, just make sure the jacket you get is rated for the weight of your child and you might need to try a couple different brands to find the right (and most comfortable) fit for your child.
Happy girl playing freely on the deck. St. John, 2015
4) Soft structured carrier - I'm a huge, HUGE fan of baby wearing. It was awesome, wonderful and very "mother earth" with Isla, and I'm pretty sure that it saved my life (and certainly my sanity) with the twins (check out my post on Tandem-Wearing Twins). There are many advantages to baby-wearing and many different brands of carriers, but the most versatile and my go-to carrier for babies six months and up is the ERGObaby performance baby carrier. I just noticed they came out with a super light, breatheable version as well, which might be a good option for babies in the tropics.
Wear ALL the babies! Sopers Hole, 2015
5) Puddle Jumper/Swim Float - Being surrounded by water means we have no shortage of floatation devices aboard! The Stearns Kids Puddle Jumper is a US Coast Guard approved swim/life vest that we use for our girls at the pool or beach. They love them. You might not realize it, but life jackets are terrible for swimming. They are designed to put a baby on their back in the water so kids who are not strong swimmers will immediately go 'turtle'. No fun. The puddle jumper is great for encouraging kids to start swimming, and while it's recommended for kids 30 pounds and up, both our twins have been using them since they were much smaller, under close supervision of course. They allow them some independence in the water, and if there is one thing our girls have in common - it's a strong will to do things on their own!
Mira, one happy little fishy! St. John, 2015
6) Swim Diapers- beach attire is a big deal for us since we spend at least a couple hours each day there and because the twins are still in diapers, that means we often need a swim diaper. We were generously gifted some Bamino Mio swim diapers and love them, not only are their swim diapers super affordable ($9.99 a piece!) and super cute, but they get the job done (yep, they'll contain the poop. Just...trust me).
Tushie brought to you by Mira. Chicago, 2015
7) Rash Guar Swimwear - When at the beach, I like our girls to be as protected as possible and that means UV swimwear, preferably with full or at least partial sleeves. Our newest parnter, SwimZip, is our new choice of beach wear. Not only are their suits affordable, and boast a slew of adorable styles, but the greatest part is that they all feature a zipper up the front which makes getting them on and off SO. MUCH. EASIER. When you are dressing and undressing three small children several times a day (note: easier said than done!!), anything that will make the process a little less painful (and quicker!) is very welcome, and these suits do the trick. We love them.
8) Sun Hats/Sunglasses/Sunscreen - These three are lumped together as they are all necessary evils to the beach baby. Hats are tugged at, sunglasses are pulled off, and sunscreen - ugh - the daily ritual of applying sunscreen is quite possibly the bane of my existence. But these three items are must-haves and so I've included them here.
  • As far as hats go, we have tried a BUNCH of brands and the one that is by far the best is FlapHappy. We love them so much we approached them for partnership and they obliged. They have great styles, all of which feature either velcro or (better yet) tie closures making them a little harder for the kids to get off. Our favorite is the Flap Happy original flap hat which comes in a wide array of sizes and colors. 
  • For sunglasses, we have a couple brands we like. For the twins, I like Mustachifier Polarized Baby Sunglasses which are great because they are rubbery and almost impossible to break (ours are still going strong after being manhandled by Haven - aka "the destroyer of things"). The other brand I love for Isla are the RIVBOS Rubber Kids Polarized Sunglasses.
  • As far as sunscreen, I am not too picky. I try to buy the "good stuff' (i.e. not cancer-causing and toxic), but as long as it doesn't sting eyes and has an SPF of at least 50, I will use it. That said, I've recently been turned onto the Babyganics Mineral-Based Baby Sunscreen Spray and I have to say I much prefer it (and the cost!) to the more expensive, 'fancier' sun cream brands I have tried - plus, it's mineral based and that feels good.
Haven fixes Mira's hat. The Baths, Virgin Gorda 2015
9) Beach Bag/Diaper Bag - With babies, no matter how light you try to travel, comes gear. More kids = more gear. The best bag for the job, the one we have been using since day one, is our Sailor Bags Back Pack. I cannot say enough good things about this company and their bags (of which we have about fifteen!), and we are very proud to have them as a partner. We pack our backpack with beach towels, spare clothes, sunscreen, water bottles, and snacks. It's got enough room for our phones, camera, computer and wallets. We use it for everything from beach trips to provisioning runs and it comes with us everywhere. It's awesome. Big enough to hold a bunch of stuff, but not too big to be a burden. The perfect day pack, in our opinion. (Note: It's also a great carry on if you are flying with little ones!)
Our bag that we've been using since our FIRST BOAT! Cane Garden Bay, Tortola 2015
10) Fisher Price High Chairs/Booster Seats - when we were cruising with Isla, we loved the Bumbo Seat with the tray addition. Then we had our twins and it (very quickly) became apparent that we were dealing with three VERY different personalities and the Bumbo was not going to restrain Haven (Haven = Strong Like Bull) and was going to be uncomfortable for our little peanut, Mira. I went on the hunt for another solution. I found what I think is a far superior and more practical seat in the Fisher-Price Booster Seat with tray. This thing is fantastic. It travels well and packs up (relatively) small. We use it for every meal and it's a breeze to set up, break down and clean. It also doubles as a safety chair underway (two carseats would simply not fit in our boat and our girls do NOT enjoy that kind of restraint) we use the straps that are meant to attached to a chair, and attach them to cleats and winches and - voila! - we have seats that keep the girls entertained underway, with trays that I can add a few suction cup toys to for entertainment. (Note: I would not recommend this seat as a long term solution for serious passage-making, a car seat or something more protective would be better IMO).
It's not always pretty, but they're not going anywhere! Nanny Cay, 2015
11) Sturdy Beach Toys - Beach toys are key for babies who spend hours at the beach. While you don't need anything fancy, a few buckets, shovels and watering cans can go a long way with keeping little ones entertained on the shore. Up until now, I just bought the cheapest beach toys I could find. But after seeing how quickly they break down with constant use, I went on the hunt to find higher quality toys. I found them in Spielstabil Beach Toys. These beach toys are the bomb. They are made of higher grade plastic, super strong, and made to last (I mean, they are maufacuted by Germans!) When you hold them you can tell immediately they are of superior quality. I am pretty anal about keeping our toys together and in good condition and I am so pleased to partner with them and know that we have sand toys that will now last longer than one season!
12) Battery (or DC) powered sound machines - I know, I know. This one seems a little bit "out of left field" for this list, but I have two words for you: white noise. A 44 foot boat is by no means small as far as cruising boats go, but it does provide pretty cramped quarters for a family of five. As most of you know sleep for our kids is a big deal for me, and Isla sleeps in our walk through which is has no walls or sound barrier to quiet outside noise. The twins still wake up in the night, Scott and I have friends over from time to time, and general boat noises are sometimes loud, especially underway. We use the battery operated Conair Sound Machine to help drown out background noise so our girls sleep soundly. I can tell you that without them on, they wake up more frequently. The downside, of course, is that these are battery operated and so we burn through our rechargeable batteries pretty quickly. But if it means a better and longer nap, I'll take it!

So there's our current list of favorites, what are some of your great products or life-hacks for the boat baby? Share in the comments - we're always looking for new ideas of great products that make boating with babies a little bit easier!


Unknown said...

Thanks for all the great hints & product ideas. We don't sail, but we do have grankidlets & it's always wonderful to get information on what works well. Love your blog! Sweet sailing with your precious family :)

Bill said...

Awesome list Brittany! Aperpo as we are just planning for our baby shower coming up on Oct. 3rd :)

Lisa said...

We're a boat baby family (7 month old twins, 36' Catalina sailboat)! I always love your baby specific posts, and feel happy that we have/use almost all of the same products. Great minds!

Barbara Kutchma said...

There are a very nice list baby use when in boat. Thanks.

Lindsay Staniforth said...

We are planning a trip with our 15 month old on a 35 foot boat. How do you strap down the fisher price booster on deck? Any which way you can? Thanks for all the tips! A side note on baby wearing...boba air makes a fairly inexpensive, lightweight carrier similar to ergo (which I also use). The bonus of the boba is packabikity and quick dry so we use it as a second for "in case" situations

Jamie Burton said...

Thanks for sharing this post. Really this very efficient need to know us. This very safety diaper for swimming. Baby safety is important factor for us. We should ensure baby safety in every place.

Tyson Harold said...

wow nice.

Unknown said...

Awesome article! So much good info!

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Emma Megan said...

Love to see your happy faces. Cute family. Good blog. Love all things you publish on your blog!

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Ken said...

It is great to read your tips.

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Anonymous said...

Seems like a larger boat- but I’d just put out there that baby wearing and tethering may not be appropriate when the boat is underway- because baby can’t wear a life jacket that way and god forbid it tipped or capsized baby would be dredged to the tether or if worn, not able to keep mouth and nose above water. Babies and children should always wear life jacket even stopped Otherwise I love your tips and tricks

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