Boating and babies go together better than you might imagine, however, there are a few concessions one must make in order for the transition to be a smooth one. The boat you choose is a big one. The vessel you select for your journey – it’s pedigree, age, performance and features – can and will hugely impact your experience and enjoyment. This rule applies whether or not you have kids on board. There are certain traits, however, that really seem to suit the “baby on board” moniker. After three kids and over four years of boating with babies and/or toddlers we have compiled a list of ten boat characteristics that make life afloat with little ones easier. If you are like me, anything that makes the already hard job of parenting less of a crazy train is worth noting, so take heed. These things might not be “essential” but will almost certainly impact the frustrating vs. fun factor.
Plenty of cabins/bunks
We wish SO BADLY we had a third cabin, it’s insane. We will most certainly be upgrading to a new boat in the next couple years and you had better believe our next boat will have a third cabin. The twins currently share our v-berth, but Isla sleeps in a make shift bunk bed we made in our walk-thru. She loves it and it works great for her…now. It’s definitely got an expiration date as it’s smaller than a toddler bed and children have this uncanny ability to grow non-stop, not to mention the fact that her placement in the “main cabin” of our boat greatly inhibits our life after she goes to bed. We cannot cook, watch movies, or hang out in our salon once it’s ‘lights out’ for her. Not the biggest deal to befall a boater, but something to seriously consider when boat shopping.
Plenty of water tankage
We used to be really conservative about our water use aboard when we cruised as a couple. We carried 60 gallons and had a 5 gallon per hour water maker that we’d run for a few hours once a week. We were so good and ecological! Now? We’re all “Who built the Ark? Let’s fill up that baby pool on the aft deck so the kids will play quietly for twenty minutes!” Luckily, when we were actively cruising with our eldest, we foresaw the need (or desire?) for more water and outfitted our boat with a high-output Cruise RO water maker. We sang it praise almost every day. Babies are messy. REALLY Being able to hose them off after the beach, the pool, or after they smear pasta sauce and/or god knows what else all over their adorable pudgy bodies really makes life easier. Not to mention the ability to do laundry regularly. We regularly rinse our boat, our clothes, ourselves and our kids and – believe me – life is better because of it!
Ability to be singlehanded
This is a biggie for the baby boat because human babies are pretty damn dependent for the first couple years of life. We learned very quickly that once we had our first child, one person needed to be on boat duty, while the other was on baby duty. When sailing overnight, we both assumed watch schedules while Isla slept, but most of the time, mommy tended to all things baby, while daddy sailed the boat. Of course we both could do the other’s job (to a point, Scott couldn’t nurse the babies) but we found this arrangement worked well for us.
There are those that love center cockpit boats, and those that don’t. We stand firmly and proudly in the first camp. A center cockpit is great for a ‘baby boat’ for so many reasons. For one, it provides a nice 360 degree buffer between the water and the child, which is always a nice bonus when it comes to a baby on a boat. It also allows for an aft cabin, which makes for a great en-suite master bedroom and a little separation from the front of the boat and kids. And finally the center cockpit layout provides an aft-deck which makes a great place to load and unload provisions, store beach gear an other miscellaneous effects, and makes for an ideal area to hose off and/or shower after a day at the beach.
This makes getting in and out of the dinghy with babies tremendously easier. Having a nice, secure step or platform between the boat and the dinghy is great for doing the (sometimes precarious) baby-to-boat handoff. And if you ever find yourself solo parenting as I do? The step is almost a necessity! We will never own a boat without one of these!
One level interior
Having an interior with as few “levels” as possible is nice because, trust me, your baby will fall down those naughty little steps all. the. time. before they figure out how to climb up or down them. Granted, this window of time is super short so if you have a few steps (and I’m not talking about the companionway steps) fear not…but if you have the choice, a boat with a level interior will guarantee you hear fewer blood curdling screams from a tot that just took a tumble, not to mention give a little more surface to practice crawling or walking. Don’t get me wrong, your boat baby will take a ton of tumbles regardless – but if you want less, find a boat with less steps.
Never in a million years would I have outfitted a boat with white vinyl cushions, but holy heck am I glad webought a boat with them. I cannot even IMAGINE what our cushions would look like if they were regular interior fabric because the amount of food, sauce, paint, marker, crayon, pen, playdoh, juice and you don’t even want to know what else I have wiped off is INSANE. Three toddlers are messy. Period. Our cushions not only clean up like a breeze, but make me more laid back about messes (and making them! which, mind you, goes against my very tidy nature but is great for kids) because, “It’s cool, kids! Don’t sweat that spilled paint! Look, we just wipe it right up!” I mean, I wash our cushions using the same spray cleaner I use for the counters. It. is. awesome. Would not want a baby boat without them.
We are definitely not minimalists, but we do try to limit what we bring on board. Even still, three kids equal a ton of crap. From booster chairs to books, from crafting supplies to clothes, from beach toys to building blocks – you will need a good place to keep it all. The more storage, the better. And if you can be well organized about it, even better. Organization on a boat is like golf, never mastered and a constant work in progress.
This is one of the bonuses of a center cockpit boat. And whether or not you *think* you need an extra head they are sure nice to have because – ***spoiler alert*** – heads break down and people sometimes have to go “potty” at the same time. Toddlers, fyi, aren’t always great at holding it either and men, well…men tend to take their time. We love having two heads aboard and with a family of five, we’ve sung our extra head praise more than once, let me tell you!
Aft deck shower
Salt water and sand do not belong in the boat. They are a major pain in the butt if they infiltrate the interior so your mission, should you chose to accept it – is to keep it out. The best way to do this, short of avoiding beaches and salt water all together (not advisable!) is to do a fresh water rinse immediately when you return to the boat. Note that this favorable feature combines line items #2 (water tankage) and #4 (center cockpit). Being able to rinse off completely before we ever set foot in our cockpit is wonderful and definitely keeps salt and sand at bay. We keep a little bin full of our wash soap and shampoo on the aft deck and usually rinse off at least once, sometimes two or three times a day depending on our excursions.
So there you have the ten features we have found hugely beneficial to a boat with babies on board. It obviously goes without saying that these are things that we have found helpful and you might very have a different experience. We’ve seen families with children cruising on the most luxurious of catamarans with every gadget under the sun and we’ve seen families of five living aboard a simple thirty-two footer with as few systems as possible. It’s also worth noting that the baby and toddler stages of life are quick and fleeting, so whether or not your boat truly suits the baby stage might not be that important for you. Many of these features, however, will be enjoyed well past babyhood so keep that in mind. Either way, making sure you find a boat that works well for you and your family is the most important thing, so chose wisely. Fair winds!
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR ZIZOO BOATS.