As research for this section, we took 6 children. on a 10 day charter to the BVI. The kids ranged in age from 6 to 18, and sailed on a 44 foot catamaran.
Sailing with kids is a completely different experience than traveling with adults. Kids will find wonder in entirely different things and will open adults’ eyes to a very different island experience. The following suggestions are based on what was learned — both from things that went well as well as lessons learned.
Note that the following recommendations are not intended to guarantee safety while sailing. These ideas are shared along with the disclaimer that there is danger inherent in being around the water, and the reader assumes those risks. For excellent water safety rules that protect children, look at the Boy Scouts of America’s programs called “Safety Afloat” and “Safe Swim Defense”. Now, on with a few things that worked for us.
In preparation for the trip, the weaker swimmers were enrolled in swim lessons several months before the trip. Make sure they have time to develop enough skill and confidence in the water to enjoy snorkeling and to handle themselves should they fall overboard.
Swim lessons in a pool did not completely prepare kids for snorkeling and swimming in the ocean. Water and wave currents near coral reefs can be new to kids, and they need to be watched carefully and taught to keep a safe distance from underwater obstacles.
Charter boats come equipped with life jackets for everyone on board. However, they are usually the large orange kind that are not comfortable to wear for extended periods. It was helpful to buy the younger children life jackets at home and make sure they were comfortable in them, and clarify the following expectation before the trip:the rule we used was that anyone out of the cabin needed to wear a life jacket. It goes a long way if the adults follow this rule too, which may require bringing comfortable self inflating pfd’s from home.
Buddy System and Supervision
The kids were all assigned buddies when on deck or out in the water. This helped keep them safe, and paired an older, more capable swimmer with a younger less experienced one. Additionally, the kids were not allowed in the water unless an adult was on deck watching, or snorkeling with them.
The charter company was a great help in preparing for the kids. The charter company installed safety netting around the boat’s lifelines at no additional cost.
Although many of the charter companies provide snorkeling gear with their boats, youth sizes are often in short supply. Consider bringing snorkeling gear for smaller snorkelers. It is also a good idea to let them become familiar with snorkeling in a pool back home. It will take some practice to get used to maneuvering with fins, and to learn to clear a snorkel of water or drain water from a mask while swimming.
Traveling with kids can be expensive, so consider bringing some food from home. Pack a cooler with kids’ favorite snacks and check it as luggage. This will ensure that kids have their favorite snacks and even some of their favorite meals from home that may not be available in the islands. Check with Customs if you are unsure which foods are not permitted. These usually include fresh produce, meat products, and the like.
Kids will be very active, so special care needs to be taken to keep them hydrated. Bringing reusable water bottles from home will help kids keep track of their own bottles, and will help adults keep an eye on how much they are drinking. Kids may be turned off by the flavor of water in a foreign place, which can deter them from drinking. Consider bringing some flavor aids (powder or liquid) that kids can easily add to a water bottle to flavor the water and mask any unfamiliar taste.
The sun sets early in the islands, so bring games and activities for the kids to do on board. This is a great time for card games and family time together. Some boats come equipped with dvd players and a TV, so you may consider bringing along some movies.
Also recommended are good books for the kids to read. Keep in mind that electronic reading devices need to be charged. This is a great place for a real, old-fashioned paper book.