Beginning sailors, young and old, usually feel more comfortable on a keelboat than aboard a dinghy. A keelboat has a heavy, ballasted keel fin under the boat that provides stability and prevents capsizing. Large cruising multihulls (that gain stability from having more than one hull) are also stable and comfortable. Here are some other reasons why these bigger boats are the best choice for families, whether your trip is going to last a week or just an afternoon:
Keelboats often have cabins down below that are handy for taking naps, storing snacks, and spreading out toys.
Most keelboats have a deep cockpit, where kids can play safely and see the sights without the risk of falling overboard. A boat longer than 25 feet (8 meters) probably has lifelines that provide extra security for the very little ones.
If you’re adamant about sailing with your kids, but you’ve only completed a basic sailing course and have little other experience, then your best boat choice is a small keelboat (18 to 25 feet)— but only day sailing in light and moderate winds in protected waters.
I will offer some general guidelines for the minimum age of children on various types of boats, given the experience of the sailor.
A novice sailor has the equivalent of one basic sailing course and little practical experience. An intermediate sailor has completed basic sailing training and has six months to two years of practical experience. And advanced sailors have three or more years of experience in a variety of wind conditions. An “X” indicates that we don’t recommend that novice sailors take children of any age on these boats.
A child is never too young to enjoy a sailing trip as long as you, your boat, and your crew are prepared. We’ve been taking our daughters sailing since before they were born. Every summer we go to Catalina Island — 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles — on my parents’ boat. Games and books keep them occupied while we’re under way, but their favorite time is while we’re at anchor. As toddlers, the girls saw boats as fun jungle gyms, and spent hours turning the winches to hear the sounds of the gears. Feeding bits of bread to the fish (and smart seagulls) kept them entertained as well. Their favorite stuffed animals are all sea creatures: Marly has a beloved shark, and Megan has a family of seals that live on her bed.
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