My husband and I planned to begin cruising in 2015 with no long-term destination or timeframe; we would sail to where the wind and paid employment took us.
We kept the sailing dream alive by messing about in our trailer sailer while we saved. After eight years we were in a position to start looking for a boat to turn our plan into reality. We found the boat.
A 45 foot sloop, Radford design made of steel and in a marina literally five minutes from our house. After the usual purchase process we were about to meet with the boat broker to negotiate a purchase price but an hour before the meeting we found out I was pregnant.
Finding out I was pregnant caused a very quick reassessment of the plan. There were many valid reasons why we should not proceed, to play it safe and stay living in a house. We decided to keep the meeting with the boat broker and if successful in purchasing the boat, we would give the plan a go. We would rather give it a go than always wonder if we missed an opportunity to fulfill our dreams.
We were successful in purchasing the boat and, after the initial excitement, the reality of our situation hit. How were we going to prepare the boat for our baby?
As new parents do, we read the books and reviewed the shopping lists from the shops that sell all things baby related.
We found that most things just were not appropriate for a sailing boat. We did not have the space or the capacity to run/charge the electrical appliances and, given the close living environment, wondered how relevant some things were.
We began the process of sorting out what we needed versus what the books and shops said we should have.
We researched the internet for experiences of other sailing families and bounced the ideas off other liveaboards. This article sets out some of what we have learnt from our experience to date.
Converting land to sea
While following the guidelines of how to reduce the risk factors of SIDS we modified a sea berth to be our son’s cot/bed.
We changed the lee-cloth to one that was adjustable in height and made of material that is used for trampolines on catamarans. This material is strong and allowed for increased ventilation and visualisation, so our son could see what was happening around him and we could see him.
We also installed a temporary headboard where the mattress was split in half. The aft end of the berth is our son’s cot and the fore is an easy access area to store his clothes etc.
When he was old enough, we swapped the hanging or mobile toys to soft toys. Books made out of material are fantastic ways of passing the time.
We chose to use disposable nappies for a number of reasons. We were initially reliant on the marina laundry and it was hard enough balancing sleeps and feeds with our usual washing, without adding nappies to the washing list. I was also conscious of what other people would think if they knew we were washing nappies in the washing machines.
We now have a washing machine on the boat which makes washing a lot easier. As we are living in the marina and only having short sailing adventures we are able to store enough nappies and our rubbish until we can dispose of it appropriately. The final reason was convenience, disposables are a lot less time consuming, which is a blessing when we both work, building the kitty to make the plan a reality.
We have decided to toilet train our son as soon as he is ready in preparation for our extended cruise as we would rather not have to worry about nappies when cruising (storage, washing and disposal). If he is not ready, then I will develop a system of using and washing cloth nappies.
Changing nappies can be a challenging experience at the best of times. Successfully changing a nappy while sailing close hauled into a choppy sea provides a wonderful opportunity to feel a strong sense of achievement. We change our son in the v-berth as it is at a back-friendly height, we can brace ourselves against the bulkhead allowing both hands to be free for our son and there is the storage capacity to have all things needed for a nappy change within arms reach.
We plan on taking our car seat with us so we can take our son in hire cars as we move around on our adventure. The only challenge with this plan is finding somewhere to store the car seat on the boat.
A baby carrier and then a backpack to carry our son were two of the most useful purchases. Both the baby carrier and the backpack are fantastic because they free up our hands to carry things (such as a baby bag) or push a trolley full of groceries to the boat.
When it is raining it means you can use an umbrella to keep you both dry. The baby carrier was great as it allowed me to move around the boat (particularly down below in unpleasant conditions) with two hands free or helm with our son safely attached to me.
As the baby carriers and backpacks are compact, they are easy to store on the boat.
Now our son is older and walking, we use the backpack as the preferred fast way of getting from A to B. The backpack is also useful for exploring expeditions once we hop off the boat at an anchorage.
We chose a backpack that has a storage area in it so we can use it to carry something to eat, water, camera and mobile phones rather than taking another bag with us, so less bags in the tender.
A pram was another useful purchase while we still live in the marina.
As there is not room to store it on the boat, we leave it in the car and transition our son from the baby carrier or backpack into the pram at the car and then reverse when heading back to the boat.
We are lucky because there is a grocery store and a park within walking distance from the marina, so we often do both in the same trip, using the pram as our shopping trolley.
Plastic storage containers are fantastic baby baths and are relatively inexpensive compared to baths designed specifically for babies.
As a newborn, our son started off in a square container that we used for washing up when we were camping. He has graduated into larger storage containers as he has grown. We popped in a non-slip mat into the container to give him the confidence to sit in the bath on his own. Once the splashes got too big we moved bathing him from the saloon table to the cockpit.
Our son still has a bath when we are at anchor, but with much less water. We alternate him between a bath and a shower in preparation for when he showers on his own, but he still prefers the bath.
We followed the usual guide of baby toiletries to purchase, e.g. soap, shampoo etc. The only difference was the consideration of the impact on our son’s skin and the marine environment. We try to use organic or natural products rather than artificial or chemical based products when possible.
I would feed our son anywhere that was safe and comfy to do so. An electric steriliser made life easier, but was not critical when he was bottle feeding. While sailing or at anchor we used the old school method of boiling bottles and equipment. We learnt to save water by timing the boiling session with washing up the dishes so we could reuse the hot water.
Rather than using a blender or food processor, we just used a fork to mash up food when our son started to eat solids. A reliable fridge allowed for an increased variety of foods to be stored, particularly dairy. A reliable freezer allowed for more flexibility with the ability to make up bulk food and freeze it or store expressed breast milk.
Prior to going on a sailing adventure, I store single meals in snap lock bags as they are flexible, cheap and do not take up much space in the fridge or freezer. I then defrost them ready to heat up and eat.
As our saloon table has a lip, we couldn’t use a ‘clip on’ feeding chair like so many other sailing families, so chose to purchase a high chair. We found one that was compact, folded up and easy to clean and as an extra bonus, fit under the saloon table. We only feed our son in the high chair when we are in the marina or at anchor, it is too dangerous in a boat under sail or motor. When we are sailing or motoring and if the conditions are appropriate, our son eats in the cockpit. If not he eats down below, tucked into the settee with one of us next to him.
Another worthwhile purchase was a portable baby chair, for the same reasons why they are great purchases for babies being raised on land.
Baby proofing a sailing boat follows the same principles of baby proofing a house or apartment.
Two areas of concern (apart from the usual drawers, cupboards, doors etc.) were the companionway and galley. Similar to most sailing boats, our companionway is one of the most busy and dangerous areas. It is at the top of stairs and opens to frequently busy areas, either the cockpit above or galley down below. As we have a centre cockpit, popping in a washboard was all we had to do to keep our son from falling down the companionway until he learnt to climb down the stairs. We could not isolate the stairs, so had to supervise our son as he was learning to climb up the stairs.
The biggest concern in the galley is our oven. It does not have the heat-proof glass and is the perfect height for our son to touch or lean against. After some brainstorming sessions on the boat with other liveaboards we decided the best way to keep our son out of the galley was to prevent him from getting in there when the oven was on. There are various options for this including, keeping him busy by helping me to cook (he sits on the top step or bench top which he loves particularly when I am making something sweet) or popping him in his high chair to have something to eat or watch TV (not when we are sailing) or playing in the vee berth.
I also take advantage when he is asleep to do some cooking.
We also installed smoke alarms on the boat. This was one of the cheapest and easiest tasks to undertake.
Advice from other sailing parents
Each person we spoke with or family we read about stressed the importance of having a seaworthy boat, regardless if it is for a day sail or an ocean passage.
One lesson we have learnt about seaworthiness was how easy it is for boat maintenance to fall to the bottom of the to-do list, particularly amongst the demands of a baby, family commitments, the desire to go sailing and the need to earn a living. We often have to give up sailing opportunities for the unglamorous tasks of boat maintenance to keep our boat seaworthy or to prevent it from becoming unseaworthy.
We were advised to be aware of our boat’s ventilation and work out ways to keep our baby and ourselves cool in summer and warm in winter. As we have mild winters but hot summers at the moment, we have installed 12 volt fans which work when in the marina, motoring, sailing or at anchor. We also invested in shade covers (expensive but well worth it) and chose a berth that faces north/south allowing us to catch the prevailing southerly or northerly winds while in the marina.
“Be careful not to get your baby sunburnt” was regular advice.
We were reminded of how living on a boat gives us twice the opportunity to get sunburnt. Initially from the sun and then the reflection off the water. So we cover up as much as we can with sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
We think the persistence of putting our son’s hat and sunglasses on each time he throws them off is working. We have only lost one hat into the water so far.
We enrolled our son in swimming lessons as soon as we could and he goes to classes each week. Although swimming lessons are part of the safety regime to protect our son they are also exercise, stimulation and quality time with his dad.
Knowing our son is taking swimming lessons seems to put a lot of people who question our choice to raise our son on a sailing boat at ease. Our viewpoint is that we should be supervising and teaching him plus putting up physical barriers to reduce the chance of him falling in the water. Swimming lessons are the last line of defence.
Following the advice of other sailing families and liveaboards, we also point out where our son could pull himself out of the water if he fell into the marina.
He is too young to do this at the moment and if he fell in it would be one of us in after him, but all advice has been it is never too young to start teaching him.
There are many different schools of thought on when and where children should wear safety harnesses and/or life jackets. Each boat is a different design, each parent usually has a different view and each child is different.
We figure there is no right or wrong, rather what is most appropriate for you.
Our boat has a centre cockpit, so while being supervised we allow our son to be in the cockpit without a harness. Given his age, when outside the cockpit, he must have his harness on and clipped on whether we are in the marina, sailing or at anchor. He clips on to a jackstay, allowing him to access the full length of the boat.
He got used to wearing his harness when he was crawling and now he is a competent walker, knows where to find his harness (rope bag in the cockpit) and passes it to us or tries to put it on when he wants to get out of the cockpit. He has recently learnt how to get out of the cockpit under this own strength and does try to ‘escape’, so we have to vigilantly supervise him.
There is also varying advice on netting, some families use it as part of their safety regime and others do not. We want to do everything reasonably possible can protect our son and ourselves while living on the boat, either in the marina, motoring, sailing or at anchor. So now our son is walking and reluctant to stay in the cockpit,
we are about to put the netting on.
Other advice from sailing families was the importance of creating at least one safe space just for our son, his own personal space. We identified two, his cot/bed (with the lee cloth) and the vee-berth.
We installed a lee cloth across the vee-berth so our son and his toys could stay in the area.
Although we use the vee-berth for other things (when our son is not in it), it is primarily our son’s play area.
He has a range of toys to play with from soft toys, books to Lego. Having the luxury of a play area separate to the rest of the boat means we do not need to be constantly tidying up after him.
Other play areas are the saloon table, fantastic for drawing, playing with stickers, any task that requires sitting or standing at a hard surface; and the cockpit, great for playing cubby houses and building obstacle courses with the cockpit cushions.
Like most toddlers, our son manages to turn any area in the boat into a play area, including mimicking the things we do, such as doing the laundry, cooking or making a cup of tea.
Emergency and safety
Other great advice given to us was to review our emergency planning to make sure it took into consideration a baby or toddler.
This included making sure we know who is responsible for what and to start talking about it with our son. It translates into little things like, which way we hook our son’s lee cloth in, it is always the same way, in case we need to get out quick.
It also included checking any documentation associated with emergency planning (such as registration of the EPRIB and insurances) has the correct number of people or names on it.
One liveaboard also suggested that we see our son’s paediatrician or GP to make sure our first aid kit has child appropriate items.
Our paediatrician (who also happens to own a sailing boat) recommended we undertake a marine first aid course and have a first aid kit that is up to Yachting Australia Category 1 guidelines (as a minimum) with relevant items for a child our son’s age.
Each family gets their babies from the boat to the tender and reverse using a different method, however each method is highly dependent on the wind and sea condition. We put our son in his life jacket and pass him from one adult to the other. Using this method is restrictive because it is dependent on having two capable adults, little wind and a relatively smooth sea state. Things will become less restrictive once our son is able to climb or descend the ladder into the tender himself while wearing his life jacket.
We first took our son sailing when he was six weeks old. Since that time the weather window to go sailing has slowly become wider as our confidence of sailing with our son has grown. He loves it when my husband starts the engine, it usually means we are off on an adventure.
We have had some memorable moments sailing, at anchor and exploring with our son, showing him the wonderful world around him and to see him grow and learn from the experience.
The biggest difference between sailing with and without a baby is: when it was the two of us it was the two of us sailing, now there are three of us, there is only one of us sailing. The other is looking after our son.
As our boat is set up for single-handed sailing, it makes things easier. But there are still times when we are not able to supervise him, e.g. going in or out of the marina or anchoring. At these times we pop our son into his bed where we know he will be safe. We also give him a job to do so he feels part of the action. At the moment it is looking after his favourite soft toys and keeping them safe.
We try to be conscious of everything we do because our son inevitably copies us, from how we get up and down the companionway, telling each other where we are or going to and having one hand for the boat and one for ourselves.
The first time we walked down the floating pontoon with our newborn son I remember feeling all our planning and organising prior to his birth seemed inadequate for the responsibility we now had. I have learnt that being a good parent does not depend on the stuff you have for your baby, it depends on providing your baby with a loving and safe environment.
What better place to do this than on a sailing boat?
Yes there are risks and yes it can be dangerous, but just like in a house, these can be identified and managed.
We are still planning to go cruising in 2015, the only difference to the original plan is our son will be with us.