There is no reason why children can’t join virtually any sailing holiday. I have seen a 6 month old baby strapped in to a car seat screwed to the cockpit (it was a private yacht – don’t expect a charter company to be too impressed if you drill holes in their boat)!
The only restrictions are on some formal courses and on adult only cruises (cabin charter). Although under 16’s are able to take the RYA Start yachting and Competent Crew courses, not all schools will accept them. Virtually all schools will require under 18’s to be accompanied by a responsible adult.
Some types of sailing holiday are better suited to children than others. Flotilla holidays in particular can offer the chance for your youngster(s) to meet some playmates. But whatever type of holiday you chose, bear in mind children will have different aspirations to you. Drifting along for 8 hours may give you plenty of time to read your book but most children will expect a bit more activity!
You can make any sailing holiday more interesting for children by including plenty of swim stops and getting them involved around the boat. A good way to do this is by getting them some dinghy sailing experience before you go, or at the start of the holiday (see Combination Holidays). They will then soon work out that the ropes on the yacht are much the same as those on a dinghy.
So instead of endless complaints about the yacht being a slow means of getting from A to B, most children will be happy to get stuck in. This is more fun for them, less work for you and great entertainment for everyone when mooring up, as junior tells mum and dad (usually in a loud voice) exactly what they’re doing wrong!!
Just one word of warning. Children (or ELF’s as one less than child friendly skipper used to call them – I’ll leave you to work out the acronym but the E stands for Evil)! need supervision. There are plenty of hazards on a yacht, especially for those that don’t understand the forces on ropes etc. You need enough hands on board to both supervise the children and run the yacht, which can be a particular challenge when mooring up or if the wind picks up.
One solution at critical times may be a harness to prevent them straying in to danger zones. I had one guest who tied his daughter to the mast when mooring – out of harms way and out of his way, as he put it! I would certainly suggest keeping younger children in life jackets at all times and check when booking – many yacht operators require you to provide your own life jackets for under fives.
You should also consider asking for child netting, which goes around the guard rails to stop them falling through the gap. This needs to be requested at time of booking and a few yacht suppliers may require you to fit it yourself (it’s not difficult).
For teenagers the above is less of an issue and keeping them entertained once ashore may be more the challenge. Bear this in mind when choosing your sailing area and route – teenagers like swimming, but shops and exploring a new destination are also exciting prospects. The isolated tranquil bays may be your dream but may not be what the kids are seeking.
Long passages can also cause friction to a generation not always renown for their long attentions span, who may find pottering along at a few knots a bit slow. So you may have a less stressful holiday if you choose a destination allowing shorter runs or at least plenty of bays to stop in for prolonged lunch stops.
Finally, a point to note for single parent families; many charter companies require at least one adult crew member aboard to assist the skipper, so groups consisting of one adult and a child (or children) under eighteen may need to book a professional crew member to assist if no family friend can be persuaded to tag along. If you are in this situation, do explain it at time of booking if you are not asked for all participants ages at that stage.