Aileen FlynnExtracted from the IWAI Waterways Mailing List, the following account is reproduced by kind permission of Aileen Flynn

Our daughter Elise, who has just turned two, had her maiden voyage at 3 weeks, and has been boating regularly ever since. In our experience, the areas of most concern are:

Safety – not so much a concern with babies who are not yet mobile, but a big problem between the age of crawling/climbing and the age of sense. We have two basic rules: lifejacket at all times when aboard or near the water, and always supervised. This makes locking, mooring etc. a little more difficult as it is effectively single-handed if there are only two adults on board, however our 27 foot boat has a centre cockpit with canopy, and our lines are long enough that one person can hold them from the cockpit, while watching / holding the child, while the other operates the lock if necessary. We also find that the engine noise encourages her to sleep well while underway, so we try to schedule such manoeuvres around her nap-time where possible.

Energy levels – the cramped nature of the boat means that she needs to be entertained fairly much all the time, and tends to get a bit hyper, so when we go ashore, at least one of us takes her for long walks / runs / games to burn some energy! We also try to break fairly regularly and take shorter trips for the same reason. She is much easier this summer already than she was this time last year, because she is able to understand and even obey (occasionally), so the years when they require very intensive attention while aboard are actually very short!

Hygiene – if you are still sterilising equipment for your son, try to pick up the sterilising bags which are available in Mothercare – they are disposable bags with sterilising tablets inside, and can be hung on a door, hook etc. They take up a lot less space than conventional sterilisers, and require no electricity! We also learned very early to compromise on baths while on longer trips, and to use sponges and baby wipes instead. It certainly never bothered her!

With regard to lifejackets (buoyancy aids), they come in a range of sizes from newborn upwards. The one she is currently wearing is size 0 -15 Kilos; she has been wearing this since she was a few months old and is just about to grow out of this one. They cost in or around £20. Any marine supplier will be able to advise you; I think that the most important thing is that it is designed to turn the child on their back in the water (all of the floats are in front), and provides good head and neck support. Ours has a large collar which is designed for this purpose. They should also fasten between the child’s legs to stop them sliding out of the lifejacket. The earlier your son gets used to wearing his lifejacket, the less of an issue it is likely to be. Elise loves hers and sometimes wears it at home as well!

One thing that I have always thought would be handy is a good, strong handle on the back of the lifejackets to act as a hook for a boathook or equivalent if this ever becomes necessary, but also to carry the child (a bit like a shopping bag!) while still having one hand free for yourself to move around on deck if necessary. I used a rope when she was smaller to make a harness for the same purpose, but also to provide a bit of line to allow her to move around a bit, while still keeping her under close control. I don’t trust the baby harnesses for this purpose.

Boating is not quite the same leisurely pursuit as it used to be, but it is still a wonderful family holiday, and offers city kids in particular great freedom, once a few basic rules are observed.

© 2001 Aileen Flynn