I receive a lot of enquiries both from strangers and friends about our unusual home and choices, many of these from parents who are flirting with the idea of doing something like this themselves. A very common question I receive is about how I can be comfortable with such young children constantly around water. I’m a mother, my role is to protect and nurture. In fact, many of my friends would probably describe me as a helicopter mum which is simply not compatible with life aboard. So, with our recent switch, I have had to slowly start surrendering control and give the children much needed room to grow. The only way I can do this is with the loving and gentle encouragement from my husband and his never ending patience and understanding.
All married couples have a certain dynamic, and ours works something like this: I worry, I get stressed, Paul steps in
pours me a glass of wine hugs me and calms me down, rinse and repeat. We have spent many an evening discussing late into the night all these worries – ok, MY worries – over and over and OVER. Our conclusion is this:
Everything we do in life has a component of risk, be it crossing an ocean or crossing the road. We have to weigh up the risk versus the reward and decide for ourselves if it is worth it.
We weighed up the reward of time with our children showing them the world vs. the risk of sailing what is known as the “Coconut Milk Run” among the cruising community and, for us, it adds up. It’s a very personal decision and most certainly not for everyone.
Our first line of defense is rules, supervision and training. Our second line of defense is a well equipped and safe boat. Finally our last line of defense is personal equipment such as life-jackets, personal locator beacons and harnesses.
We have boat rules just like we had house rules, only now, the rules are a whole lot more serious. Two of three of our junior crew are now survival swimmers while the youngest attends mandatory swimming lessons. We don’t sugar coat it, she is told that if she was to fall in without her life jacket and nobody is there to help, she will drown. The goal is not to create a fear of the water, and a lot of water play is mixed into our days, but literally living on the water, rules need to be adhered to and a very healthy respect for the danger is required. We have also explained to her what to do if she ever falls in and she seems to enjoy practicing her scream! Luckily, she is not the type of kid to push the boundaries, and so far other than a few short lapses, she has been very obedient with our water safety rules.
It also means inflexible rules for us as adults. We can not be lazy, and just popping down stairs for a minute to grab something, leaving a child on deck is all it would take for a disaster to occur.
A Safe Boat by Design
Venilia is a center cockpit which means that there is a section of deck all the way around us when we are sitting outside. It may not seem that important, but we like to know that if someone is on watch alone at night, a trip or stumble is not going to see them directly in the water. Many designs we looked at have you sitting quite literally on the edge just above the water when in the cockpit.
Between our interior living space and the cockpit, there is the pilot house. So for a child to get outside, they need to climb two ladders just to make it to the cockpit and while this may not seem like much, it’s reassuring to know that there is a clear demarcation between inside and outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love the blurring of lines between inside and outside that comes with some modern designs, catamarans in particular, but for me, it was a worry to see just how quickly a child could move from a safe location to a precarious one. If the children were a just a little older, I may feel differently on this one.
Our entire deck is surrounded by one meter high solid rails with a bulwark (extension of the hull above deck level) all the way around. When shopping we investigated many different boat designs and quickly determined that a solid rail surrounding the entire deck was mandatory. Boat designers these days certainly put form before function and just about all come with silly little wires around the deck, forty centimeters high. That’s just knee height and I can not imagine that they would do any better than trip you on the way over if the deck was to lurch unexpectedly. Best part of all, they call these things “life lines”! These have their place on racing yachts where the crew hangs over the side to get the weight in the correct location, but on a cruising yacht, they are simply not suitable.
Personal Safety Gear
Since our children will be spending a lot of time in their life jackets, it is important they are comfortable. All the children have an automatically inflating jacket with a built in harness and anchor point so they can be tethered to the boat. This will probably raise eyebrows with some of our overseas readers, but in Australia, inflatable jackets are approved for all ages. Be sure to check your local regulations.
We also carry spare non-inflatable traditional life jackets for the children according to their weight. These are preferred for water play and dinghy rides to avoid any accidental (yet hilarious) inflation incidents.
AIS Personal Locator Beacons
AIS beacons are transponders carried on all commercial vessels as well as on many smaller vessels these days that transmit a vessels name, location, speed as well as a whole lot of other information to surrounding boats. With this information, modern chartplotters can show surrounding vessels and even do clever things such as monitor and set off an alarm if another vessel is on a collision course. A recent development to this technology is a personal version of these transmitters that can attached to a life vest. These can be rigged to deploy as soon as the vest is inflated continuously transmitting position and setting off an alarm on all vessels within range.
While we do not yet have these AIS beacons on our life jackets, we intend to equip all of our crew soon.
What else would you like to know?
Overall, the transition to life on board has been far easier than I first imagined it would be. Having a firm action plan for safety has certainly helped reduce my anxiety with children around the water. This winter has been an exceptionally long Perth winter, so we are really looking forward to enjoying this summer sailing.
Mother and first mate of the Venilia crew. Clutz and only person able to hit their head on the same bulkhead five times in the same day.