Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Video: The Swing
By Michael

When Behan, Sara, and I wrote the Voyaging With Kids book, we decided from the onset that we would not shy away from presenting differing points of view. Not only would this approach be more valuable to readers, it would save us from reaching consensus on every point. The safety chapter is where I thought we’d discover the most differences between our points of view. After all, safety is kind of at the heart everything, everyone’s biggest pre-cruising concern, something that concerns the lives of your kids. I was wrong; we were all pretty in-sync. The only real differences we had weren’t really differences of opinion, but differences of approach simply because of the differing ages of our kids.

I’m thinking about all of this because of the video I’m sharing below and a couple articles I read recently.

So the video is a fun one from this past August: our family on deck, under sail just off the coast of Moorea, Eleanor helping Frances swing from the bosun’s chair.

Note the girls aren’t wearing life vests. Is this a safety concern? Not in our book (get it?). Windy and I are strong advocates for life jacket use. We are strong advocates for harness use. All four of us own at least one of each. We all use one or both, but not 24/7, not even all the time that we’re underway and out of the cockpit. Situations and conditions vary. Our rules are firm, but apply situationally.

On this day the water and air were warm. The water was flat and the wind was light. The motor was off and we were under headsail only. The girls are strong and comfortable in the water. They had a blast.

Related is a pair of articles that I recently read on the Huffington Post. Writer Janis Couvreux was a cruising mom aboard Cowabunga. She wrote this article first, about a 30-day crossing of the Atlantic with her family. It's great. It features photos of her very young kids on deck without life vests. She got a lot of critical comments. So she followed up with an assertive article: “No, My Kids Didn’t Wear Life Jackets for 10 Years at Sea.” I don’t agree with Couvreux’s arguments in this second article—and if I remembered any of my philosophy classes, I could identify by name the fallacies—but it’s a perspective on the topic.

I know a lot of planning-to-go-cruising families read this blog. What do you think? Leave a comment or send me an email.



  1. That's the way it should be: Teach children to take manageable risks and that fun can be had in different ways.

  2. I'd like to say we (including our three girls) always wear PFDs or harnesses (or both) while on deck, but that's not the case. There are several fair weather days when we're day sailing or motoring and it doesn't happen. Having said that, we do have some safety rules that we don't break such as: Solo sailing or with only one person in the cockpit requires a PFD/harness, night sailing requires a PFD/harness, kids on the forward deck while under sail requires a PFD/harness. Much to the chagrin of my kids, I also make them wear PFDs or use a throwable when they swim off the boat while anchored in deep water. They're great swimmers, but it makes my job as "dad on watch" less stressful. They mostly don't wear PFDs while swimming from a beach.

  3. We expect our rules on PFD use to evolve as the kids get used to the boat; right now, they're not very steady on their feet. Coming from a background of teaching sailing, we always have it in our heads to model good practices, too--ie, if PFDs are required for one kid, PFDs are required for everyone. Hopefully, by the time we get to tropical waters, our kids will have their feet under them a bit more, and the youngest will be a stronger swimmer, so we'll be able to relax a bit.

    As it stands now: PFDs or harnesses for everyone when underway and on deck; no PFDs required at anchor or dock, but no leaving the cockpit without at least one other person present.

  4. I agree with much of your post. However, there are times life jackets really should be worn. In the last photo of the blog post you link to, the one with the kids in the dinghy without lifejackets, regulations here in Canada require life jackets to at least be in the dinghy (adults or kids). We (adults) always wear our PFDs while in the dinghy. Too many drownings each year (cold water makes situation even worse).

    1. Pelagia, Thank you for your comment. To be clear, I agree there are times a life jacket really should be worn. Cold water definitely figures into our calculus and without regard to regulations, we often require our girls to don them when they head off alone in the dinghy. --MR

  5. The notion that one rile suits all scenarios and people is silly. Parents should know the rules and should know when and how they can be broken.
    I spent my summers in the water with family and neighbors, the line between swimming and boating was nonexistent. We would spend hours flipping and swimming in a swamped inflatable. Gunnel bobbing the canoe, jumping out of a moving sailboat, sliding off a windsurf board etc.
    OK it was the 70s but there was learning and play taking place. We neve wore life jackets "swimming" with our toys.

  6. I remember when I was little (8 or 9), my dad's test for me not having to wear my life jacket: a long distance swim across the harbor. Of course, being a strong swimmer does not negate all the various risks (cold, injury on the way in, etc.).

    And now from the POV of someone who has been a MOB (or WOB). While on passage from Cape Town to St. Helena (at age 16), I fell over the side on a calm day. I wasn't wearing a PFD, and thankfully, I didn't hit anything on the way over. My parents and sister quickly retrieved me, and then we all promptly went into a state of shock over what could have happened.

    We adults definitely wear our PFDs in rough weather and at night. But even with that experience, I don't expect my daughter, a good swimmer, to wear a PFD in calm weather or the dinghy. My son, however, will wear one any time he's above decks, until he is a stronger swimmer.

  7. Maia now has an inflatable PFD with harness and wears it when on passages while working on deck--just the same as us (it's been a while since we've had the kind of lightwind passage where we go without...) Prior to that we had a general rule that she had to wear a PFD outside the cockpit unless the conditions were such that she could safely swim around the boat three times--this was mainly to keep from having arguments. But she did improve her swimming skills to the point where she only needed the pfd in rougher conditions.

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