Family Boating Life: How To Make It Work

For those of you that were raised in a boating family like myself, you will appreciate how much work goes into maintaining a boat. You will also appreciate how great a boat can be in bringing the family together. Lastly, you will appreciate that owning a boat is not about just ‘showing up’. There is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes to ensure that the whole family continues to enjoy those unforgettable moments out at sea.

Even a little 12-foot family skiff requires a significant amount of effort to keep the vessel in shape and coordinate and plan family outings – and most importantly, keep everyone safe. From refilling expensive fuel and making sure the cooler is stocked, to shuttling family members out to the sandbar, tying up at the dock, and all of the loading and unloading – the truth of the matter is that as much as we all love boating it can also be exhausting, especially if you don’t have the proper support of a good team or crew. Here are some tips for how to maximize your boating experience as a family no matter who owns the actual boat.

Delegate the Boat Work Among The Entire Crew

Regardless of whether you are the official “captain” in your family, responsibilities need to be delegated if you expect others to chip in and do their part. Often, especially within a family dynamic, people tend to make this awkward or dramatic when it doesn’t need to be. You could compare the world of boating work to the principles and psychology with the workplace. Perhaps Grandpa Frank isn’t so great at letting everyone know what he expects of them. Instead of waiting for him to start screaming in a panic for somebody to untie the bowline, be proactive and ask how you can help before you embark on your journey. If you know what needs to be done, help commission tasks ahead of time to family members. Children will love getting the chance to be in charge of something on the boat, and it will also help teach them responsibility and teamwork.

An Education In Boating

We all know that assigning tasks to others is useless if they don’t possess the knowledge or skill set required to complete them. Boating and sailing are the types of proficiencies that tend to be well learned in a domestic setting, and what better way to build bonds between family members than during a glorious day spent out on the water? However, while learning while doing work for many, it can create a “high pressure” situation for novice boaters who may prefer quiet one-on-one instruction before taking to the sea. There’s also the reality that not all boaters are great teachers – and some are more willing to admit this than others. The educational side of boating is suited to the more patient members of the family. Alternatively, you could solicit help from an outside school. Investing in your family’s boating skills can be well worth your while if you expect them to do their fair share aboard regularly and will likely make your job easier as captain in the long run.

Communicate With Your Crew

Nobody can read minds, no matter how much we might want them to. If you expect your first mate to get those fenders on the starboard side before you pull up to the marina, you’ll need to verbalize it (even if he is your brother). Proper communication is vital to the successful functioning of both your family and your crew. Taking the time to listen is a huge part of this, so make sure the knowledgeable boaters in your group are readily available for questions. For those nervous or apprehensive boaters, or perhaps the ones most prone to seasickness, showing empathy can go a long way in getting them both excited about the idea of boating and building their confidence along the way.

Boat Lifestyle Is About Ebb And Flow

Perhaps the kids had their hearts set on getting out into the ocean. Still, the weather isn’t cooperating, or maybe the sandbar you’ve had your eye on for a beach day ends up being in too shallow of water to approach, or perhaps the prized affordable city marina right in the heart of downtown is already sold out for the night. Boating can be very unpredictable, so we, in turn, need to be prepared to adjust to the continually changing conditions. Having unrealistic expectations or demands, especially in a familial context, is a sure recipe for disappointment. Being flexible, both as captain and passengers, can help take the pressure off and build rapport among your crew. One great thing about having a boat in the family is that there will always be a next time.

Boating Etiquette

Nothing says “I’m using you for your boat” quite like showing up empty-handed and sunning on the deck while your brother does all the grunt work and heavy lifting related to your splendid Saturday family cruise. It’s always in good taste to bring along some drinks and snacks for the group, perhaps gear to contribute to the outing (fishing rod, boogie boards, games for the kids, etc.) and maybe even a little gift to the host. Sometimes (ok, a LOT of times) we take our family members for granted, and a day out on the water can be the perfect chance to show them that they are indeed appreciated. We can also show our gratitude by asking how we can help (more than once) and working together to keep the family vessel in ship shape.

Written by: Laila Elise

Laila Elise is a former fashion model, writer, actress and entrepreneur, with an affinity for a life on the water. She has a Masters in Finance and a Bachelor's in Business Education, and has traveled extensively around the world working with top agencies and designers. She writes regularly about her passion for the sea on her blog: