Lessons learned from sailing with children

Over the past two years, my wife and I have undertaken several sailing holidays with my wife and subsequently one and two small children (ranging from 8 months old to 1.5 years of age). Of course, we knew that sailing with kids would be something totally different than sailing with adults. But boy, were we in for a shock.
Don't get me wrong, sailing with kids still is feasible, and even a lot of fun, but it's a whole different ball game. Here's a number of tips to get you started, first of all by properly outfitting your boat:

Boat rail netting

You could install nets in between all of your stanchions, but in our experience, kids under 2 years of age will really never venture out of the cockpit by themselves, and shouldn't be left to venture out of the cockpit alone whatsoever.

The 'kid's compartment'

Make sure you have a compartment inside the boat in which you can temporarily enclose your kids when necessary. This might sound harsh. But you'll see: right at the time that you are doing the most difficult docking maneuver of them all, your little rascal will try to climb out of the cockpit or have a beautiful tantrum. Very important: make sure that your young-ones can see you at all times from within their 'temporary confinement'. Ideally they can look outside aft, where mom or dad are at the tiller or steering wheel. That will also enable you to keep an eye on things inside. In the photo you can see the net we installed on our boat in the front bulkhead. We used snap hooks to attach the bottom of the net to one of our (heavy) bags. We then put the bag on the bed, on top of the bottom part of the net. When our daughter would climb the bag, she'd actually increase the weight on the net, thus making it impossible to fall between the net and the bed.

Bumping and bruising

Minimize (head-)bumping risks. Make sure that all sharp edges and corners are protected. We have a very mean sharp metal corner on our main sheet traveler in the cockpit. Every time our daughter was playing around in the cockpit, we wrapped a kitchen towel around it. Give special attention to the 'kids compartment' inside the boat: look for sharp edges and corners, and throw in a lot of pillows, cuddly toys & stuffed animals. That way, they can freely fall over and roll about when at sea. Keep a constant eye out though: babies still risk suffocation when they are sleeping face-down in a pillow/blanket/… So be on your guard.

Secure in the cockpit

In our boat we've had a lot of fun with the 'antilop' chair, which we bought quite cheap in Ikea. Used without the legs, it was an ideal fit in the bottom of our cockpit. Using a small fender behind the bask of the chair, we could even secure it so that it wouldn't move. More than once, we saw our daughter dose off when the engine was peacefully humming.

Hammock Fun

And finally: no necessity but loads of fun: get a children's hammock. You can hang it virtually anywhere (inside, in the cockpit, ashore, …) and children love to play or sleep in them. Beware: keep an eye out, kids do tend to overestimate their freedom of movement, often resulting in a nose-dive out of the hammock. Make sure the hammock is hung close to the ground, to minimize injury in the event of your child falling out.