How to best tell our family we are sailing away?

Sabrina writes

We will be headed to my parent’s home next week. While we are there we will be telling them as well as my brother’s family that we are sailing away in 2013 (finally – yay!).

I have been surfing the internet looking for ideas and suggestions on how to best tell them and have not been able to locate much. I didn’t see anything specifically on the Women & Cruising. Perhaps I missed it.

Jessie’s book “The Cruising Woman’s Advisor” has some good info and so does Liza Copeland in “Cruising for Cowards” but I am looking for more input as I develop our discussion points and strategies for this discussion.

Any advice, suggestions, hints or resources you have on this topic for me would be greatly appreciated.

Fair Winds


Gwen Hamlin answers.

In truth, these days, it should be much less stressful than it used to be for families to watch you go because there are so many ways for you keep in communication to reassure them.

No longer is it the letter sent to a GPO address in some remote destination in hopes it will arrive before you pass through!

First: We had a slightly similar situation in that Don’s older, historically unadventurous parents , were very anxious about our going.

We did not task load them. We told them we were going for a cruise “down island” in the Caribbean. We added distance bit by bit, until his mother finally demanded when we were going to sail around the world like the couple in an article she’d read in the paper! We told her we didn’t really have any plans to sail around the word. That we wanted to go for the South Pacific.

I sometimes think that it is the enormity of a plan (in time or distance) that daunts onlookers. (Also by never claiming to be doing a circumnavigation, there was no sense of “failure” about NOT doing a circumnavigation. (We stopped in Australia after ten years.))

Then we made every effort we could to keep in touch. We added SSB/ham email on board so we could drop them a note every day if we wanted to, even in the midst of a long ocean passage. Back then it was a big deal to get his parents and daughter started on computers themselves, (not likely to be such a huge leap these days.)

Then we gave them planning scale charts, first of the Caribbean and Central America, later of the Pacific, and then set them up to receive our Winlink position reports so that his Dad could plot our progress across the big expanse of blue. Later we gave his daughter and nieces and nephews inflated globes so they could talk about where we were.

We sent post cards to all the family kids with appropriate pictures and pretty stamps as another strategy to fire their interest and keep them remembering who we were!

I started a website that was initially conceived for the family (and for former charter guests in the event we wanted to drum up charters in some foreign islands). I composed regular updates, which I posted on the website and later via a blog, but honestly, the persons who most appreciated that effort were never actually the family, but other cruisers! But in the end I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad I did it for me! It’s a fabulously detailed document of memories.

It is ironic, but it is a fact of life, as many cruisers will attest, folks back home often could care less about the details of your journey.

SPOT personal satellite tracker

These days it is so much easier. In addition to on board email, you can have a satellite phone, which eases their peace of mind about your ability to call out should you need help.

SPOT, the satellite tracker has a neat new model that in addition to posting position reports, interfaces with your SmartPhone to send out text messages over the satellite network. The nice thing about SPOT is you can carry it ashore on remote hikes as well.

Facebook actually is a real natural with cruisers. You can just say “All is well we have arrived” or you can add a link to a blog for those who want more info. I haven’t directly asked, but I see no reason why you couldn’t use SPOT to post to Facebook. A side benefit is you can friend all these cruisers you meet and part from, and keep a finger on the pulse of where they are and what they are doing.

Many destinations now have cellular networks (third world areas are often more advanced by having leapt over the whole wired network stage). In Fiji and Australia and in Indonesia this past year we were able to email and even Skype via cellular.

Plus, we made regular trips back to the States and made a circuit of our families. They see you are alive and thriving…plus you get to fill your suitcases with boat parts.

The long and short of it is, that if you wish to expend the effort you can stay as connected as you need to.

Understand, there are some cruisers who choose to just blow off those family connections and to live in the now of their experience. There is something to envy in that, but it would not have worked for us. For us the effort was worth the effort.

And here is the irony. We are currently back in the US, in Florida, and we regularly realize we have let days and days go by without a call or an email to his folks, which would never have happen when we were aboard. Even when they are here, just a few miles away wintering in their RV, our land lives can get so busy that a week can go by without touching base.

The truth is they heard from us much more regularly when we were cruising, and in the end there is no magic in geographical closeness. Just think how often people can be in the same town and not be in touch.

Cruising, on the other hand, can give you enough time to make the effort and something interesting to talk about! Plus, you are living a flexible enough lifestyle that if there is a calamity at home, you can jump on a plane and fly back. Try doing that with a full time career.

One last thing.
Safety precautions:
Emergency MOB (Man Over Board) alert wristband

If you can explain to your family all the preparations you have made, the courses and certifications you have taken, the safety precautions you have installed, the equipment you have aboard to make passages safely, then you will help them have confidence in your ability to do what you are setting out to do.

Introduce them to this website (Women and Cruising Website) and have them read the Twelve Sailing Families collection. It will fire them all up to see that all those families had resistance from their families too but they can’t help but see in the end what a wonderful experience they all had. There’s also a little “If they can do it with kids, well then you should be alright” factor!

It won’t of course, completely stop them missing you, stop them worrying about you. But if you do what you can, they do adjust. And then there’s the fact that after 20+ years sailing, I feel much safer out there than driving down a highway back here. Bad things can happen anywhere, and are far more likely in our back yards than out there!

This is not my most organized response, but I wanted to dash out some moral support as promptly as I could. Good luck, and keep in touch with us. You might want to write a little post for the Women and Cruising website on how you end up addressing this and how it went.


Gwen Hamlin
Admirals Angle

Read also on this website
  • Communications Resources
  • Staying in Touch  (Admiral’s Angle column #14)
    Out of sight of land no longer means out of touch: the ways and means cruisers stay in touch with each other and back home.
  • Home for the Holidays (Admiral’s Angle column #16)
    Planning, compromises and new traditions keep holiday spirit alive.
  • Logs and Blogs (Admiral’s Angle column #37)
    The tradition of recording voyage experiences doesn’t just preserve memories but encourages others to follow.
  • Guests Aboard (Admiral’s Angle column #40)
    Some counsel about managing visits and visitors to enhance their experience and maintain crew sanity.
More information (external links)
  • SPOT Personal Tracker
    Keep family updated with your location! SPOT notifies friends, family or an international rescue coordination center with your GPS location and status based on situation and need – all with the push of a button.

If you have a question about going cruising that you want answered,

- email it to:,

- or join the next Women and Cruising seminar!

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4 comments to How to best tell our family we are sailing away?

  • Hopefully, by this time they’ll already have heard you talking about your boat, maybe some shorter trips you’ve taken, and so on — so it’s not too much of a shock. This is sort of related to that incremental approach that Gwen talked about.

    We didn’t have parents to tell, but kids . . . and it helped that we’d done charters and land-based trips in far-off places. They all knew what was in our hearts and they knew from past experience that we’d keep in touch.

    We also decided to cruise for a year before selling our stuff and getting rid of the apartment where we’d been living. I think this made it easier for the kids to think that we’d still be back — and then by the time we did come back and sell it all, they realized that we were still in touch with them, we were having a great time and this was what we wanted to do with our lives.

    We also didn’t present it as a question, as if we were asking if this was okay with them. We simply said this is what we’re doing next. I think that helped, too — we answered questions but didn’t let the decision be revisited.

    All that said, every family is different and how you present it has to be based on your knowledge of your family — and you might highlight different things to different people — trying new food, learning a foreign language, the sailing, whatever would appeal to them.

  • Ruth

    Gwen is absolutely correct. There are so many ways to keep in touch now when sailing away from home grounds. I personally posted a blog, sent out emails, and snail mail to those who refused or did not have internet. I also paid for a version of skype which allowed me to call my elderly mother and father in law.
    We did not know when we left how long we were planning to be gone and did not tell family that little piece of the news.
    They all adjusted, parents, kids and etc. They enjoyed our trips vicariously(sp).
    Also they should know that in the case of emergencies they will be able to contaqct you via coast guards. Also that you will have money set aside for flights home if need be.
    Most people just need to know that you can be reached, and will come if needed.
    Fair Winds

  • ​Mike and I are still one to two years out, but we have already been laying the ground work for our family. The purchase of our first sailboat, a 16 footer, brought mixed reaction from our family. Most, however, recognized that we have always loved adventure. Over the last couple of years we have upgraded to a 19 footer and last summer we spent 30 nights on the water. As we share our stories with family and friends, they are starting to understand the allure of the sea. They realize that now that the kids are all on their own, we have a great opportunity to take advantage of our new-found freedom. Some are even to the point of asking, “When’s the house going up for sale.” Our kids offer the least resistance – now. A few years ago they weren’t too sure if we were sane or not, but now, as they settle into their own lives, they see that we are not making a rash decision, but are thoughtfully planning for the day when we can throw off the lines. We think they have figured out that we wouldn’t completely abandon them. And besides, it makes it very appealing to come visit Mom and Dad when that means some time on the water for them.

    ​So, I guess our advice is to include family and friends from the beginning. Let them know what you are thinking. Share stories about the fun you are having sailing. Start talking right away – don’t just drop the idea on them at the last minute. Include them in your plans and preparations. Share potential destinations. Take them sailing with you. Let them know you will have the ability to return home if there is a need. Let them know they can come visit (if they can find you). We have started a blog that details our current adventures along with our plans and preparations for cruising. You are welcome to follow our journey at:

  • Galaxy

    This is one of the many things that we have been thinking about lately. We are now in our the “planning our escape” stage. We have 5 kids and we plan to purchase our boat once the house sells. We havn’t told anyone yet that we are leaving. We figure we will wait until things are more concrete. I’m sure a few will be shocked and freaked out.

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