Cruising with Kids

A mom looks back on the decision to go cruising as a family

Kids on the dock

It’s been over a year and a half since we pulled out of our home port of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and headed south.

Going cruising as a family, instead of waiting for our children to leave the nest, is one of the best choices my husband and I have ever made.

Sure, we have some challenges that the empty nest cruisers don’t have: they probably haven’t had lego bits bind up their macerator pump, or string cheese blocking the finely machined teeth on a winch. But these are minor, and only place-shifted from the similar parenting realities we’d face on land.

Whether taking your children cruising is a long term proposition or a sabbatical year, it is a great opportunity for them to experience so much of life that their peers can only learn about second hand.

FishermanThe comparatively outdoor existence of our lifestyle brings them in tune with the natural environment: tides, moon phases, animal migrations.

They have real responsibilities: not just the usual household chores, but meaningful ones that make a material difference in our lives and others. Our 10 year old can stand a day watch, and handle net control for a Mexico-wide SSB radio net. Whether looking for hazards or relaying health and welfare reports, he understands the gravity of these roles.

The children haven’t just been informed about ancient populations from books and museums, they’ve walked through middens and discovered artifacts from stone tools to arrowheads. Our son has been cataloging fish and is a virtual encyclopedia of all things fishy – an excellent snorkeling partner, as he can identify all the creatures for me!

How lucky our children are to have this opportunity
From the outside, we’re routinely reinforced by the cruising community around us: reflections from empty nest cruisers that they wish they’d gone sooner, with children, or how lucky our children are to have this opportunity.

I have to agree with them, and wish I’d had the same chance myself.

Our own experiences, cruising as parents, are enriched by our childrenIt is an unexpected delight how our own experiences, cruising as parents, are enriched by our children. I should have remembered from my days toting a baby in a sling what great ice breakers kids can be: children are inherently more approachable and present universal common ground.

The concerns that we hear expressed by people considering cruising as a family (or those who love them!) focus on safety and education. These are valid, but surmountable.

We find that many of the concerned views are generally expressed based upon assumptions that have little basis in the reality of cruising as a family.

It’s good to worry about education in advance: we all want the best for our children.

EducationThe reality is that you don’t have to be a trained teacher for your children to have an education far beyond what their peers will experience on land. Programs and approaches for homeschooling vary widely, and a fit can be found that meets the parent’s needs for handholding.

Safety for all of us is priority number one. We have strict rules about where the children can be on the boat, and when, and they are all old enough to understand them (our youngest was four at our departure). They all have PFDs and harnesses, and know how to use them. Our boat selection was based on safety overall and with children in particular: the center cockpit puts greater distance between them and the water.

The hardest part of going cruising for me, as a mother, was making the transition from working mom to cruising mom.

My days are so dramatically different now than they were a couple of years ago. I sometimes fantasize about having my pint size crew respond to my requests the way my old project teams did! I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though. All the little complications are far exceeded by the rewards we reap by cruising as a family unit.

About Behan Gifford

Jamie and Behan Gifford

Behan Gifford is cruising with her husband, Jamie, and their children Niall, Mairen and Siobhan.

Their travels began from Bainbridge Island in 2008 on their Stevens 47, Totem. They’re currently in Mexico, preparing to cross to the Pacific islands.

Follow their adventures at

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5 comments to A mom looks back on the decision to go cruising as a family

  • William Brent

    Behan, I almost want to jump into those photos!!! What you and Jamie are doing is an inspiration to many of us. Life is about experiences – your children will be shaped in wonderful ways from the ones you outline so beautifully. Good on ya!

  • Behan,
    So great to see this post on Facebook. I’m glad it’s going so well, and think of you often. Take care, and safe travels….

  • Donna Tope

    Behan, I see you and Christy in those photos!! What a terrific adventure, how absolutely priceless, and you have taken us all along with your thoughtful comments and great photos. The worries for you and your family that most mothers (and grandmothers) would have were, for me, allayed when you took us onto your boat-how broad and settled she ‘nestled’ into the water, and how protective that broad ‘bosom’ felt when we were below deck-it felt like a comforting mother duck’s embrace. Well, anyway, I have a really great visual for all your descriptions of you, Jamie and your great kids’ sailing experience.
    The Best!!!

  • Jana Chambers Jiwani

    What a wonderful and motivational article! I admire the choice you and Jaime have made and know that your childrens’ lives are all the more enriched for the life experiences they are living every day. I’d love to see more pics of actual LIFE on board. That’s so amazing!

  • Judy Fravel

    Your article made us proud. We love you all and are so proud of the crew on SV-Totem. Although you didn’t get to see the world on a boat you did see Asia and we as your parents know that this is your way to share your wanderlust and that of Jamie’s with your children.

    God speed to you all.

    Mum and Papa

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