Cruising with Kids, Lessons Learned, Relationships & Roles Aboard

Confessions of a Bad Boat Wife


A year ago, I went to a girl’s night out with some women at a local marina. Over dinner and a glass of wine, one of the gals confessed, “I really wanted to be a good boat wife this summer when I wasn’t in school. You know, like pack his lunch and make him coffee. All the things he does for me during the school year. But I just can’t get it together!”

We had a good laugh, but I knew deep inside how she felt. Even though I was relatively new to the boating world, I already had a picture in my mind of what a perfect boat wife is.

The perfect boat wife
  • The perfect boat wife is a strong sailor, a first mate who can support the captain or even be the captain.
  • She can roll up her sleeves and help with the engine or service the winches.
  • She takes care of the kids, births them on the boat, potty trains them by 18 months, does all the laundry by hand, and cooks yummy food while the boat heels.
  • She bakes bread, makes Playdough, and homeschools, all while helping the captain with navigation.
  • And she radiates positive energy while doing all this.


The truth is, I’m of no use with the diesel engine, my seamanship and navigation skills needs improvement, I don’t cook enough or do meal planning, and the pressure cooker intimidates me.

I have been known to talk back to the captain. I’m also prone to the grumps, and I’m not particularly tough.

Many times, I’ve had to abandon cooking a meal while my toddler’s whines escalates into ear-shattering screams. On a good day I can squeeze in a load of laundry or wash a sinkful of the dishes. My days sailing are spent getting snacks, reading stories, pottying the kids, and refilling drinks. I’m a flight attendant to two demanding first class passengers! By the time evening comes I’m dismayed at how little I get done, and yet I feel so tired!

(Lest you decry, “Pink and blue!”—before cruising, I was the primary breadwinner and my husband was the stay-at-home dad and homemaker.)

Parenting: The kids “potty” their dolls overboard while sailing
…or tuck them into their “carriers”/tethers.
No, I am no model boat wife.

But how many of us can truly do it all? Isn’t it the same Superwoman complex carried over from our go-go days?

It became clear to me that no matter where we are in life, we as women seem to be haunted by the “perfect” (fill in the blank). For the stay at home mom, it’s the homebirthing, homesteading, book writing, crafty mama of six. For working moms, it’s the successful executive who manages to juggle three kids, a successful career and finds the time to go telemark skiiing. No matter who we are, there’s always someone out there, real or imagined, who seems to have it more together than us.

One wise woman observed that all this comparison simply distracts us from our own work, our own journey.

Cruising has taught me about letting go.

Letting go of the unnecessary. The things that hold me back.

And it was only when I let go of the perfect boat wife that I was able to enjoy cruising more. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way:

Prioritize. Someone once said that cruising life is 9x less efficient: 3x because of the kids and 3x because of the boat. You learn to do what’s important and let go of the rest. We cruise to be close to our children. While they are tiny, we decided to accommodate them as much as possible. It means going painfully slow and waiting for the right wind and seas. It means finding crew if necessary. It means spending the time to comfort them if they are clingy.

Intra-Coastal Waterway Lock. Some days the kids need a bit more attention.

Decide when to step up. My partner and I decided ahead of time when the kids’ needs take second place for safety reasons. Usually it’s when we are entering and leaving a harbor and changing sails. I buckle them into their seats and let them know that it is quiet time.

Remember the big picture. I remind myself that in the past, I have been that ideal partner. Together, my partner and I have gutted and remodeled part of our house. I tiled and painted and helped with wiring. The time will come when I can help more. This season with tiny children is short.

I focus on what I can do. I try to give the kids a secure base of support. I can sew canvas and paint. I can be a sounding board for my spouse. I can mine our network for information and resources. And I am the safety officer to the captain when he gets carried away.

Cutting slack. I try to cut the captain some slack when he’s tired and cranky from planning, navigating, cooking, schlepping fresh water, driving the dinghy, etc.

Cruising isn’t about attempting to do it all or bringing the super woman mindset on board. It’s the paring down to the essentials, about doing your best, and growing into your potential.

Outer Banks, NC. Happy days on the water.

Four months into cruising, things have gradually improved. I’m able to orchestrate a daily rhythm for the kids, plan a menu, make snacks, and cook lunch. Some days I’m even organized enough to toss out a surprise treat or activity right as we are about to anchor.

I think to myself, someday I might have a shot at this “good boat wife” gig.


About Serena Li

My husband and I, along with our two young children, shortened our “five-to-ten year cruising plan” to one and a half years.

We left Boston in June 2012 and began cruising down the east coast of the U.S. aboard WILDEST DREAM, a Contest 32CS ketch.

We are headed for the turquoise waters of the Bahamas. Come aboard and follow our family cruising adventures at

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