Top reasons cruising is great for families

three teens on the bow of a sailboat
Tight tribe: siblings on the bow off the Costa Rica coast

Over the years, we have run into many couples cruising as empty-nesters who expressed regret they didn’t go with their children. The reasons for waiting are individual, but tend to follow similar themes. Fears of missing out on the cultural rituals of an American childhood, perhaps wanting more savings to go, feeling intimidated by homeschooling, or just not sure they were up to the challenge. It’s not easy, but is anything worth having easy? Is raising children ever easy? In fact, taking children cruising offers them distinct benefits. These are our top reasons that cruising is great for families.

Cruising instills patience, confidence & independence in kids.

Boat kids generally have less structured time, and larger unscheduled periods to work with. They (or their parents) cannot turn to an always-on internet to backfill gaps. This compels cruising kids to be resourceful, and to make their own fun – an invaluable life skill. Instead of needing to be entertained, they rise to the occasion and spin that time into the creative, practical, or fun outlet of their choosing. Learning how to use time—or embrace not using it—can take a transition period. In the early days when our kids would say “I’m bored!” Jamie would respond with “Hello, Bored, how are you?” I’m great at coming up with chores lists for kids who announce they need something to do, too. They figured out that they’d work out what to do on their own.

five kids, tween to teen, prepare a foraged dinner on a deserted beach
Kid foraged dinner of crab, coconut, and who knows what else! Somewhere in the Indian Ocean

Confidence is borne from of internalizing ability. With the opportunity to make real contributions to our everyday life, in boat handling or watchkeeping or maintenance, boat kids see and appreciate what they are capable of achieving in a very real way. Self-esteem swells in a kid who recognizes their accomplishment in a job well done: peer group whisperings (real or imagined) that judge how well and crush that esteem help no one, and are largely absent in our world.

Father and daughters working on sailboat bottom paint
14 and 16 year old Mairen and Siobhan help mix and apply barrier coats to Totem; Mexico

Family bonds are strengthened through the gift of time.

Spending quality time as family was a major reason we chose to go cruising with kids. Our life before was hectic, over-scheduled, and had far too little “just because” togetherness. We’d spare our offspring middle school (who really likes those years, anyway?), trading it for sabbatical years afloat, and put time back in. That this time is largely shared experiences instead of spectating, shuttling or overseeing speaks to the quality and the opportunity to know our kids better.

Smiling girl driving dinghy while father looks on
All she wanted for her 6th birthday was dinghy driving lessons; years later, still in charge. Bahamas

Cruising has also fostered sibling bonds. Sure, they still bicker over who’s turn it really is to do the dishes or laundry – we’re normal! But years as playmates and companions have made them a tight tribe today, one that has each other’s backs no matter what. Normal life doesn’t naturally set up young siblings to be a team, a dynamic that would have gotten harder as our kids grew older and activities inevitably channeled them in different directions to special interest groups. Instead, we’ve got kids who share unprompted that they are each other’s best friends.

three giggling kids stuffed into boat lockers

Understanding the world beyond their picket fence is priceless.

We left an ideal home behind: a charming, secure community where our children could attend excellent public schools and a thoughtful populace supported greater goods. Was that crazy to give up? Not at all. Seeing the world slowly has imbued in our children a global perspective they couldn’t have gained in a Mayberry childhood: to have views based on first-hand experience, instead of media they read or see, about the very real issues we face from social justice to climate change and more.

Young girl demonstrates a game to an enthralled crowd of boat visitors
Siobhan leads tablet games with Vezo friends; Barren Islanders, Madagascar

They’ve heard islanders in Papua New Guinea describe how their communities are sold out to foreign extraction companies for timber, mining, or fishing rights. They’ve swum on enough reefs to recognize a healthy coral reef ecosystem, as well as one that’s overfished or impacted by climate change and coral bleaching. They’ve gained an appreciation for how rich their options are in life, their control over their destiny, and how precious and uncommon this is in the world. It is a priceless education.

Woman teaching girl how to weave dried leaves into a mat
Dorcas teaches Mairen how to weave a pandanus mat: Budi Bui atoll, Papua New Guinea

Sailing away as a family can feel complicated and overwhelming, but if you can make the lifestyle choices to go cruising at all, you can make them to go cruising with children. With hindsight perspective from 11 years of cruising with our kids—across ages that spanned four to fledged—I say with confidence that going cruising as family is the best decision we ever made.

For many parents, the barrier to cruising as a family isn’t that they don’t embrace the rewards – it’s fear of the challenges… and that, friends, is another post! Do you have concerns that hold you back from making the leap with kids? Send them through, I’ll shape the piece based on input.

Top reasons to go cruising with your kids - girls climbing palm tree

28 Responses

  1. Wow!

    The big challenge of embracing the unknown was taken by you & Jamie. More than likely your kid’s kids will be following the path you took a chance on all those years ago. Cheers!

  2. Another bonus, seen by us in hindsight, is the very real example we set for our kids that the societal norm is most decidedly NOT the only way to go about life. We’re not just telling the kids, “Hey, you don’t have to do everything that everyone else does.” We’ve showed them. Helped them live it.

    1. Nica, this alone is a HUGE lesson every kid living a mainstream life should learn. Imagine the difference in our society if more people understood that not everyone does things one way, that there are plenty of different ways about doing things, and that one way is not necessarily for the better. Love this.

    2. This is a MASSIVE bonus and not to be underestimated! I’ve also thought of it as a great demonstration of how you can reinvent yourselves: something Jamie and I have had to do in order to keep cruising.

  3. Great post, Behan! We are so looking forward to our adventure. Your family, and many others, inspire the desire. Thank you for being such a great resource for info and knowledge.

  4. Behan, I agree with you 100%. I think that had we been able to make this choice earlier in the kids’ lives we’d be echoing your sentiments. We believe in being windshield drivers. After our twins pursue their dream of attending high school, they will take a gap year before college and sail away with us.

    Thank you for your inspiring posts.

    1. We can always find a reason to not do it now. Seldom can we find a reason to do it now. If you truly want to do it now then do it. High school is just another excuse not to do it now. Barry.

      1. True words! And thus many meticulously outfitted boats languish tied to a dock. Yet departing with teens (assumption here) is more difficult. It’s still possible? It’s not always the right set of tradeoffs.

    2. Hi Magan – when your kids’ dream is high school, and you can fulfill that, awesome! That they want to sail away with you for a gap year (and hey, it can be gap yearS if they want) sounds like an amazing way to share cruising as a family. You’ll have to clue me in on the windshield driver reference, though! whoosh over my head, maybe I haven’t been in cars enough for a while!

  5. Great post and as a land-based traveling family fully agree with those benefits! I love the idea of buying a boat and moving out travels from land to sea, but here are my main fears: 1- getting caught in rough conditions that go beyond my experience level (which is minimal) and thus putting my family in very real danger, 2- not knowing enough about how to maintain a boat, thus perhaps making poor decisions that could put my kids at risk of being in a bad situation, 3- sea sickness! That sea isn’t always a mirror. How will each of us react? 4- I see an extra layer of vulnerability at sea that I don’t feel on land 5- my kids are pre-teen, will they find friends as teens on the water? (Which is why we are considering a single land-based location for high school)

    Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Diana.
      I understand all of your concerns. And everyone has those concerns. It is only natural.
      So what is the next step?
      Don’t rush into it. You are not ready. Get more experience, and your thoughts and emotions will change. You will know when you are ready. Then you can go for it.
      Hope it happens for you.
      Best Regards

    2. Thank you for sharing that, Diana! These are real fears. They are also mitigation strategies for each. It’s great input for a follow-on article. I will say for #5 – having BTDT with teens, the older kids ARE out here, but it means more work for parents to find those boat and more flexibility to adapt your path to theirs.

  6. We cruised with our children for only one year but that time together defined our family. Our ‘children’, now middle-aged adults, reflect on our cruise together as one of the most positive and powerful events in their upbringing. I cannot help but attribute at least some of their success as adults to many of the skills they learned while sailing and meeting other people in distant ports.

    Great post, BG. My regards to the entire Totem crew.

    Fair winds and calm seas.

    1. I have loved meeting your adult kids and it deepens my appreciation of how that year impacted you as a family! Big love to the Rutea crew.

  7. Added to our personal list: watching their parents work hard as a team and make sacrifices to accomplish their pie-in-the-sky dreams; closely followed by acting as a family to deal with real challenges, learn from mistakes, and foster a growth mindset (with practical demonstrations about how to learn a completely new subject in real life. I’m looking at you, Perkins 4108!!).

  8. The horror! Your kids risk not developing the neural link with their smart phones that all their contemporaries possess. This guarantees that they will never become millionaire app developers or drone pilots for the Global Empire. They are doomed by a tendency to think for themselves which will continually create conflict with their corporate superiors in the workplace.

  9. Thanks so much for the post. I have read your book, Voyaging with Kids. We are really looking forward to cruising, home schooling the young ones and looking for educational experience opportunities outside the classroom. We are currently building our new floating home in Turkey and look forward to being on the water next June. Cant wait to meet up with you somewhere in the world….preferably Mexico!

  10. We are literally on the cusp of go or stay and our biggest issue is our nearly 11 year old girl (1 of 4) being very resistant. She’s moved a lot (in UK and abroad)and finally over the last year has some solid friends. She does want to miss out on a year or more with them. Any any advice welcome please 😊 Your updates and posts have definitely been inspiring us!

    1. that’s tough Nicole! Every situation is different and without knowing nuances, pretty hard to give advice. But recommend reading the chapter on teens in “voyaging with kids,” she’s not a teen yet but she’s expressing the same needs they do regarding friends. There are some suggestions in there; compromising helps; issue orders doesn’t. Happy to talk in more detail if you’d like!

  11. Awesome post (as usual). My wife and I are dead keen on heading out with our young family and are saving up at the moment.

    I would love to hear about how boat kids adapt back to “normal life” once they need to leave the nest. I worked luxury yachts for 6 years and after swallowing the anchor had to adjust again. Maybe you can have Niall (or other ex boat kids) share some of his experiences. How is getting into a routine and having to deal with traffic. Or just choosing a career direction to start on? How soon does he want his own boat to sail off on or is he too excited about shore life now to think of that. Is it difficult to relate to others who are not as worldly and aware, who haven’t gone past their own county borders or thought about bigger things.

    Thanks in advance and looking forward to your next post.

    PS also missing Jamie’s dry humour in sail maker says! Maybe some anchoring tips as an offshoot of your other article about remembering anchorage and the tricky ones that have taught you lessons you won’t forget .

    All the best.
    Benjamin and Belinda

    1. Hey guys, love the shoutout for Jamie’s Sailmaker Says posts! I miss them too and we SHOULD bring them back. Re: adapting to normal life, that’s a great question. The last chapter of “Voyaging With Kids” is comprised of essays from a dozen adults, FORMER cruising kids, reflecting on their experiences and how it’s impacted their live. I think you’d find it an excellent read! We do get a lot of questions about Niall. When he’s back with us for winter break, maybe he’ll humor me with an interview. But let’s just say that when I spoke to him a few days ago, his future plans still included voyaging under sail, on his own boat.

      1. Thank you for the reply and feedback Behan.
        Your book is definitely on the shopping list once we get closer and we will be future “students” of yours (if that is the term you use 🙂 ). It is when, not if, we go!
        Fair winds, a dry bunk, and a wet keel!

  12. This is such a wonderful post, Behan. You understand with gusto! There are a million ways to raise a family and you and Jamie have done such a brilliant, beautiful job of it. Thank you for your passion and empowering the rest of us, too! I love the photos too xx

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