Growing up afloat: how and why you should consider raising your kid on a boat

August 15 | Guest post by Korum Bischoff
Are there fellow Offbeat Mamas raising children on a boat? My husband and I are expecting our first child in January and have no plans to move off our boat any time soon. Of course we are being bombarded with people's opinions/concerns of having a baby on board. I am just looking for any advice other boaters can share about their experience. — Jamie
Korum (top), his brother Jherek (lower left) and a new friend they made playing in the cockpit with the day's catch from the anchorage at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.
Ahoy Jaime,

First off, congratulations on your pregnancy and the upcoming birth of your little deckhand!

While I'm not raising my children on a boat (my wife gets violently seasick), I lived aboard a 37-foot sailboat from the ages of 9-23 with my parents and younger brother (who was five when we moved aboard). Unless we were travelling, we kept our boat in a marina instead of anchored in the harbor so that we had access to power, water, and bathroom facilities.

Speaking from our family's experience only, growing up afloat was an amazing experience, and probably one of the top three decisions my parents made that created the person I am today. I lived at home into my early 20s and even spent three years after high school travelling the world in our floating home, meeting many other liveaboard families of all types along the way.

In my opinion, the number one issue for liveaboard families is close proximity in which they live. Luckily, our family dealt with that well (despite the fact that by the time my brother and I moved out, there were three of us over 6'5" tall). The experience of living so closely resulted in a very close-knit family of four who still like being together 28 years later. We learned to deal with family problems quickly. We learned to pitch in. We learned how to be close. And we learned how to give space. I'll admit that now, when I take my family of four to the same boat for the weekend, I shake my head in amazement at the amount of space we had. But movements around the boat become almost subconsciously choreographed. My wife and kids and I can't move from one end of the cabin to the other without some serious traffic jams, but that was never an issue being aboard daily.

The boat I grew up on had separate berths for my brother and me which was important in later years. We each had about 18"x18" of floor and a door that could be closed for "privacy." My door was rarely closed, but it was there when I needed it and, like any teenager, I needed it from time-to-time.

Korum stealing some private time in his berth somewhere off the coast of Oregon en route to Bainbridge Island, WA from his former home town, Sacramento.
While the close living-quarters was a good thing for our family, we saw other families struggle with it. Of course, you know yourself and your partner better than anyone else and since you're already living aboard, trust your gut on space.

Logistically, staying in a marina made life much easier than rowing to-and-from shore for services, school, work, etc. I think this would be an important issue to consider, especially with a newborn/baby/toddler. Dirty diapers stack up quickly. Power for heat/refrigeration might make a difference in daily routines. Quick access to a car might be something to consider. I've met many families who made living "on the hook" with tiny kids work just fine—but their lives became about that very thing in many ways because it takes such commitment. At the time I was on the boat, cell phones were very uncommon, so having a phone hook-up was a benefit of living in a marina, especially in the teen years. Either way, life jackets become a constant part of life on a boat… I'm surprised mine wasn't permanently fused to my skin!

What I lost in a front yard I gained in a boat and the sea. The harbor was our playground. Rowing, swimming, fishing, crabbing and sailing were our outside activities. There were epic pirate battles, rowing races, and unbelievable vacations where our home came along for the ride! And everyday we had a 360 degree waterfront view!

What better way to try to get a baby to sleep (and stay asleep) than with the gentle rocking of the boat, with the sound of water lapping on the side of the hull, and the melodic clinking of rigging against the masts in the harbor when a breeze comes up? I've spent good money on machines to soothe my kids for a better night of sleep!

Korum and his girlfriend (now wife!) getting ready for the homecoming dance. School dance photos become more unique when you're floating.
All this aside, there are inconveniences that go along with living aboard a boat (as you know) that would take extra effort with kids. Our set-up was that we didn't use the on-board toilet or shower, which meant rising extra early to walk up to the marina showers to bathe, etc. Laundering the multiple outfits a child needs each day will mean more trips to the Laundromat. If you don't have refrigeration, keeping milk/breast milk/food could be challenging. But if you're already living aboard, you're already experiencing these and other inconveniences. They won't go away, and there won't really be anything added. It will just be a LOT MORE of what you already deal with.

When it comes right down to it, I can't think of one reason why one shouldn't raise a kid aboard a boat, but I can think of hundreds of reasons why they should. Just be sure to sign that kid up for swimming lessons as soon as possible. She/he will fall in… more than once.

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  1. I'm really happy to see this post. We too live aboard, with a baby. Our home isn't motorized though, but we do live on the water and are stationed at a dock. It's tight quarters, which sometimes is cozy and sometimes is maddening…usually we love this streamlined living though. Thanks for sharing this!

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  2. Ah! That is so exciting! My husband and I dream of the sea. We really want to get a boat and sail the world with out daughter! Our first step is getting out life straight by paying off debts and finishing our educations! Im so excited!!!

  3. To the reader whose question the author addressed, this blog might be of interest:

    http://zachaboard.blogspot.com/

    This mama documents her life with two children living on a house boat. It not only looks doable and fun but inspirational in the opportunities for learning and adventure that is offers her two young ones.

    Happy reading!

    S.

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    • I love this blog! She also has several links to other blogs about families living aboard a boat.

  4. I grew up on a 45 foot yacht. There was 5 of us and a cat. It was the best childhood EVER for many of the same reasons Korum states above.

    We moved on board when I was 2, cruised internationally untill I was about 7 & then did the marina thing for a few years, then went to a new town & did the mooring in the river & in & out of dinghys thing for a few years. All up about 12 years liveabord in 2 long stints.

    When I was little, mum used to take the gangway steps out – so I couldnt get out on deck at all & she could relax knowing I was 100% safe. Then, I had a special harness until I was about 5 or 6 and could swim well that was always clipped onto a railing (or lashed to a mast) if I was on deck.

    We were lucky in that we had a head & hot shower on board. Dad said it was the best thing he ever did – the kerocene hot water heater. Mum always said it was the twin tub washing machine that ran off our main engine.

    I'm 8 months pregnant now, and my partner and I are looking at a yacht.. The lease runs out on our rental in March, so I could be on board with a baby in a few short months – and to be honest, I'm thrilled about it!

  5. So awesome! I'm such a boat-o-phile, I love to hear stories like this.

    Side note – I am super psyched to see your brother Jherek on tour this September! What a fantastically unique family y'all come from.

    • That's exactly what I was going to mention! When you grow up on a boat, you apparently become a kick-ass musician. I've never heard Korum play, but I saw his brother Jherek on tour with Amanda Palmer on September 10th. He even performed a song about one of his experiences on the boat during a storm!

      I also had a writing professor in college who grew up on a boat. Her parents still sail around the world, and she is a rather consistent traveler, although she no longer lives on the water.

  6. Oh man, I spent summers on a boat very similar to the one described, although we only stayed in a marina one night a week (it was only summers, though, so I'm sure that made a difference). Best time of my life. I desparately want to go back soon.

    One of the best things about life on a lake is the people you meet. I grew up being perfectly comfortable around strangers and making friends with people of all ages. There were always kids around, too, and even if they weren't always my age, we had so much in common being on the water that it didn't matter. I made friends with adults and seniors too, even when I was very young! I think that was the best part, learning to be social and comfortable with myself.

    I know a family who brought their baby on their boat with them, and they now live on the boat full time (although the baby is at least a year old now). They don't seem to have any issues, and I don't think I have ever seen kids (they have two young ones) so happy so consistently.

  7. Thanks for this! My son is 20 months old and I am stringently saving to buy us a houseboat, that I plan to keep at a permanent mooring in London. I want to give him a memorable, special childhood, and so I'm glad to read this account of what seems to have been just that. At times I get intimidated about the idea, so this has been a good reinforcement to hold onto the dream…

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  8. I am indeed raising my son on a boat! He just turned two and we've been living aboard a ketch in a marina in North Florida for the last seven months. We row about in a little dinghy for fun, as well as in a kayak one of our neighbors lets us borrow. His agility and balance are amazing (He hasn't fallen overboard yet!) as is his already developing sense of self responsibility. We fish daily, and he is a big help in bringing in the catch!
    Due our home being a sailboat, there isn't a ton of space, and he already packs up his own bunk when he wakes up.
    Within the next few years I anticipate moving my work aboard and mayhaps heaving off to the adventures that await. Even if we stay hooked up during the work(school)weeks, this life is amazing!

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