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
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.
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!
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.