A FAMILY AFFAIR

Open their eyes, open your minds and discover a love of family boating. Seasoned campaigner DAVID LOCKWOOD tells all...

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Let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s true: the family that plays together really does stay together. I repeat this hackneyed phrase not through laziness but first-hand experience. Take it from us, it’s entirely possible to have a rollicking time onboard with a couple of high-maintenance minnows. After all, we’ve been happily boating since our five-year-old daughter was two weeks old. Now there’s a troublesome 15-month-old toddler in the mix.

general-imageOf course, it helps that we have a cruiser with all the mod cons. This allows us to spend days and nights, even weeks onboard at a time. An Easter spent boating around, say, Sydney’s mighty Hawkesbury, is a family holiday to remember. You’ll come away closer than before, richer from the new and exciting experiences, and itching to cast the lines again.

The downsides are that you may find yourself sharing the same cabin, that the soft furnishings and finishes cop a hiding, that you go through oodles of freshwater, and that you’re constrained from doing all the truly adventurous things you did before.

But there is a new joy with the family aboard. By all means head offshore when the seas are calm, but cruise the inshore waterways more often. Be weatherwise, seek-out the protected anchorages by day and especially night. Never let your guard down. Keep your eyes on the tykes 24/7.

Ensure your small fry have proper fitting lifejackets, enrol them in swimming lessons ASAP, and run some man-overboard drills once they’re able to tread water and swim. When anchored, deploy watertoys and a mermaid line – a decent length of floating rope dotted with bright floats. Make a loop or attach a lifebuoy at the end.

Take your budding crew to the shore by day, swim and splash, build sandcastles, comb the beaches, stage a picnic in the shade of some she-oaks, take a trek. Treat them to the odd seaside fish-and-chips and holler the ice-cream boat when it rings its bell. Otherwise, catch your own fish. Kids have short attention spans so target the tiddlers.

Trapping crabs is a hoot – ditto pumping nippers ashore at low tide – and do teach your kids about the dangers of snapping claws, stingrays, oysters, jellyfish and sunburn. Set up camp in summer with a beach tent, portable cooler and lunch. In daylight savings, invite them to a beach barbecue dinner. Eat early, play late. After which come long zeds.
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We’ve cruised the coast with the young family aboard, surviving hours of passage-making to reach postcard places like Fraser Island, Jervis Bay, Port Stephens, Yamba and more. Yet the big adventure can be lost on young minds. Don’t burden yourself with unnecessary risk and look at the world through their wide, innocent eyes instead.

Go boating in your backyard. Every big-city waterway offers a sense of escapism around some bend, across the bay, upriver and upstream. Let your kids play Huck Finn or Hiawatha in the backwaters. Find your favourite boltholes and beaches and be cognisant of the eventual need for social interaction.

A popular boat-only accessible anchorage shared with like-minded family boaters is gold. Remember: happy kids make happy parents. Perhaps you’ll make friends and raft-up while the rug rats share toys? Pleasure boating is a social activity if you want it to be.

You don’t need a big boat to have a family affair afloat. Enrol the budding bosuns in a learn-to-sail program and watch their confidence grow. Buy a two-man kayak and paddle the flat water before grabbing a burger to go. Or do as my grandparents did and take the 12' tinnie and tykes on a calm lake.

We’d catch flathead, garfish, bream and crabs, walk the flats and collect a bucket of drift oysters, then zoom back down the channel while identifying the fish scooting away. Eventually, when deemed old enough, we accompanied our grandfather, father and uncle on offshore fishing trips. A cane washing basket full of beautiful snapper was the reward.general-image

These were the seeds from which a lifelong passion for family boating has sprouted, grown and now flourishes. It might seem corny, but we’re a close-knit family thanks to our boating experiences. We spend time at home playing with the sea shells, drift wood and curios. We look back at photos of the fish and crabs we’ve caught. We remember the sea eagles circling, wallabies bounding and dolphins cavorting. We wonder when our new-found boating friends will be back out there, too. Or we’ll make new ones.

We’ve just waiting for our next family fling. Sure beats hitting the strung-out holiday road, dealing with the rage and high-priced rentals. Look around and you’ll find opportunity abounds and the waterways are waiting to host your family boating outing.