Guest Post – written by my wife – ‘A’

We often receive emails from people with specific questions about living on a boat with a baby. So we thought it about time we do a post to answer some of those questions and give you a bit more details about how to live on a boat with a baby.

Living on a boat with a baby really isn’t all that difficult. It’s really just a matter of what you’re used to. Accommodating the baby’s needs and finding workable solutions to ensure their health and safety is the priority. I think that often we make things more difficult by overthinking the situation. Looking after babies shouldn’t be overly complex. Our experiences taught us that it is doable and just as rewarding caring for a baby onboard as it is on land.

Here is a bit of a background. Our son (aka The Boy), now 4 years old, was only 9 months old when we moved aboard our Alberg 30′ sailboat. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect at the beginning. Sure we read lots of books and articles about families cruising with young children, but nothing really compares to actually experiencing it yourself. We found a lot of our answers through simply trying it out.

17 months ago, when we brought our daughter (The Girl) home to live on our 40′ cruiser, she was just 2 days old. We were much more comfortable with the idea then and I don’t think we really had any nervousness about how it would work out.

Below is some information that will hopefully answer questions for a lot of you out there who are contemplating doing the same thing. I will try to give scenarios to discuss our situation in the smaller 30′ sailboat vs. the larger 40′ cruiser. Our new boat improves our situation in some areas of child care… as you will discover.

Pregnancy

Experiencing pregnancy on the 30′ sailboat had it’s challenges – I’m sure that goes without saying. When I was pregnant with The Boy, we were still living in a house in the city. We would take the boat out for a sail now and then. Eventually ‘T’ would have to go on these little trips by himself. You see morning sickness and sea sickness seem pretty closely connected. Suffice it to say we had to have a pail handy and those sea bands really didn’t help me. As time went on, the issue was not morning sickness, but just the general tossing and turning of the boat in the waves while sailing. It was just uncomfortable to be a passenger.

Later when we discovered we were expecting The Girl (well we didn’t know it was a girl at the time, LOL!), we were living on the 30′ sailboat. At first it really wasn’t any different than living in a “dirt dweller’s” home. The boat was stable enough while at the dock so it didn’t have any effect on the morning sickness. As time wore on, however, it did become more difficult climbing in and out of the boat, down the companionway and of course up into the v-berth. Eventually I slept on the settee to avoid having to climb up into the v-berth.

During the last month of my pregnancy, we moved onto the boat we are on now – the 40′ River Queen cruiser. The only issue I noticed on this boat was that once we put the frame and plastic up for the winter, it was difficult for me to squeeze that belly down the side of the boat to the doorway to get inside!

The Boy Napping in V-Berth

The Boy Napping in V-Berth

Labour on this boat was probably no different than in any other home. We timed the contractions and then left for the hospital at the appropriate time, leaving my mother to care for The Boy. 2 days later, we brought The Girl home to live on a boat!

Sleeping Arrangements

When we were living on the sailboat, since The Boy was still very young (9 months old), we had him sleep in the v-berth with us. ‘T’ made up a lee cloth of sorts that clipped on 4 corners and attached at the v-berth opening. This way we didn’t need to worry about him falling out. It served a dual purpose as well. A play pen. It was a great place to put him for playing if we needed some hands free time or didn’t want him to get into something we were working on – like receipts for doing our taxes, LOL!

Lee-Cloth Settee Bed

Lee-Cloth Settee Bed

As The Boy got older, he kicked us in his sleep a lot, plus he was growing! So, it became time to make him his own bed. ‘T’ fashioned a high lee cloth to attach to one of the settees. He attached it along the underside of the settee, screwed into a piece of wood. When taken out, it clipped on to 3 sides to create a safe little haven for him to sleep in. For practicality reasons, we used this bed for him at night time. During his daytime naps, he still used the v-berth.

Later, we moved to a larger boat when we discovered we were expecting The Girl. At first The Boy, not quite 3 at the time, slept on a fold out couch in the bedroom which pulled out into a single bed. We would stick a pillow beside him so he wouldn’t roll out and soon discovered that this was no longer necessary. When The Girl came, she slept in a floor bassinette for several months. This worked well until she could climb out of it. Then it was time for something new.

‘T’ bought a set of bunk beds from Ikea. Due to space limitations on our boat, he had to not only shorten the length, but the width as well. He built them in to the space we had set aside after removing the pull out couch. The Boy sleeps on the top bunk and The Girl sleeps on the bottom bunk. We have netting that clips all the way around on two sides. (The other two sides are against a wall.) This is where she sleeps for naps and at nighttime as well. We are fortunate that The Boy sleeps through anything as she was not a great sleeper from the beginning.

Feeding

Booster Chair for Feeding

Booster Chair for Feeding

When we were on the 30′ sailboat, it wasn’t always convenient to set up the table for meals. Our table top was stored above the v-berth. It had a pipe that screwed in to support the table top, underneath one of the settees. When set up it didn’t afford a lot of room for moving around, so we mostly didn’t bother with it. Instead, ‘T’ and I would usually eat from a plate on our laps or along the counter space.

For The Boy, we used a portable booster seat/feeding chair with tray. We would set it up on the settee and he would be strapped in and fed his meals in that. When not in use, we would store it under the v-berth.

On the 40′ cruiser, we actually have a kitchen table where we eat at. For The Boy, he now sits on a small wooden toy box from Ikea that doubles as his chair at the table. The Girl sits on her brother’s old feeding chair with tray. It is attached to a chair and pulled up to the table. We just leave it attached when not in use.

Play Area

Playing on Deck

Playing on Deck

As mentioned above, The Boy would sometimes play up in the v-berth when we lived on the 30′ sailboat. As well, when we had the frame and plastic cover on the boat during the winter months, the outside area of the boat made for a great play area. Especially the cockpit area. We set up a nice carpet on the floor in the cockpit and put his toys out there. He had a great time in that cockpit. It was also large enough that he could ride his little 4 wheeled ‘bus.’ He would also roam around on other areas of the boat. Up at the bow was where we kept his tricycle. There was a small space there for him to play with that.

During the summer season, when there was no frame on, play areas on the boat were much more limited. He would be more or less confined to either the inside of the boat or the cockpit. We let him play in the cockpit, supervised in the summer. We didn’t have a canopy to cover the cockpit from sunshine so we’d set up a blanket instead and also a little wading pool. Lots of fun. Of course, we often would go out biking and walks to nearby playgrounds and parks as well.

Inside the boat, we stored his toys in a plastic bin with lid under the v-berth as well as one of the drawers under a settee was reserved for his toys. His books and clothing were stored along with our clothing on shelves in the v-berth. Toys are something that we still battle with. Every once in awhile we have to go through and fill a bag for donation!

Alberg Cockpit Winter Play Area

Alberg Cockpit Winter Play Area

There is a lot more play space on our current boat. The kids can play anywhere inside the boat. As discussed in the section on Feeding above, toys are stored in a toy box which doubles as The Boy’s ‘chair’ at the kitchen table. As well, there are stuffed animals hanging pocket contraption in the back bedroom. More toys are also stored outside in a plastic bin with lid.

During the winter, the kids have a huge play area out on the back deck. There is a door from the bedroom leading out onto it. We’ve lined the floor with those colourful puzzle playmats. Most of their toys are out there and they go out there at will to play. The Boy also climbs the ladder to the top deck so he can play by himself sometimes – having a younger sister who pulls hair isn’t always fun to play with! In the summer this area is not available for playing on unless they are supervised and have life jackets on. (Note: see our article on safety aboard with children to learn about the ‘turtle’ watch that we use as well.)

Baby Bath Tub

Baby Bath Tub

Bathing

Bathing a baby on the smaller sailboat was a little more challenging than our current situation. It was something we just got used to however, so it really wasn’t much of an issue. We had a simple white plastic baby bathtub. Since there was no shower aboard, in the winter we hauled warm water to bathe him in it. We simply laid out towels and set it up on the settee and gave him his bath there. Other times either one of us would carry the baby bathtub with us to the marina showers and set it up in the shower stall. Sometimes it seemed easier to do this. I would have my shower while the baby was in the bathtub right beside me.

In the summertime, we would either do the same as above or even put the baby bathtub in the cockpit and bathe him in there. We didn’t have warm water though, so we’d boil some hot water on the stove to add to his bath water or haul it from the marina.

On the larger boat, we still use the baby bathtub. We have the luxury of having a shower stall now! The baby bathtub actually fits on the floor of the shower stall. During the winter, we would either haul warm water for their baths, or bring them up to the marina showers as we used to do. In the summer, we have hot water right from the pressurized taps (another luxury!), so they bathe on board in the tub set in the shower stall.

Learning to Walk

The Boy was a late walker. He didn’t really start walking fully until about 13-14 months. There wasn’t really a lot of room for walking on the sailboat so we’d take him out and get him practice on the main docks. He was crawling early on and since we were in the boat, he climbed a lot too – up onto the settee, then up onto the ice box, up the ladder, etc.

The Boy on the Upper Deck

The Boy on the Upper Deck

The Girl started learning to walk around 10 months. We were on the larger boat plus she had the advantage of having an elder brother to emulate!

We have thought about it and don’t think that living on the smaller boat had a lot to do with limiting when The Boy began to walk. He really wasn’t stuck at home a lot – we were always out and about so there was plenty of opportunity to do it when he was ready.

Toilet Training

When we were on the 30′ sailboat, we had a little portable potty that we used for The Boy. We would store it underneath the v-berth and pull it out whenever it was needed. We also had a little child-sized toilet seat that would fit on top of the regular toilet. We found that this wasn’t convenient however, as the toilet was raised up so high that his feet couldn’t reach the floor, even with a stool. So we stuck with the potty instead.

He was only partially trained when we were on the smaller boat. It wasn’t until he was a little older and on the larger boat that he learned to be fully trained. We tried the potty as well as the child-sized toilet seat. We ended up having more success with the toilet seat at that stage in the game. With The Girl, we haven’t begun to toilet train her yet. I imagine we will try both methods with her as well to see which one she works best with.

Toilet training on the boat really isn’t much different from in a “dirt dweller’s” house. It’s just a matter of the childs’ preferences and readiness as to which method works best.

Sailing / Cruising

When sailing out on the 30′ sailboat with The Boy, we used to put him in the baby car seat. We attached it to the cockpit and fastened him in. This way we could be hands free for handling the boat and he was safe and out of the way. As he got older, we allowed him to be out of the seat, but with a tether on his life jacket so he couldn’t stray out of the cockpit.

We have friends here who had their daughter attached to the cockpit in a similar fashion. C&V had a jogging stroller with no wheels bolted down to their cockpit. Their daughter would be strapped in there to keep her safe. While at dock, J&E sometimes had their baby daughter in a baby swing attached to the boom. What a great view!

Up & Down the Dock

When we are at our winter slip, we are very close to the main dock. It is just a short few steps to climb the ramp and be up on the mainland. The Boy wears his life jacket all the time he is out there. When he was younger he would also hold our hand. The Girl does this now, but when she was just a baby, we would simply carry her back and forth. Sometimes in our arms and sometimes in her carseat.

I think that covers the major topics of raising a baby on a boat. If anyone has anything else they’d like us to discuss, please let us know in the comments. I will finish with a list of things that I think are necessities for living on a boat with a baby. (The obvious are not mentioned.) You will notice that there really isn’t much here. Plus some are things that you would need if you lived in a dirt-dweller’s house.

Baby on Board Necessities

  • baby bath tub – Pick the simplest, plainest, and cheapest one there is because if you’re like us and store it out on deck the sun will make cracks in it and you’ll end up replacing it anyway!
  • portable feeding chair – When the child is old enough to be fed real food, having one of these is indispensable. Ours is collapsible and thus stores very small for when it isn’t in use.
  • life jacket and tether – for cruising and at dock
  • safety netting – Install this all around your boat. It’s a project we did on the sailboat and plan to do it on this new boat as well.
  • ‘turtle’ watch – Alarm goes off when it gets wet. Have your child wear it when outdoors.
  • baby gates.

"Baby on Board a Boat" by was published on April 27th, 2009 and is listed in Alberg 30, Baby On Board, Boat Life, Pictures.

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Comments on "Baby on Board a Boat": 19 Comments

  1. Auntie H wrote,

    Very well, written,A. I enjoyed your info very much.

  2. Kim wrote,

    I really enoyed reading your article, especially since my husband and I are planning to move onto a boat. After reading your blog, I realized if you can do it with two little ones, terribly sure my husand and I (I’m 44 and he is 45) can do it with our four cats. We have really been motivated lately with the need for a simplier life. Motivated financially and for some peace of mind. We are tired of paying the system so that we can pay the system some more. Although I am excited about living greenier and simplier I am still a little nervous about the whole boat thing. I’ve thought that no matter how hard I think it will be in the beginning, it will really be ten times harder. But I do feel like it will get better – I’m staying optimistic anyway. Any tips or suggestions you can give us would be great. We are moving onto a 34 foot boat in Washington NC.

  3. Ruth BourquinT wrote,

    Well written, comprehensive, good read. You make it sound so simple.Ruth

  4. danielle wrote,

    Thanks so much for the pointers. While we won’t be living on board with the new bambino, your advice was very useful for cruising. Thanks a million!

  5. Forever Fashion wrote,

    It seems so easy from your post. But I believe it’s a matter of attitude. If you find problems in your usual life by land their number will twice on board. At the same time if you used to solve the problems on land you are going to solve them on boat.
    Anyway I’m glad to see new posts here. It’s always interesting to read the blog of optimistic persons :)

  6. Boat Slips wrote,

    I can’t even imagine the challenges you must face when raising your son on your sailboat. I definitely tip my hat to you. And it’s inspiring to me!

  7. essay sample wrote,

    “Living on a boat with a baby really isn’t all that difficult. It’s really just a matter of what you’re used to.”

    Lucky for your kids to have a very interesting and adventure-filled life. Yes you’re right. No matter how difficult a certain situation is, it’s still a matter of getting used to it and knowing how to find fun from it.

  8. JC McDowell wrote,

    We found that by the time Emma James was walking, she was much more independent and mobile on the boat. This really helped us out a lot during sail days as Emma James and Mom could spend time below and the little one could play out of harms way while Mom could make lunch or attend to some other tasks below.

    We’re having another baby!

    Following in familiar footsteps, we sold our monohull and purchased a 34′ Gemini Catamaran (in Mexico) for a lot more play room and a little more stability for Mom. Our CSY 33′ only had one berth and the second child forced us to find a new boat that had room to grow with the family.

    We love living on a boat. I head inland to work, but coming back to the boat and the simplicity and solitude it can offer make all the little inconveniences worth while.

    Good tip on the ‘turtle watch’.

    Best Regards,

    JC and the family unit.

  9. Louise wrote,

    Hi,

    I am the Cruisin’ the ‘net columnist for Living Aboard Magazine. I will be featuring your writings here in the next column as one of the links – what a great read!

    The column has been running for nearly 13 years.

    Thanks,
    Louise

  10. Jason S. wrote,

    I have never heard of the “turtle watch” this is something that I need to get for my cousin and his kid since he is always out on boats. :)
    Jason

  11. Dena: Single Use Containers wrote,

    You’re adventure is mind-boggling to me. It’s all I can do to keep track of my one son on land, let alone the logistical challenges that you face everyday.

    With that said, I envy the freedom you must have and recognized that it must be a labor of love.

  12. Jeni wrote,

    Hi. My family is currently (for past 3 months) living on a 34ft sailboat. It is my husband and I , a 16month old and 2 cats. I read your blog often and thank you for easing my anxiety over having our baby on the boat. We will be living aboard for 2 yrs for sure and maybe more! We’ll see. My main question is when the warmer weather arrives and we will be out sailing and cruising, we would like to have my son strapped into a seat. You mentioned you used a car seat. How did you fasten it? Also where do you find is the best place to put it. We are thinking of having it bolted to a seat area in the cockpit. Did you have yours bolted in?If not, how did you secure it and did it work well? Thank you so much for your time! Your kids are adorable and look like they have a blast living aboard! Jeni

  13. Alice wrote,

    Wow – a boat in the Canadian winter! We are hoping to embark on a life on water here in England with our family and I am enjoying nosing around your blog for tips and info :-)

  14. Kathryn wrote,

    great article! I was raised on a sailboat for the first five years of my life. It was a wonderful experience and till this day I don’t have an attachment to material “things!” My husband and I have a three month old son and we are seriously considering moving onto a boat in a few months. I want him to have the same amazing childhood that I had! Thanks for the article!

  15. Dan wrote,

    Hey there, great blog! It's been a good source of information for us as we were preparing to move aboard with our young daughter. Currently we're fighting the winter condensation, is this a problem you guys have faced much?
    Looking forward to reading more posts,
    Dan and the family.

  16. strathy wrote,

    Hey Dan,

    Congrats on the new move aboard!  

    @Condensation  Not sure where you are, but condensation is a bit of a given, especially in the winter.  There are a couple of ways to deal with it.  

    1.  Ventilation.  Make sure there is a good exchange of air from the inside (where you are cooking, breathing and generally producing moisture) to the outside.  The outside air, especially in the winter should be quite dry and we find that it will dry out the inside as well.

    2.  Insulation.  If you can provide some sort of insulation, there will will less temperature difference on the various surfaces and less condensation form.  On our current boat, some of the walls are insulated – those ones have no condensation at all.

    3.  A dehumidifier.  Some live aboards I know use a dehumidifier to scrub moisture from the air.  It will run pretty much continuously, but it will reduce the moisture in the air which means less to condense on your cold surfaces.

    Hope that helps!

    Strathy

  17. Mike wrote,

    I love your blog and the way you live! It's interesting! You have a beautiful family and the pics are great!

  18. Bethany wrote,

    I love this blog!  We live aboard part-time (summer only) with a 3 year old.  It is such a fun lifestyle with a little one! 

  19. Mike wrote,

    We live on board in the Caribbean 6 months a year and see many other boaters raising young families in the sailing community. I think it's a great way to bring up a young child away from the electronic distractions of our modern life!

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