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Written by David Jones on July 27, 2015
Boating is one of my top favorite hobbies. The sun and surf are always gorgeous, and the time I spend with friends and family on the water is priceless. When my kids grew old enough to join us on the lake, I expected them to inherit a similar passion for watery fun — but to my surprise, one was utterly uninterested while the other was terrified of the loud motor, chopping waves, and distant shoreline. However, with a smart strategy (and ample patience) I was able to turn their frowns upside down. Here are five ways I got my kids to fall in love with boating.
1. Teach Them About Boating Safety
My first task was to eliminate any fears the kids had regarding the water and the vessel. Learning boat safety is a crucial step for any future boater, regardless of his or her age, and knowing standard procedure usually helps reduce the worries associated with the activity. Fortunately, little ones love lessons — as long as you make them fun. I came up with educational games to teach my kids the basics of boating, for example:
Fast facts. Kids love going fast, so challenging them to learn information and recite it in a limited time is a sure-fire way to get them to memorize important facts.
Jeopardy. You can teach your kids boat rules, like “Never run on deck,” then quiz them game show-style.
Scavenger hunt. Have the kids search the boat for the necessary safety equipment that must be on board. This teaches them what to pack and where the items are stored in case of emergency.
2. Give Them Boating Responsibilities
Even though my kids drag their feet on their daily chores, they absolutely love when I give them responsibilities that are outside the norm. A successful boat trip requires dozens of necessary tasks, many of which a child could easily contribute to or complete alone, like:
- Keep watch for buoys and other boats.
- Monitor the gauges and radar for changes in depth or wind direction.
- Chart a course for the day or weekend.
- Make sure others are following boat rules.
You should increase the responsibilities as your kids age; after all, a task for a 4-year-old will no longer be interesting or engaging for a 14-year-old.
3. Get Them Boat-Related Toys
When my older kid first saw the movie “Cars” and received some of the related merchandise for his birthday, there was little else on his mind than becoming a race car driver. Toys further a child’s interaction with a particular item, and they usually increase curiosity, too. I bought my little ones all sorts of boat- and water-related toys to deepen their interest in the hobby. The Internet is rich with boat-related crafts that might also get kids excited about a looming trip. I also played boating-friendly movies — like “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Spongebob Squarepants” — more times than I care to mention.
4. Show Them Boating Thrills
Boats are fun — that’s the whole reason I became interested in the hobby in the first place. However, kids don’t know how fun boats can be until you show them. My kids’ favorite thrills come from towing; they love riding in the inner tube, and the older one has just started experimenting with skis. However, you could also bring rods and reels and go fishing, or you can find something else to do that is dependent on the boat.
If your current vessel doesn’t have enough storage space for any excess gear, I strongly suggest you donate your old boat and upgrade to a worthier boat. Having activities to engage your kids is essential to maintaining their interest in the hobby, and very few boating activities don’t have special equipment you’ll need to store on board.
5. Invite Their Friends
Though my kids had already started looking forward to boat trips, I had one final trick up my sleeves: inviting friends. With their peers around, kids strive to look confident and capable on the boat in order to show off their excellent skill. Plus, friends help mitigate any lingering fears. A boat trip is an exciting break from the norm, and kids of families who lack boats (or other RVs) always eagerly accept invitations to climb aboard.