Create Memorable Boating Adventures with Kids

pontoon fishing familyRemember when you were a kid? Running in the beach sand — collecting souvenir seashells — a salty breeze blowing through our hair as our boat races at full speed, bouncing on the waves — crab-picking marathons afterward, sharing family lore and lots of laughs — catching that really big fish (at least, it seems big at the time!)

These are all cherished reminders of simpler times with loved ones when we felt safe, secure, and happy. And now, it’s our turn!  Summer is the carefree season when we’re able to create long-lasting memories for our children and grandchildren. And if you think about it, these memories sometimes give us tenacity to get through some of the tougher times in our lives – to know that we can reach out to loved ones.

On the Chesapeake, we have so many unique opportunities to share our heritage and culture, while enjoying adventures with children who can learn new responsibilities and pleasures. In this vein, we’ve collected some simple suggestions to help with your planning, to ensure stress-free boating trips.

Before you go

  • If this is a first (or an introductory) trip for your child, it’s always good to have an informal conversation before you go – what your child can expect to do and see, some of the benefits and highlights to look forward to, and who they will be with. Paint a picture in their head, or better yet, sit and draw, color, or paint, allowing the child to ask questions and allow their imagination to run free. Simplify activities and expectations. By doing this, you may be able to learn of and quell hidden fears or anxieties beforehand, rather than at the dock – where your child may decide that he doesn’t want to board – at all.

boy and mother

  • Next, you can gently discuss “rules of the road.” Children should understand that they are to remain seated and calm while the captain is motoring or sailing to a destination, anchoring, or docking. This is a golden rule, and as we know, sometimes tempers may flare if there is a lot of confusion on the boat at that time.


First things first – PFDs

  • Personal Floatation Devices, or vests, are not “one size fits all.” Plan on bringing one well-fitting PFD per child (and additional ones for adults or pets). The National Marine Manufacturers Association (via recommends:

Buy a good life jacket or life vest with a collar that turns a child face up in the water. It must have strong waist and crotch straps, a handle on the collar, and preferably be a bright yellow or orange color for good visibility. Attach a plastic safety whistle to the life jacket and practice using it with the child.


  • Bring cover-up clothing to protect against the sun – a floppy hat, a change of dry clothes, comfortable and secure footwear, and it’s always a good idea to bring a few indispensable (and reusable) “zippable” bags for wet clothing or bathing suits.
  • If your child is much younger, you will already have at least one diaper bag packed – and probably a spare or two also. Remember that zippable bag that we mentioned earlier? This is another fine time that they are very handy to have on board!


  • Bug sprays, anti-itch creams, sunscreens and Aloe lotions, are subject to personal preferences, but we really like the Neutrogena 70+ sunscreen stick for faces, which goes on like deodorant so as not to get into little eyes. There’s also a Neutrogena “pure & free” SPF 60+ specifically for babies. Remember to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • Motion sickness medication (for example, Dramamine) is another consideration. Some captains (particularly those of the “grandfatherly” variety) may allow a queasy child to sit on their lap and “steer” the boat, setting their focus on the horizon. Ours did when we were very young and sometimes “green at the gills.” It was one of our fondest memories – we felt so important and loved.
  • Every boat should have a basic first aid kit on hand. Check with your captain to see if there is anything additional or specialized that you may wish to bring.
  • Natural Cleansing Wipes (we like and use Burt’s Bees’) are wonderful for sticky little fingers.



  • Most importantly, pack plenty of fresh water. You can never have too much, and the sun can take its toll. Stay hydrated and avoid headaches or muscle cramps!
  • A special thanks to Erin A., a Ferry Point mother of 4, who recommends blueberries and raisins. She explains that children love to eat these “one by one,” and her kids are very deliberate when singling them out before they pop them into their mouths.
  • We’ve also had great success with portioned and bite-sized fruit, vegetables, cheese, yogurt (cups, and tubes which can be frozen ahead of time), and of all things, pistachios (in the shell, for older children who do not have nut allergies). Also, children adore anything that is “dippable.” We learned early that there are many benefits to having a child who is distracted by tasks – don’t rush to do things for your kids. Busy hands make for happy kids. They’ll figure it out and revel in their personal sense of accomplishment!

Activities for Kids

  • Relax: Once you get to your anchorage, you can take time to unwind. Boating is meant to be enjoyable and interactive, appealing to the many senses – and children are curious by nature. They love to interact and explore. Feed their imaginations with romance of the sea, history, wildlife, and geography (or navigation), things that you enjoy, and you’ll have a lifelong fan. Be mindful that you are setting an example for your child and he or she will take cues from you. Don’t be stressed or lose your cool – it will create fears, doubts and confusion.
  • Water Fun: Caution must be exercised when swimming, tubing, or waterskiing in the Chesapeake. Anne Arundel County has set up a special page here for water condition alerts, especially after heavy rainfall. Additionally, you will want to consider what is age-appropriate for your youngster and his or her depth of experience. Of course, it’s mandatory that all children in the water (and on a boat) are supervised by a responsible adult at all times.
  • Fishing: The Chesapeake Bay watershed is known for its abundance of fish, including easier-to-catch white perch and sunfish. Our good friend and fish-whisperer, Shawn Kimbro of Chesapeake Light Tackle has written extensively about the bay’s bounty and his latest book, How to Catch Chesapeake Panfish, is due out in September – hooray! If you weren’t lucky enough to own a beginner’s Zebco rod, with a box full of pretty bobbers or lures when you were a child, now is the time to invest in one for your child. Fishing is a skill that can be enjoyed long into his or her golden years, and it’s such a thrill to bring in that fish – no matter what size. With a junior angler, you will want to be careful of sharp hooks and their tiny fingers. If your kids are initially squeamish, leave the icky worms and natural bait at home and instead, go with processed bait – ask for recommendations from the knowledgeable old-timer behind the counter at your local tackle shop. He’ll know exactly what you need and can also probably provide you with a DNR fishing license.
chesapeake blue crab

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab

  • Chicken Necking: a longstanding Chesapeake tradition, all you’ll need are a few inexpensive “sinkers,” a ball of medium-weight cotton twine, a tray of frozen chicken necks or backs, a long-handled net, a peach basket and lid (or a secure cooler), plus a DNR recreational crabbing license. Tie the lead weight to one end of the length of twine, notch your chicken neck or back and tie it tightly about one foot above the weight. Drop this line over the side of your boat (holding the ball of twine in your other hand) and allow it to spool down to hard ground. Extend the line another couple of yards and tie it to your boat rail securely, then cut the ball of twine away. Repeat this process until you’ve used all your weights and bait. From time to time, revisit each of your lines and nimbly give a gentle tug to see if there is resistance – a sly crab on the other end, trying to swim away with his chicken prize. If so, gently, inch-by-inch, pull your line up to see the critter and bring him within netting reach. Call for your trusted assistant to swoop in and catch the crab unaware. Evaluate the crabby’s size (and gender) and determine whether he is a “keeper.” After teaching your children how to do this, you can then assign them their own lines to monitor. And remember, when handling crabs, you will always want to handle them by the back swimming-leg, where they can not readily pinch you, and then rinse your hands immediately afterward.

Quiet Time

  • Naptime: After a full day of adventures on the water, there is nothing sweeter then the gentle rocking of the waves to lull a child to sleep. If your little one begins to rub his or her eyes and the “sandman” is on his way, a favorite doll, a small blanket, and an out-of-the-way corner may do the trick.  And when they awake, there’s that cheerful sunny disposition to look forward to!
kids love to color pirates

Kids love to color pirates!

  • If not inclined to take a nap, “quiet time” with a pad of paper and a water-tight bag of crayons is a great way for a child to capture what they have enjoyed most about your trip – sea creatures, pretty spinnakers, maybe an imagined pirate or two, oh my! And let’s not forget about the “I Spy…” game. When you return home, you’ll have beautiful adornments for the bedroom wall, refrigerator door, or Grandma’s house! If you’re in Annapolis, Art Things carries a special water-resistant mineral paper that can be used for projects. It’s a little more expensive than regular paper, but practically lasts forever.

Hopefully, we’ve given you some helpful things to think about when planning your upcoming trips. We encourage you to comment below with some of your favorite memories, suggestions, or family outings. These are amazing times, and it’s so nice to be able to share!


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