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How to Enjoy a Family Boating Trip
One of the best family boating excursions I had brought me face to face with a whale. Out on the slightly choppy waters of Northern California, we took the whaler boat out towards the mouth of Humboldt Bay, just off the Eureka coastline. Slowing down for a turn around, a large eye emerged from the depths of the sea. Surprised but delighted to see the intelligent Humpback Whale, we were excited. Soon the whale was floating only 50 feet away from us. But our excitement turned to a slight trepidation when what rose from behind that eye was an eye larger and then the eye became a head and a body, until the entirety of the mother whale was showing next to what was clearly her child, now dwarfed by her size. Not one for testing fate, we had our moment of joy and were quick to turn around and head to safer waters.
A Romantic Idea
Boating can be a good family time but the romantic idea of family boating and the true reality of it does not always match up. First, you will want to know how to tow a boat, which implies that you know how to hook up a trailer to a vehicle and how to load and off-load a boat at the launch site. Learning those things require work. So, don't even think about taking the family until you've learned how to do those things. Otherwise, it's not going to be a fun time. You'll be frustrated and so will everyone else. But once you are past the work of learning those things, then it's all cake from there. Just like learning to drive your vehicle was work but became second nature, so too is the process of transporting and launching or loading your boat.
Before investing in a boat, consider what kind of boating experience you want to have. Are you athletic and enjoy the physicality of sailing or rowing? Do you want to just charter a boat and have someone else take over the responsibilities of towing, launching and driving while you relax with your family? What kind of family do you have? Do you share the same idea of boating? It's worth the time needed to talk it over with your family and see if you are on the same page. Do other family members want to share the responsibilities and financial cost or would they rather let you be the leader in the boating department? Knowing how everyone feels and what everyone wants is key before ever leaving land.
Have You Been Boating Before?
Prepare For a Day On The Water
Now that you know how to manage the boat and it's trailer with ease, let the planning for outings begin! Be sure to keep safety in mind!
- Have enough life jackets for every person aboard.
- Have a means to contact help if your boat mechanically fails and you need emergency assistance.
- Be aware that your cell phone may not have reception on the waterway and invest in a radio communication device.
- An on-board first-aid kit is a must.
- Boat insurance is a necessity.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and hats are essential.
- Unless you want to swim home, a repair kit with tools that you know how to use, will be important to keep in a handy location, in case of a leak or damaged sail.
- A fire extinguisher can prevent your ride home from going down in flames, too.
It may take you up to a week to get all these required and essential ingredients for a safe and good time together. Never skimp on boating safety. A lack of awareness of boating safety can cost you or one you love their life. Boating safety courses are offered year round in most waterway locations. Completing a CPR/First Aid course as a family is a worthwhile investment. Remember, you will be many minutes from help in an emergency. Knowing what to do while emergency personnel are on the way can mean the difference between life and death.
The rest of the planning includes the refreshments and entertainment choices. Buy or organize most of these items the day before. You will want a cooler with beverages on ice because it's easy to become dehydrated on a boat, even on foggy days. Another cooler with snacks and sandwich food is a must as well. Fishing is a nice entertainment choice but others prefer binoculars for bird watching or whale watching.
You Never Know What You're Gonna Find Out There
As many seasoned seamen will tell you, you just never know what you'll find on the open water, from exhausted lost dogs needing a lift to tangled up birds in discarded fishing lines that need rescue to the animal shelter. Other times, you may be greeted cheerfully by the "dog of the sea" - a seal barking, or a friendly dolphin and his family, or by sea gulls living up their reputation while trying to rip off your chips that you left lying on the opposite side of the boat unsupervised. Please note that these last three creatures are wild animals that seem friendly but can harm you. Take care to leave those animals as you found them - look but don't touch! As for tangled birds, you can get a sharp peck that can draw some blood but it won't cost you your life. Approach injured birds with great care, either using a cardboard box or net to "scoop" them up, or wrapping them in a bath towel, but trying to avoid contact with your actual skin, even though they are relatively small creatures. Later, you can feel good having been a hero to them. These events end up being good salty-dog stories for you to share with others later.