Skip to main content

THE VIEW FROM THE MARINA: The New Family Vacation

  • Author:
  • Updated:

I just read about a girl, 17, who drank tequila all afternoon then drove off in her expensive sports car. She dialed a friend on her cell phone and, thus distracted, hit another girl who was rollerblading. Later, in court, her parents asked the judge if it would be okay if their daughter spent the summer in Paris, as she usually did.

Cue in the parental lecture: One, quit coddling. Two, go boating.

In my experience kids who go boating with the family end up as responsible adults. I'm a school-of-hard-knocks proprietor of a boating school and boat chartering operation and for the past 30 years I've been helping families learn about boats and how to have fun on a cruise.

Its time to get your children's attention - and toss them out to sea.

Its time to get your children's attention - and toss them out to sea.

Now hold on. I'm not talking about a cruise on one of those 5,000-cabin, infection-factory ships. I'm talking about calm-water boating on a cabin cruiser that you charter; Just you and your family. If you're not ready to take over the helm, no worries, mon, because the captain will take care of that, even teach you and yours a few things, and then make himself scarce when it's family time.

For safety’s sake there are some serious do's and don’ts on a cruising yacht and the captain insists they be followed. You might say the atmosphere is lighthearted, but disciplined. When you think about it, you could say the rules for a successful cruise are probably the same as the rules for the successful life.

Kids who grow up boating learn that successful boating requires a degree of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility and from my observation post I'd say that most become responsible, successful adults. If the teenager mentioned above had spent her summers on a boating vacation with the whole family instead of in Paris on her own perhaps those experiences might have fostered responsible rather than destructive behavior.

Boating parents are secure in this knowledge. If you're landlubber parents, let me suggest a family vacation that guarantees quality family time. It’s an expedition, an adventure, summer camp, summer school and even manners school all rolled into one.

Instead of crossing an expanse of ocean to dock at foreign shopping districts, imagine your family cruising the sheltered Gulf Intracoastal Waterway past Southwest Florida’s gulf barrier islands and wild mangrove sanctuaries where herons, egrets, pelicans and ospreys roost.

Leave the iPods and iPads at home. Bring cell phones, if you must, but turn them off. This is not your vacation. This is the family vacation. WARNING. If your vessel has a TV set, fine, but don't expect a great signal. Many chartering families ask that we remove the TV set from the boat.

This could be you and your loved ones, enjoying a boater's life

This could be you and your loved ones, enjoying a boater's life

This is an expedition into the wild, although civilization is usually less than a few hundred yards away from your boat at any point in time. You’ll see dolphins surf your wake, watch the magnificent frigatebird soaring overhead, and catch a glimpse of a giant ray in the clear water below. He'll be half-buried in the sand, thinking you don’t see him.

Drop the dinghy in the water one morning and paddle to a Gulf beach laced with fine, pink-white sand. Let the little children cover you up with it. Walk the beach and collect some of the prettiest seashells you'll ever want to see. This is, after all, the shelling capital of the world.

After dark call a "family meeting' on the fly-bridge to look at stars. On a clear night, without the glare of city lights, you can see 5,000 stars. Now, look at one star, and imagine that you could be looking not at a star but the light of a star that no longer exists. You’re seeing light that took a million years to reach you. Did somebody just say "Tempus fugit?

This is the new family vacation. It's the same as the old family vacation. Give credit where credit is due.

Barb Hansen manages Southwest Florida Yachts, yacht charters, and Florida Sailing & Cruising School, a liveaboard yacht school. Contact her at, phone 1-800-262-7939 or visit