So you want your child to be a boating enthusiast? Or you have a non-sailing or boating boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife who you want to share your passion with? Plonking them straight in the front of your sailing dinghy, or taking them out fishing on your cramped powerboat is not necessarily the best way to get them hooked.

Obviously it will depend on their personality, and you may find they are clamouring to get involved, but you don't want this to be a flash in the pan, you want to plant the seeds for a lifetime's appreciation for boating. If you're smart about it this will involve some more subtle methods to get your family boating. You don't want to bombard them, but gradually, brick by brick, build their knowledge and provide a rich variety of inspirational experiences to help you achieve your goal. Remember to keep it fun and don't rush things, far better to take your time. If you get it wrong, a bad experience, especially early on, can undo all the good work you have done and put them off completely.

grandfather with grandchildren on a sailing boat

A grandfather sailing with his grandchildren. Photo: Mael Balland

Encourage your family to enjoy the water and the sea

There are a lot of things you can do to that don't even involve boats, but will help to get them hooked by showing them what a great environment it is to be around. This can range from a detour to see the fish at the pet shop, to paddling or collecting shells at the beach or trying water-based activities.


These days there are swimming courses for babies, which take advantage of the fact that they have a built in reflex to hold their breath under water. Water is a natural environment for them and introducing them to it early on can help enormously to make them more interested and safer in a marine environment by teaching them the basics.

Perseverance is key here, most kids will go through phases where they refuse or get upset when previously going under the water may have been fine and you need to be ready for regression at various points, when you need to simply work on making it fun for them.

The beach

Adults and children alike generally love this environment, so if you have a partner you want to introduce to boating, visiting when there are fun activities going on and encouraging them to try some of the easier ones can be a useful way to whet their appetite.

Paddling and looking for sealife in rock pools can keep little ones entertained for hours. They will love exploring the unfamiliar environment even before they can walk. Obviously there are plenty of beach games you can play before even playing in the water, and don't forget how much fun children (or adults for that matter) can have crabbing.

Other watersports

There is a vast array of other watersports that can provide a soft introduction to sailing or powerboating. Stand Up Paddleboarding (also known as SUP, see Stand up and paddle: 10 tips for fun and fitness), Canoeing or kayaking are great ways to explore coastal or inland waters without requiring a high skill level.

Other activities like wakeboarding and waterskiing can show what a fun playground the sea is. For some more ideas, see Engine-free thrills: 7 top watersports.

family kayaking in the sea

Watersports such as kayaking can provide a soft introduction to sailing or powerboating.

Food and dining by the sea

If they like fish and seafood, encouraging a delight in them will help to encourage an interest in the waters from which they come. It's healthy too! You can also take every opportunity to pick stunning waterside or themed locations, whether it's a restaurant on a boat or in a boaty location, or simply one with a maritime theme. A fish tank is always a good source of entertainment in any restaurant, encourage them to take an interest and talk about where the fish might have come from.

Look at boats and make them fun

There are lots of ways you can ensure you expose your kids to lots of boats of different types. Pointing them out and naming their parts will help, fishing boats can be great as they are so colourful, you can speculate on where a boat may have been or where it is going. Don't overdo it, but any chance you get to build up their attraction and magic will help. For more ideas, read Spice up your season: best boating events.

Boating events

There are many water-based festivals and events that are spectacular to watch. Big races like the Clipper Round the World Race and Volvo Ocean Race have interactive "villages" at their major stopover ports and there is a real buzz when the yachts set off. There are a number of powerboat racing events that also have plenty of excitement and potential inspiration to offer, like the Powerboat P1 Championship. Often these will attract other attractions, like air displays or fireworks.

A number of old fishing villages will have an annual regatta, with lots of fun events to watch and even get involved in, ranging from crabbing competitions to rowing and sailing races. Seaside towns will often have food festivals, competitions or sea-themed celebrations. Watch out for events in the local press.

Boat shows

Of the major national shows - London Boat Show and Southampton Boats Show  - the second is the best for newbies and families due to its location and general ambiance. There are also a number of smaller regional shows and numerous boat jumbles - the most famous being Beaulieu Boat Jumble.

Secondhand boat shows are often hosted by marinas or clubs, and can also provide a fun day out as well as helping to build interest in boating, and providing good research for that family boat you're keen to purchase! See our guide to boat shows and making most of your day.

Harbours and ports

Visits to quaint fishing villages, with their colourful boats, ideally teamed with a tasty ice cream or two or a delicious meal will do wonders to build an attraction to the water. Again, avoid overkill and pick your locations carefully - a busy industrial port won't hold so much attraction.

The UK is lucky to have a fabulous Lifeboat Service (the RNLI), as a charity it is constantly working to raise funds and often has open days and opportunities to visit its lifeboat stations. There's even a special membership for children, Storm Force, which is great value for money.

Aerial photo of Brixham port

Visits to quaint fishing villages will do wonders to build an attraction to the water. Photo: Mike Austin

Clothing, toys and books

From birth you can do your bit to encourage an interest in the sea and boats, however do resist the temptation to overdo it. Also doing try to force an interest in sailing boats, for example. Perhaps the way to your child's heart is a lifeboat or a fishing boat, or even a submarine. Don't forget to mix in the odd tractor, lorry, helicopter etc so they don't get bored with your single-track mind, just subtly try to grow and inspire that interest.

Of course books are a great way to inspire, and there are plenty of great boating and sea-themed books for youngsters. I was reading to our son from almost the moment he was born and he loves books, here are a few children's boaty book ideas.

Fortunately boats are a favoured theme for children's clothes and you'll see them pretty much everywhere, JoJo Maman Bebe has a particularly good nautical-inspired range, and Swedish brand Polarn O Pyret is great for nautical stripes.

When it comes to actual clothing for boating, then many mainstream brands do clothing lines for children. Being properly clothed and warm and dry when they actually do go on the water is a vital factor in ensuring you don't put them off! As well as checking out individual brands, some childrenswear websites carry a good range, like the very useful Nipper Skipper, which specialises in sailing clothing for kids.

Get involved in the social side of boating

One of the keys to enjoying boating is its social side. If you have a lot of friends that sail or fish and you spend time with them, you are likely to spend more time participating yourself.

Introduce them to boating friends

Every chance you get, try to involve your family in meeting any of your boating friends. You need to ensure you don't force feed them boating stories too much, so it's a good idea to pick friends that may have common existing interests. For example, many sailors are keen mountain bikers or skiers - a skiing holiday with a bunch of your sailing friends will do a lot to cement friendships and help plant the seed of getting more involved in sailing once the summer comes.

Although boating can be the predominant interest for many of those who get involved in it, we all have other interests, and you really want your partner to find some common ground, so if art is their thing, or cars, make a special effort to introduce those friends who have those shared interests too.

Open days

Marina or yacht club open days can be ideal events to give a taste of boating life (like this family open weekend at Cobbs Quay Marina). Have a look on the website of your local marina or sailing club for any dates, or contact them and ask when they have something planned.

These are good for meeting like-minded people, as well as offering a good insight into where you might base yourself if you haven't already got a family-friendly boat.

Join your local sailing club or marina

Most sailing or yacht clubs offer family memberships that can cost just a small amount more than single membership and offer a wide range of other facilities as well as those directly relating to boating. Many have a friendly bar, offer meals and run social activities.

Taking your partner to the yacht club ball or laying up supper can help them to make connections of their own with your friends' partners and give them an insight into the wider world that boating offers, as well as being a good night out.

Party, party, party

Outsiders often don't realise just how social the sport is, an evening out at Cowes Week, or the Scottish Series enjoying the live music and party atmosphere, not to mention the fireworks can work wonders. With regattas across the country, there is likely to be a lively event somewhere near you, and the final night is usually the high point.

Take your family on a boat

Any boat will do, as every positive experience will help. Whether it's a ferryboat, a cruise or a boat-themed ride at the funfair.

Ferry rides

Every chance we get we take our young son on a ferry and get him interested in what he can see out of the window as well as the parts of the boat and their function. Something as short as the pink ferry that runs from Hamble to Warsash or the ferry to Hurst Castle, can really bring the thrill of the water home to children in particular, although it is equally valuable in helping to capture the interest of adults. These smaller ferries also have the bonus of going past moored yachts and powerboats and you might catch a sight of dinghies racing or bigger boats leaving on a longer passage.


For some this will simply be a turn off, but others will be inspired by the experience of catching their supper, and if they get caught up in the activity they might forget they are in a boat! Read Lenny Rudow's tips, taken from his experience with his own kids: How to take your kids fishing.

child holding a fishing rod

Fishing can be a good way to inspire your loved ones. Photo: Clark Young


A day out on a cruising yacht, especially if you pick a good destination, can be a great gentle introduction to boating. You have the added interest of a destination, you can also add the fun of an onboard picnic.

Pick your weather and destination wisely and don't attempt too long a trip for your first outing. Talk through your plans before the trip and involve the rest of your family in the planning to help build up the excitement and interest. Even if it's a short trip, tracking your progress on a chart can be a useful way to maintain interest, get people to spot the buoys and landmarks you will pass along the way.

Dinghy sailing

Dinghies are a great route into the world of sailing and other boating activities. Even very young children can quickly progress into a craft of their own, and if you get them involved in a club it is a valuable way of enabling them to express and explore their independence in a safe environment. Water provides a soft landing, which you don't get with other activities such as horse riding, and club organised activities have rescue cover on hand to help out in the event of capsize. For more on getting your kids into dinghy sailing, read Paula Irish's great feature on how to start your kids dinghy sailing.


If you have a thrill-seeker you wan tot impress, getting them out racing or onto a faster boat can be important to give them a taste of the thrill of competitive sailing. You could take them to see a race and experience the post-race banter in the bar afterwards, try a low-key lighter wind race in a dinghy that you are confident of handling on your own, or take them on a bigger boat where there is room for a "passenger" or for a race that is more on the fun social side rather than completely full on.

You need to be careful here, as for some people this will put them off. I remember doing a pursuit race on holiday at Minorca Sailing with a good friend, we just took it easy, I didn't expect us to do well, but we actually did very well in the race and my novice crew loved the whole experience.

Take your family on a boating holiday

Boating holidays have a number of great advantages; go somewhere warm and you will make that first boating experience all the more enjoyable. The UK's weather isn't the most reliable and sunshine and warm water has to beat a drizzly, grey day and the odd bucket-full of icy water in your face. It's worth taking a look at our Top 10 boating holiday ideas.

Man and his children on a boat

A boating holiday is the perfect opportunity to get your family involved with sailing or powerboating. Photo: Les Anderson

Sailing holidays

There are a host of sailing holidays available both in the UK and abroad. Beach based sailing holidays involve staying ashore and sailing dinghies or small keelboats during the day. Companies such as Neilson, Sunsail, Minorca Sailing and Ocean Elements offer a range of locations abroad, which means you have a better chance of warmer water. Do take the personality and physique of your intended convert into consideration. For thrill-seekers dinghies are ideal, while for others a cruising-type holiday may be more suitable.

Cruising holidays come in three main types - bareboat, skippered charter and flotilla. Flotillas are great for families and newbies as they offer a social aspect as well, with groups of yachts setting sail for common destinations, offering support along the way and often meeting up in the evening after a day's sailing.

Canal boating holidays

The UK is blessed with a fabulous canal network, and a canal boat holiday can be a very enjoyable and relaxing way to explore the country. A step on from a caravan holiday, but without the traffic jams, you can visit some wonderful places with all the fun of living on board. Read more in Alex Smith's 10 top tips for enjoying a narrowboat holiday.

Powerboating holidays

As well as canals, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a powerboating holiday in the UK or abroad. Companies like The Moorings and Nautilus Yachting offer a number of fabulous destinations, and power can be a gentle introduction for a beginner to sailing, if that is actually your usual preference.

Make boating fun

This is the single most important factor in converting anyone to boating, which is why we've given it an entry of its own. Here are a few ideas:

Play games

Boating can be boring. Anticipate the times when this might be the case and have plenty of activites and distractions on hand. These might be food-based, eg planning meal times around periods of time when not much will be happening. Take plenty of books and games that can be used, swimming and sunbathing supplies (towels, sunscreen and hats) and toys can be very handy. Read 5 tips for fun family boating trips.

Point out things of interest

As previously mentioned, it's a good idea to get everyone involved in the planning of a trip, and pointing out things of interest along the way will help stop them getting bored. Looking out for other boats is a obvious one - a pair of binoculars can be a real novelty and one person can be on "lookout" duty. Making up stories about where the boat might be going or who is on board will help fuel their imagination. Don't forget the life in the water, buoys, birds and the clouds. Talk about the weather, the tide and generally engage them in all aspects of their new environment. Even making a cup of tea or a snack down below for a picnic on deck will be like an adventure.

Be prepared for sickness

Hopefully your family members will be too busy to think about feeling ill, but sea-sickness can strike at any time and is guaranteed to ruin the affected person's day. Keep everyone well-watered, fed, and rested as well as busy and you should avoid any problems, but it is worth having some remedies on hand in case - sickness bands can be very effective. Read 5 secret ways to stop being seasick.

Finally, good luck! Boating can give you a fabulous, lifelong hobby that encourages plenty of activity, a wide circle of friends and uses both your mind and your body as well as encouraging a healthy, outdoors life (don't forget your sunhat and sunscreen).

Useful wider reading includes our features Five of the best family powerboats, Sailing with your family: how to be a successful skipper and Choosing the right family cruising boat.

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.