I don’t remember the first time I fished but there is one memorable moment that hooked me on the endeavor and by association, a love of the water.
Dad took the boat out with a neighbor and my brother, sister and Mom waited at the marina until their test ride was over. It was probably only an hour but if mom hadn’t bought some string and a packet of hooks and a can of worms at the tackle store, it would’ve felt like days.
We dangled hooks and worms by hand from the dock, getting feisty nibbles the whole time. The water was muddy and we never saw what stole our worms—and we never caught one either—but the tantalizing tug on our strings made our otherwise dull stranding an infectious experience. We ran back and forth to the worm can a hundred times and then bought another hundred red wrigglers before our wayward test riders returned.
By then, I was addicted to fishing and would never let the family boat out of my sight again!
Sadly, most kids’ introduction to the water is not so spontaneous and adventurous that it leaves children with an infectious love of the water that can only be cured by more exposure to it. Take swimming lessons—that dutiful rite of passage. Thank God, Mom enrolled me into the YMCA, but by the time I found my way through the cold, dank, tiled locker room to the echo-y, chilly pool, I’d had about enough of the water. Then being forcibly “introduced” to it and knowing I’d be doing this six more Saturdays before I could be dubbed a swimmer?
Every kid is different, but often, parents would be better served to introduce their kids to fun new life jackets, then to a fun new water experience. Let the addiction take hold, then introduce the tougher, less pleasant challenges. And for your peace of mind about safety on and around the water, you’ll find a wealth of information and practical tips on the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety website, at boatingmag.com/boatingsafety.
Fishing was my Waterloo. I’ll always be within a short trip to the water and never without a boat for as long as I’m mobile. And that’s thanks to the ingenious diversion Mom designed.
Few kids can turn down a fishing trip unless they’ve been on a disastrously boring one. Coop them up and bury them under “don’ts” and “must nots” and leave out the snacks and drinks and fishing goes from tantalizing to torture. To let kids learn to love water through fishing, help them discover it on their own terms so they can satisfy their own curiosity. Freedom to go freestyle is the ticket.
Limit the options by circumstance, not rules. Worried about them falling in? Give them a cool new life jacket to wear, then don’t worry about it. A cane pole is usually still available in most tackle shops for a couple bucks but you can spice up the experience with inexpensive kids rods like the Zebco Spincast Fishing Combo with tackle pack including hook line, sinkers and bobbers. A trip to a park pond, nearby stream or public landing with a cooler of sliced turkey sandwiches and juice boxes make the outing an adventure.
A parent will need a license ($10-$15, sometimes less) and in most states kids under 14 to 17 years can fish for free with a licensed adult parent.
How to catch a fish? All summer, small but thrilling quarry hang out under docks and piers or around stumps and logs along the bank. Stick a small piece of worm—or, for the squeamish, a Power Bait Doughball—on a hook and stand by for a tug on the line.
Nope, not the whipping sort, the boating sort. Paddlesports are a natural way to introduce kids to the water. With a properly fitted lifejacket, the game is safer than softball.
While you can buy a fun two-person kayak for as little as $300, plus life jackets and paddles, you can rent them by the hour for as little as 10 bucks or by the day for $30. Rental liveries will provide paddles and properly fitting life jackets and a map to chart your adventure. All you have to do is supply the paddle power (that's what the kids are for), and throw in some peanut butter sammys and cold drinks. You can combine fishing with paddling if you want but if it’s your first trip, it’s better not to mix your adventures. Master the paddles, then introduce a new element.
A two-person kayak is usually capable of carrying an adult and two little paddlers with no trouble. Ask the livery operator for some tips on paddling and steering and some ideas for areas to explore. Stay near shore where the scenery appears to move by more quickly and the temptation to jump out and explore is more easily indulged. When you sense the slightest impatience in your adventurers, change up the experience by pulling out snacks or beaching the kayak to toss a Frisbee.
Finding a paddling livery is a snap on Yelp. I entered the most unlikely destinations and found kayak and canoe rentals in every one!
Pirates sail and all kids know that. Few have left their single-digit years without swashbuckling away with a wrapping paper roll and a vision of an evil enemy to be conquered. That could be lure enough to get a youngster to step aboard a sailing boat and once they do, I can say from the times I’ve been on board, few things are more exhilarating than the feeling of cutting through the water on a broad reach or beating upwind with nothing pushing you but the wind itself. If you have the bug, giving it to your kids will be easy. If you don’t have the bug, its easy to find somebody who will not only give it to you both, but will teach you how to deal with the addiction on your own. They’ll teach it to you safely, too, along with help in properly fitting a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
Jenn Brett, Associate Editor at Cruising World magazine, says most sailing schools start kids at an elementary age. “My own daughter started at 5. Kids usually start out in boats like Optimist prams. Most yacht clubs and community sailing centers have children’s programs complete with boats. For instance, here in Newport, we have Sail Newport, which has hugely popular summer sailing camps for kids. My daughter took lessons at Ida Lewis Yacht Club.”
Power boating may be the antithesis of sail boating and there is a not-always-so-friendly rivalry between them. But power boating is as legitimate a way to learn to love the water as can be, and for those who love it, the convenience of power minimizes the whims of the weather for propulsion—the choice of boating days includes dead calm days, which give the smoothest rides.
Few kids won’t accept a ride on a speedboat when offered, but some can be intimidated by the process of climbing from dock to boat. The skipper should allay that fear by snugly securing the boat to the dock. Afterward, mom or dad can board and the remaining parent or friend can assist the toddler into waiting arms. You never know who will take to it like a duck to water, but it’s a good idea to ease away from the dock and proceed slowly until you’re sure your boater is loving the wind and the waves. Chances are he’ll be the one yelling “Faster, faster, faster!” and that’s the time to ease in the throttle.
Friends with boats, or FWB’s as we call ourselves, are ideal teachers. It’s unlikely that a boater who hears of your desire to indoctrinate a potential boater will turn down an opportunity to help. While boating may look expensive, it’s ordinarily far cheaper than a day at Disney or even an outing to the ball park. You can rent boats on nearly any body of boatable water. A quick search on the web for boat rentals near your zip code will do the trick. A cool way to get more deeply into the pursuit is a boat club. For a fee of less than a down payment and a low monthly fee, you can take part ownership in a fleet of boats and reserve your favorite for the day or week. It will be ready at the dock when you arrive and your dock master will hoist it and stow it when you return. No trailering or any of the other hassles of boating.
Want to know all you need to know about power boating? Try the book, Power Boating for Dummies. You can get in print or a digital version at amazon.com. Check out Carefree Boat Club and Freedom Boat Club for more information.
Waterskiing and wakeboarding are as popular in lake communities as shuffle boards in Florida. At first blush getting kids up on skis looks daunting, but there’s no reason to take the hard route for some towed sports fun. Deck tubes and knee boards offer a thrilling ride and kids with snug-fitting life jackets can do it safely and have the time of their lives.
Deck tubes give the easiest, most giggle-inducing ride and for the timid toddlers, mom or dad can easily ride side by side, bolstering their courage. When towing kids on tubes, keep the speed moderate. A 15- to 18-mile per hour ride gives all the thrills your kids will need.
So, without buying a boat, how do you snag a ride? Watersports schools are a top choice if you don’t have FWB’s. I searched for wake board schools online and got many quick returns. Add your hometown to the search and you’ll likely find one near your zip code.