The kids wear life jackets if they want to come out of the boat when we’re underway. I only require they go below during docking or anchoring or other stressful situations. Otherwise they can be in the cockpit or go on deck with permission. They aren’t much into the joy of sailing and usually spend most of their time below reading or playing. We could be having a glorious sail and they’d be pestering me to stop at a beach so they could swim and catch crabs.
We like the term “free range kids” and take it to mean letting them have a larger degree of freedom than most parents are comfortable with. I was a free range kid and could be gone from the house all day without my mother giving a thought to the trouble I might be getting into. And I did get into trouble. Unfortunately times are different and we have to worry about things our parents didn’t, so we try to create the feeling of freedom without actually letting them too far off the leash. My seven-year-old can’t operate a computer mouse, but he can free climb our 65-foot mast, is learning to operate the dinghy, and has caught what my information indicates is a record-setting seahorse.
I preface that to say that the kids do occasionally fall in the water. None have gone off the moving boat, thank God. Instead they fall off of the stationary dock. Usually reaching too far for a crab or some other specimen for their observation bucket. The aforementioned 7-year-old has been in three times (not counting the time I knocked him in on purpose). The docks float so they don’t fall far, and somebody is always near enough to hear the splash and fish them out if they don’t climb out on their own.