For those of us who regularly boat with family members aboard, we’re missing a golden opportunity if we don’t involve each of our family passengers in some sort of duty aboard the boat. Not only does it become a process that is fun and educational, but it also makes every trip from the pier or launch ramp a chance to strengthen family ties through teamwork and shared responsibility.

I’ve always carried a “boat book” aboard my boat. The book, really a loose leaf binder, contains the specs on the boat, copies of the manufacturers booklets and brochures, some charts I constructed on fuel usage and range, speed versus rpm, a compass deviation table, a pre-underway checklist, important phone numbers, and some other sundry information. When my daughter was growing up, we assigned her a title (Cabin Girl) and some shipboard responsibilities, and even had them included as part of the “boat book.” There also was a sheet for me (the Captain, of course), and my wife, the First Mate. The fun part was the formulation of the job descriptions. The educational part was actually doing the tasks. For my daughter, participating in the duties and responsibilities laid the foundation for her to view the boat and the outing as something far more than just another place to listen to her music.

And speaking of music, we even improvised a family sea chantey when she was quite small, and as an adult, she still can remember the words and tune. It went something like this:

“Oh, the cabin girl hauls the fenders,
And she coils the dock lines, too.
The First Mate keeps a watch out,
Cause sometimes it’s a zoo.

But the Captain is the handsomest,
Of all.”

That was only a few lines of a much longer ditty, but it will give you an idea of the magnificent quality of the composition.

The point is, I know families who just drag their kids out on the boat because they have to bring them along and it’s enough that they sit down in the back of the boat and stay out of the way. Show me that, and I’ll show you kids that won’t take part in family outings for too much longer. And when they start making excuses for not going with Mom and Dad in the boat, it’s just one more slice out of the family pie.

Here are some duties you can assign to one or more members of your family that will give them a sense of importance and confidence, and at the same time increase their knowledge and enjoyment of boating. You’ll have to decide whether the age of your crew, type of boat, and type of boating you do will be compatible with these suggestions:

  • Review the pre-underway checklist with the rest of the crew. This gives everybody on board a sense for what safety equipment is on board, and where the equipment can be located quickly in an emergency.
  • Tend the dock lines and fenders, and stow them properly.
  • Raise and lower the flag, ensign or burgee that you display aboard your boat.
  • Be a lookout or watchstander.
  • Maintain the log books records.
  • Act as radio operator (with proper instruction on procedures and etiquette).
  • Relieve the helmsman.
  • Write a family sea chantey.

I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more duties that apply to your own boat and way of boating. And af few other suggestions. Don’t assign too much to any one individual. Too much is just as bad as none at all when it comes to assignments. Make sure the crew understands that the Captain will always be available for support and assistance with their assigned tasks when needed. But be careful about butting in at the first sign of trouble. Unless there’s a potentially dangerous situation brewing, let them work it out.

So, on your next boat outing, whether its a two-week ocean cruise or a day on the lake or river, get everybody involved. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by your crew’s prowess, and you’ll find out that boating can be more fun than ever as a family affair!