Living Aboard - Part 10: Children on Board
I live aboard a narrowboat with my husband and two young children. The first questions that people often ask us are about safety. Our children were born on board and have had the risks stressed to them every day. If you are planning to move a family on to a second-hand narrowboat or barge then there will be several potential hazards to become aware of.
Just as you would do in a house, we keep our doors bolted shut. For summer days outside there are playpen barriers enclosing the front deck, but children must still never be left unsupervised while outside on a canal boat. Life jackets can be purchased from your nearest large chandlery and these may be of use to you if you have a mooring with a garden where the children can play, but we find them unnecessary for the daily walk to the shops or the car.
Victorian working boat families secured their children to the roof of the boat by tying them on whilst travelling. Some families create a modern version of this arrangement using toddler reins to secure the child. In this situation they must still never be left unattended. The adult crew must also remain aware of the dangers of overhanging tree branches, low bridges and mooring ropes being thrown about. I have occasionally seen hire boaters allow their children to stand and walk on the roof of a moving boat, but ours have strict instructions to remain seated! I would not recommend allowing young children to be on deck unsupervised while cruising.
Locks are particularly dangerous places because of the depth of the water and the strong currents below. I recommend repeating a set of simple rules to your children, which depending on age could include 'stay close to a grown up' and 'hold hands when told to'. All children should be told to keep away from the edge and to never run beside a lock.
If your boat does not have a home mooring the website of your local borough council will help you to find children’s playgrounds while you are cruising. The home page should have a link to leisure facilities and playgrounds; parks and gardens can usually be found in this section.
For family life on board you may be looking for a boat to buy with two bedroom cabins. The Boatshed Grand Union website has a search facility to help you find second-hand canal boats for sale within your budget.
When you move aboard your boat your children will face the same challenges as you will, such as a lack of storage space, and limited electricity and water. But they will also enjoy the benefits of a way of life that is much closer to nature. My baby daughter's first word was, “Quack!”