When can children be promoted from passengers to skippers?
I’m going to bring this back to some basic advice on passing on skills. Your best guideline to parenting in general is not to look. Every child does far better without adults peering over their shoulders, and the example I always use is the heavy jug of water at the supper table. When the 3-year old or 5-year old wants to pour water into his own glass for the first time, you should do three things.
Speak to the child as if you take it for granted that they’ll succeed. Turn your back to them as they lift the jug. And keep a towel handy and your voice calm. They’ll definitely manage the next time – that’s the sort of faith in themselves that your body language can instil.
This general rule has stood me in good stead, but the risks at sea are very serious. So let’s start looking at what we can control before we set children off on their own. The location is obvious – lakes and reservoirs over the open sea. You can only drift so far. Secondly pick the right vessel: A touring kayak over a racing kayak, a small horsepower engine over a big one (and always with a kill switch), a rowing boat with spare oars (and collars on the oars in case of distractions) – you get the idea. Thirdly – a safety vest is always right. On the sunniest, quietest day it’s still a must. Most importantly because it should turn an unconscious body the right way up, secondly because it aids swimming if you’re in trouble, and thirdly because surely it’s a good Cape Cod look. Finally – put a couple of essentials in any boat, kayak or canoe - a bottle of water and a whistle.
I would have a back-up vessel for a possible rescue mission and I would talk through all these precautions with my child. At this point I would happily shove primary school children in a boat into the water without any qualms.
And I would stay on shore, pretending to read a book, heart in mouth.