There’s no lack of online recommendations and lists about top general boating destinations, top destinations for kids, best family-friendly boating destinations, and so on. Among them are Take Me Fishing suggestions, including an American Top 100 family boating and fishing list, which, though first published in 2016, is still a valuable reference if you’re looking for family boating vacation spots.
I can’t help you pick among the many family boating trips and destinations that exist, but I can help you focus practically on important things to prepare for.
Define Your Purpose
Sightseeing? Fishing? Bird watching? Cruising inland waterways? Wildlife watching (seals, whales, dolphins, etc.)? What do you want to do and how much time are you willing to devote to these activities? If you have young children, some of the activities of interest to adults will bore them pretty quickly, possibly with unhappiness setting in. If you try to do everything, you may not do enough of anything except drive a boat. Unless your time is unlimited.
Does Anyone Experience Motion Sickness?
Big potential red flag here. Family boating adventures are no fun if one or more people get seasick. There are preventatives and remedies, and this may not become an issue if all or most of your boating occurs near land. Take this account and consider that one of you who had not previously gotten seasick may become afflicted.
Can You Go Offseason?
This is usually a hard no for families with children in school and participating in various activities. Summer is their time. It’s also peak season and they have to deal with it. But if your children are younger, and/or you can manage some time offseason, try to do so.
Your Boat or Theirs?
Most of the best family-friendly boating destinations have a potpourri of boating-related options, including rental of all types of watercraft. If you like the rental option, be sure of your own abilities. I can say from personal experience that piloting a rented 44-foot houseboat, especially docking it in a crosswind, is much different from operating an 18-foot bass boat or 21-foot skiff. Recognize the challenge. And, the more people who can assist with docking and mooring the better. Also, renting isn’t cheap, so check out that expense and weigh it against bringing your own boat.
Do You Want to Prepare Your Meals?
Whether using your boat or a rental, how eager/willing is the family cook to take on this chore on a boat on her/his vacation? Often, a vacation means a break from dinner prep and the acquisition of food supplies, which is usually more complex than your at-home routine. Not to mention having a small galley, minimal supplies, and so forth.
What To Do Besides Boating
Your children may get antsy being confined on a boat for a long time. What can you do afield along your cruising route or at your destination that will appeal to youngsters? Plan for this and be realistic, knowing your children’s interests and attention spans.
Re Lakes/Rivers: Do They Have Enough Water?
You may laugh at this question, but a year ago some of the best houseboating lakes in the western U.S. were at record-low levels due to severe drought, and boating was fraught with problems, if even possible. None of the “top” lists can predict future freshwater levels or climate/weather issues that will impair a long-planned trip. Keep this in mind when programming a future trip.
About Your Boat:
If towing, do you really want to tow your cruiser that far? Fine, if you’re accustomed to it. Not every boater is. Also, will there be some boat regulations/restrictions at your destination you should know about? Case in point: at some California lakes you are required to have your boat inspected and/or cleaned to be free of invasive species.
How Long Do You Have for Cruising?
Have you ever read articles about, or posts from, people floating around the world on their boats (or driving RVs) and noticed some common threads: no kids/kids are grown/kids are pre-school or home-schooled; they have little or no family obligations; they’re retired/work independently/seem to have no real job; and they have all the time in the world? Most of us do not hit those markers. For example, stuff happens when you’re on a long (and sometimes short) boat cruise -- the auxiliary motor conks out on your sailboat, for example, and you’re stuck somewhere you didn’t plan to be for a week or more. That’s bad if time is short.