Isn't This Supposed to be Fun?

Thinking of bringing your family on a boating trip? Read this first.

Editor’s Note: Ontario can be a boater’s paradise, from the Muskoka Lakes to 1000 Islands or the magnificent splendour of Lake Huron’s North Channel in Algoma. But for a first-timer, the prospect of going boating can seem daunting, especially if you happen to have kids and/or pets to worry about at the same time. But it can be done, and of course, you have to start somewhere. Here Samantha McKeag shares her experiences.


When you think about being on a boat, you imagine sitting back, the wind blowing through your hair, a cold, refreshing drink in hand as beautiful scenery drifts by. One would picture a boat ride to be a relaxing experience. This is how I pictured it too, but our first trip on the water was nothing like that. 

My husband and I had little experience with boats when we decided to trade our Honda Shadow-turned-custom-Bobber for a Grew 165 Bayliner. We had always wanted a boat, so we were really excited about it. We traveled two hours into Quebec to pick it up and, by the next day, we were ready for our first adventure. We piled the dogs and our toddler into our truck and took off for the boat launch. 

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It was troublesome from the get-go. I’m a bit of a worrier, so when I noticed a clunking sound from the back of our truck, I told myself it was normal. But as we turned onto the highway on-ramp, something started violently hitting the back of our truck. We looked back, astonished to see the boat and trailer swaying from side to side. My husband expertly pulled over, avoiding a complete escape by our boat (I pictured the boat passing us and flying down the highway, causing a mass-car pileup). My husband calmly hopped out, replaced the hitch and the chains, which had somehow disengaged, and away we went. 

When we got to the boat launch in Cumberland, it took a little elbow grease to get the boat in the water – maneuvering a trailer and boat is a little tricky at first. I was responsible for guiding our F150 with trailer into the water. I held on to the rope for dear life as my husband nudged it off the trailer and the boat started floating. I held on even tighter when my husband left to park the truck. As a mother, I am confident that I can keep my child safe and alive; with a boat, not so much.

Once we were all set to go, I realized how complicated this trip would become. We have a two-year-old son and two dogs—a Shih Tzu and a hound. As most people know, hounds are handfuls, and Molly is no different. She’s like having two extra babies. We floated for a bit while I got everyone settled, and then my husband turned the ignition. Nothing happened, not even a click. Over and over he tried. After some moments of panic and unease, he brought the truck down and charged the battery. It started! We were on our way down the Ottawa River. When it was time to sit back and enjoy the wind in my hair, I had a vibrating Shih Tzu hopping on and off of my lap in panic, a hound gearing up to jump off the boat and a little boy in tears, shielding his face from the wind while simultaneously holding on for dear life. 

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We stopped at a small shore just past Petrie Island and got out, and I realized just how unprepared we were. My son had a bulky, uncomfortable life jacket on and I was terrified to let him play in the water without it. The water got deep fast and I was scared he would fall and be carried off by the waves. We didn’t have an anchor yet and there was nowhere to tie the boat. We didn’t have leashes for the dogs, we hadn’t brought any food, only water, and we had no toys for dogs or baby.

I had brought all our bathing suits and towels, but there was nowhere to get changed. So, as I watched my son tread in and out of the water in his clean clothes and new sandals, constantly calling my hound to come back and trying not to step on my Shih Tzu as he nervously followed me around, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. 

We left shortly thereafter, my nerves shot, my husband—the steadfast man of my dreams—still composed. I resolved then to do some research and make a list (lists are my favourite) for next time. The list is now permanently secured in our “boat bag” and assures me a safe, confident boating trip. The key is to stay organized. To enjoy a nice, calm boat ride, you need to ensure that you have all your bases covered and that you know, without having to look, that everything is safe, secure and available. 

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For moms out there just like me, here is my list of must-haves for a successful boat trip: 

* snacks 

* water/juice 

* change of clothes for baby (we change him into his bathing suit before we get on the boat) 

* water shoes 

* Puddle Jumper (an amazing invention that allows your child to freely roam in the water without tipping forward or back, and isn’t too bulky) 

* sunscreen 

* towels 

* proper rope 

* beach toys 

* dog leashes 

* a positive outlook 

With all that in mind and prepared, our following boat trip was close to perfect. This time, the dogs were tied securely as they lounged around the boat, my son’s seat was turned to avoid the wind, a towel over his legs made him feel secure, and I was able to sit back, my feet up, with wind in my hair, watching the beautiful scenery drift by. 

About Samantha McKeag

Samantha McKeag is an author and freelance writer out of Ottawa, Ontario. Boating and spending time with her family is one of her favorite pastimes, writing being her second. 

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