Sailing Gear for Kids

Sailing Apparel and Gear Must -Haves for Kids

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Whether your mini crewmembers are bound for a weekend family cruise or summer sailing camp, equipping them with the right gear will ensure their days on the water are safer and more fun for everyone. PS editors have put together a list of our favorite, must-have kids products for summer sailing. Some of the items are kid-sized versions of adult products that were top performers in our past lab and long-term tests, and we can vouch for their quality, performance, and durability. Others are products that have survived kid torture testing for at least one season and have earned two thumbs-up.

Sunday Afternoons Gear

Keeping Them Cool

Were not fans of slathering sunscreen all over a squirming, protesting kid every two hours, so we deck them out in UV-protective clothing and hats. These are especially great for babies too young for sunscreen (under 6 months) and for kids headed to camp, where you can’t nag them about reapplying sunscreen. (Check out our sun protection tips in the May 13, 2014 blog post, and the Environmental Working Groups latest sunscreen guide at www.ewg.org.)

Sun hats: The Adventure Hat, made by the family-run Sunday Afternoons (www.sundayafternoons.com), earned PSs Best Choice pick among adult wide-brimmed hats in our August 2013 report. The test hat is still in great shape after three years of on-the-water use and abuse, so we knew where to shop for summer headgear for the littles. Weve been testing the companys Kids Play Hat ($26)-a mini version of the Adventure-for nearly two years, and have found the baby size to be ideal for infants and young toddlers. The wide, floatable brim offers full face coverage and slopes down near the ears, where it connects to an adjustable neck veil that is long enough to completely cover the neck and-bonus-allows the hat to be worn during stroller rides or while lying down. Despite the Flying Nun-styling, the hat stays put underway and in a good breeze.

Coolibar UPF-50 apparel

We recently transitioned the toddler tester to the Clear Creek Boonie hat ($26), which doesn’t have a neck veil but its wide brim offers full-face protection and shade for the neck and shoulders. It also has moisture-wicking fabric and is reversible.

Both kids hats boast other parent-approved features like UPF 50-rated, water- and stain-resistant fabric and a chin strap with breakaway clasps, which eliminate strangling risk. The hats have been stored in a diaper bag for nearly two years and always look great when we pull them out.

Coolibar swim apparel: We were pleased to find that the Coolibar kids clothes (www.coolibar.com) offer the same high quality, attention to detail, and UV-protection that we found in the adult gear weve tested (see PS, October 2010 online). We particularly like the Beach One-piece Swimsuit ($45) for the littlest swimmers (six to 24 months); and for older toddlers and kids, we like the long-sleeve rash guards/swim shirts ($32 to $34), girls swim skirts ($32), and swim tights/shorts. The snug-fitting, soft, flexible Suntect fabric-which is a chlorine- and saltwater-resistant polyester/spandex blend-did not hamper the active kids movement in or out of the water. We also noted that the fabric kept the wearer cool; their skin was still cool to the touch after undressing, despite their being in a steamy cockpit for hours on a sunny, swimless sail.

The one-piece bodysuit-which is, hands-down, the best option weve come across for infants-has plastic snaps in the legs/crotch area for fast and easy diaper changes. The swim skirts have fitted shorts underneath, rather than the usual baby-thigh-strangling, bikini-style bottom. Snaps at the neck of the Ruffle Swim Shirt and infant one-piece suit make them easy to don and doff for the large noggin-ed littles and mean you won't rub the sunscreen off their faces.

The Coolibar gear is priced comparably to other high-quality UPF swimwear, offers proven protection, and dries quickly. Weve found that, even with frequent use and laundering, theyll last until your kid inevitably outgrows them.

KEEN Newport H2: The toddler/kids Newport H2 sandal ($45), made by KEEN Footwear (www.keenfootwear.com), goes easily from boat to beach to hiking trail, coastal town exploring, or the playground. The non-marking soles have the same excellent traction as the adult styles that earned top spots in our past tests (see PS, July 2010 and September 2004 online).

The low-profile Newport offers the toe and foot protection of an athletic shoe, but it is lightweight, breathable, easy to rinse/wash, and faster drying, like sock-style water shoes. With an EVA footbed, the sandal boasts great foot support, and our test shoes have yet to stink despite regular use. The cord lacing, Velcro-strap closure at the ankle, and pull-on loop at the heel make these so easy to put on and take off that even young (staunchly independent) toddlers can do it without help.

The kid KEENS are worth the investment, in our opinion, to add an extra dose of traction for wobbly walkers, and to protect tiny toes from on-deck hardware or under-the-water hazards. They also double as great summer hiking shoes.

Keeping them Hydrated

EcoVessel Water Bottles and Snack cups: We were so impressed by the EcoVessel BOSS Growlers thermal performance in our April 2016 review, we decided to invest in EcoVessels (www.ecovessel.com) for the kids too. We opted for the 13-ounce, triple-insulated Frost water bottles with flip-up straws ($23). The stainless-steel Frost bottles keep liquids fridge-cold all day-the drink will be gone long before it gets warm. Eco-Vessel also offers stainless sippy cups and other water bottle options ($16-$23).

Parents know its imperative to keep a well-stocked snack arsenal when you slip the lines, lest you be faced with the dreaded, hungry-child beast. EcoVessels BPA-free snack accessories make it easy for traveling families to keep the peace on board. We favor the 8-ounce, collapsible, silicone Snacker cup, but the company also offers a stainless one. For liveaboards and cruisers, the collapsible cups are ideal, as you can store several in the same space as one plastic snack cup. The food-grade silicone can be microwaved or frozen.

Keeping them safe

Infant and child PFDs: The most important on-the-water gear that youll buy for your kid(s) is, of course, a life jacket. Weve tested dozens of infant, toddler, and youth PFDs over the last decade (see PS, October 2006, June 2007, September 2010, and August 2011 online), and have selected a few favorites that we use with our own kids.

Its important that PFDs for infants and toddlers turn the wearer face up and keep his head well above water. All kids PFDs should be comfortable, fit snuggly, be easy to don, and have a wide grab strap. Get one that is rated for the childs size and weight. Be sure to test the PFDs fit in the store and its flotation in a pool or calm water.

In our experience, the hardest PFD size to shop for is the infant under-30 pounds size. The U.S. Coast Guards minimum buoyancy standards apply to children up to 30 pounds; the problem with this is that a PFD that properly fits an active, 27-pound 2 year old is way too big and bulky for a 15-pound, 6-month-old baby.

Our favorite life jacket design for the tiniest crew (9 to 25 pounds) is the Canadian-made Salus Bijoux (www.salusmarine.com). While it has no certification in the U.S. because of its weight rating, the Bijoux ($70) has garnered high praise from PS readers and editors. The rounded, front buoyancy panel and adjustable shoulder, waist, and crotch straps enable the Bijoux to fit a large range of sizes well, and the single front flotation panel means that babys cheeks arent squished when he or she is seated. You can find more Bijoux details in our past articles, but suffice to say, the Bijoux is our top pick for small infants and the only one our feistiest tester would wear.

The next size up in the Salus line is the Nimbus for 20- to 30-pound sailors ($70). Again, comfort was key with our vocal tester, and the Nimbus-with its rounded panel edges and contoured fit-did not disappoint. (Not all parents will want to invest in a PFD for this in-between size, but it was worth it for us because we are on or in the water year-round, and a perfect fit was our priority.) Salus also offers the Nimbus in the 30- to 50-pound size ($70).

Other infant PFDs that meet PSs criteria are MTI Adventurewears Infant with Collar ($37, www.mtiadventurewear.com), which is a renamed Baybee 2001-I, one of our top picks in past tests; and Mustang Survivals Lil Legends 100 ($45, www.mustangsurvival.com). Although its rated to 30 pounds, the Lil Legends 100 was too snug around the face and neck for our 27-pound tester.

For youth, we prefer PFDs from Salus, Mustang, MTI, and Stohlquist (www.stohlquist.com). Some of the PFD models we tested have been discontinued, but we trust these brands to have high-quality, well-designed products. Also, Spinlock (www.spinlock.co.uk) recently came out with a kid-size inflatable PFD with a harness: The Deckvest Cento Junior ($180) is designed for 45- to 110-pound wearers. Well be taking a closer look at the Cento this summer; stay tuned for the full review.

More Mini Crew Must-Haves
Check Personal Floating Device Fit Before You Go in the Water
Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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