I firmly believe that there is no better family holiday than a sailing holiday onboard a yacht in the beautiful Islands of Greece.  However for it to be a success (for everyone!) then the following top tips should be considered:

jumping in

1.  Choose the correct sailing area:  Children can get bored on long sea passages.  Fact. They also don't take too kindly to rough seas (do any of us?!). So the area you choose for your sailing holiday needs to offer short distances between safe anchorages, flat seas and kind winds.  In Greece the type of sailing can vary widely, so pick an area that will give your kids a great, safe holiday rather than an area which is better suited to sailing with your experienced sailing pals in a F6 wind!  The Ionian Islands are widely regarded as being one of the safest areas for family sailing as there are no tides or currents, flat seas, kind winds and a huge number of safe anchorages/swim stops all within a compact cruising area.

2.  Sail safely within your abilities: You are on holiday!  You do not want a stressful time, you want to be able to enjoy this holiday with the children. If you as a parent are stressed then this will be transferred to your children (and partner no doubt).  Whilst having chosen the correct sailing area, you are half way there, it is also very important to be on the correct sailing programme.  Bareboat, Assisted Bareboat, full blown flotilla or a skippered charter (this could be just a day or two with a skipper or a full week or two) are generally your options. Speak with the operator and be honest about your abilities/worries of yourself and your co-skipper and they will be able oto advise accordingly.  Nisos Yacht Charter, offers Bareboat charters, Assisted Bareboat Charters and Skippered charters (with or without a hostess).  The Assisted Bareboat Charter scheme is thoroughly recommended  if sailing with children, as not only do they find other children to play with in the evenings, it does remove the whole mooring up stress in the evenings, especially if sailing in August. Read more about it here:  http://www.nisosyachtcharter.com/holiday-options/assisted-bareboat-charters


3.  Choose the right boat:  The first thing to consider is the length of boat.  My advice is not to go too large!  Whilst it is great to have lots of space down below and up top, if you want the children to get involved in the sailing of the boat (see below), then the smaller the better.  Fenders, genoa sheets, main halyards are all more manageable on a smaller boat.  Cabins - remember kids don't really care where they sleep!  My three love sleeping in the saloon or even in the cockpit under the stars or all bundling into one cabin.  Inmast furling or slab reefing mainsail?  Inmast furling is certainly easier on the larger boats, without a burly crew to sweat the main halyard. On smaller boats then either is fine - just down to personal preference really.

Make sure that the boat you are chartering has a decent sized bimini and preferably a sprayhood for that all important shade. Also make sure that before booking the boat will sail with the bimini up!

Other than that, just make sure that the boat is up to date with all of its safety equipment and is in good seaworthy condition.

You are heavily relient on your anchor when sailing in Greece and with deep waters, so you will need plenty of anchor chain and a good anchor.  An absolute minimum of 50m is needed in the Ionian (all chain) to have any success of anchoring successfully in the deep bays.  On larger yachts (37ft to 41ft) I would suggest a minimum of 70m.  42ft to 51ft, 80m to 100m of chain.  NIsos Yacht Charter also only use the excellent Rocna anchor across the fleet for maximum security.

4.  Safety onboard the yacht:  We sail with 3 children and have a simple set of rules.  If we are motoring and it is flat calm, then as long as the kids are in the cockpit or below, they do not need to wear life jackets.  If they are up on deck out of the cockpit then life jackets must be worn.  If we are sailing then life jackets must be worn.  Having a simple set of rules for all on board gives structure for the children - and remember for the adults to set a good example for them!  

Make sure the charter operator has good quality (and serviced!) life jackets for all ages/weights. 

When swimming off the boat, this should be done only when away from the busy harbours.  It is amazing how many parents let their children swim in the busy harbours with boats of all sizes manouvering around with limited visibility.

Most charter boats come with a tender/dinghy.  Some come with an outboard engine.  It is great fun to teach your children how to SAFELY operate a small dinghy with small outboard engine and gives them an immense sense of pride and achievement to go for an adventure without parents.  Kill chords, life jackets should all be worn and the instruction should include respect for other boats and swimmers. So this is best left to the deserted bays.  Also I would request an outboard no bigger than 2.5hp if you hoping to let the children operate it.  Again, the number of times we have seen children unaccompanied in a busy harbour in a 6hp dinghy blatting about at high speed is worrying to say the least. Also rememebr that these things can be a nuisance with regards to noise, so keep that in mind!

5.  Toys on board:  This should be the holiday of a lifetime for the children, so have plenty on board to keep them occupied (and I don't mean Ipads and phones - best to try and leave those at home!).  Try and rent a paddle board or kayak (or 2 depending on the size of the boat).  Make sure the operator supplies snorkelling gear.  Get some simple fishing lines and lures/bait.  Use the fenders as floats in the sea to play on. It all adds to the holiday!  Nisos Yacht Charter has SUPS and Kayaks available to rent for the week, snorkelling gear is available free of charge.

Also see the point above about the tender and outboard.

girl on canoe

6.  Plan your itinerary carefully:  Our kids love to swim! More than anything else they love being in the water, and they are always asking how long to the next swim stop!  If you have decided to sail the Ionian, then you will never be more than an hour away from a beautiful swimming bay.  The winds are generally light in the mornings, so a gentle motor in the morning to a swim/lunch stop, a good couple of hours swimming and messing around then a 2 or 3 hour sail in the afternoon, followed by another swimming opportunity when moored up.  We tend to do a lot of long line mooring so swimming off the boat in the morning and evening is possible. If we are heading to a harbour where we will be on the quay, then we tend to ensure there is a good swim spot a short walk away. Swimming is king!  

Don't plan long days at sea with no stops and always be prepared to alter your route.

7.  Get the children INVOLVED!  This can start every morning!  Greece in general is a very safe area (the Ionian especially so), and we send the children off with some Euros to get the morning breakfast in from the local bakery and if we are feeling brave we even send them shopping for the lunch provisions!  Again it is a great sense of achievement - especially if they have gone to the shop via dinghy!  Greeks are incredibly welcoming and friendly to children.

Onboard the boat, depending on ages, then give the children jobs to do.  For example, fenders in and out; move the dinghy when mooring up; keep a look out; operate the electric windlass (with supervision); open holding tanks; learn to coil warps; helming; tacking (supervision on the winches and only in light airs) are some of the jobs that all children can do - and it is useful!

If it is windy, then of course you need to consider the risks at all times of winches and standing in the cockpit.

kid sailing with Paddy

8.  Length of holiday:  This is a difficult one.  Children adapt to their situations very quickly and often one week onboard is not enough. So consider two weeks or maybe combining a week on the boat with a week after on shore in a hotel or villa (Nisos can help with that!).  We often will build a day into the itinerary for a day ashore, where we go nowhere.  Sometimes we will head to a local hotel with pool or rent a car and explore the land for a few hours in airconditioned comfort! It really depends on ages and individuals.  But be prepared to alter your intinerary if you feel a day going nowhere will give everyone some R&R.

9.  Back up services:  There is nothing worse than having a mechanical problem and not having the no how to sort it yourself or having decent mechanical back up on hand.  Make sure the charter operator has a full 24/7 back up service and that they are willing to come to you, rather than you return to base or wait on a sailing boat to come to your rescue (yes some operators don't even have maintenance RIBS and rely on sailing boats which can take a long time).  Make sure you understand the procedure for requesting assistance and if in any doubt speak to the operator at the very first instance a problem develops so they have time to plan a response.

Nisos Atlantic 21 "Ira"

This is isn't just related to sailing with children, but goes for all charter parties.  If you have any concerns or need any sort of assistance don't be too stubborn or proud to ask for help!  A good operator will be able to give you guidance and assistance at any time, be it medical, mechanical or emotional!  The operator will want you to have a GREAT holiday and come back in future years. That means you having a stress free and successful chartering experience. 

10.  Keep a diary or make a movie or a photo scrap book:  No better way to get the kids doing something educational on holiday.  Get them to keep a diary of the daily journey and adventure. Drawings of what they seen and done.  If they are budding film maker, then get them to make a film of their holiday. There will be so many great opportunites for great footage and with cheap waterproof cameras these days nothing is impossible!

Finally:  HAVE FUN and give the kids a holiday of a lifetime!!  

Any comments or questions?  Send to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Rowan sails regularly in the Ionian with 3 children, Sam, Harry and Amelie (ages 7 to 11).)

For more information on chartering a boat in the Ionian Islands, please go to www.nisosyachtcharter.com or call +44 (0)7919 045414 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.