I have often wondered if sailing has been — on the whole — such a good experience for my children. Has it usefully contributed to their behaviour (reasonable so far) if not their character (good so far)? I think it must have contributed to a sense of at least moderate tidiness because on a boat everything has its place, and if something isn't put back in the right place then it can't be found again when it is needed in a hurry, or at the first puff of wind it slides off the table and breaks or spills all over everything. Sailing is to do with being orderly rather than disorderly. And obeying orders from the skipper (also known usually as Dad but sometimes as Mum, who at home are less often obeyed), a discipline honed by much bedtime reading of Swallows and Amazons and the now out-of-print Little Tim books by Edward Ardizonni. Later, Patrick O'Brian comes into play. Also, family sailing must contribute to a sense of relying on each other, particularly in times of not exactly danger but at least some anxiety. After all, when Dad is at the mast trying to reef and Mum is hanging on to the tiller, is not a good time for a child to demand instant attention. Also ,children have to become self-reliant and competent in all kinds of quite small things like tying knots (a good knots and splicing book is a must), securing the dinghy on the stern, cleating sheets and so on. And what to reply to those families that do their 'sailing' in the Mediterranean or even the Caribbean, and who cannot imagine swimming in Scotland? Cut down on your flying, and buy wetsuits,.
Of course the whole experience of sailing in the Hebrides gives children an outstanding close-up introduction to wildlife (birds, seals, dolphins, jellyfish, flowers and whatever). And appreciating the enormous value of wild and beautiful places in what I hope is an environmentally reasonably acceptable way. I try to use the diesel engine as little as possible, I have an electric outboard motor which I hardly use anyway (preferring to row, and teach the children to row too), but I do worry about the marine consequences of antifouling.
What does one do with the little darlings when they get bored? Curiously that seems less of a problem while sailing than on land where just sitting in the same place and doing very little would be unheard of. It would be unheard of me too. It must be something to do with the rhythm of the sea. On a wet day in the cabin it is down to games of whatever takes the children's normal fancy, jigsaws (of nautical scenes of course), drawing and colouring in, card games, dominos. A CD player (a bit old-fashioned) or smart phone are essential items for stories and songs. Get the children to cook cakes, bread, dinner, anything really. Reading to them can pass lots of time, but chose books that you enjoy too — Arthur Ransome is an obvious choice, and Harry Potter although I personally have never really got on with him. Of course once the children can read for themselves, even if their choices seem and probably are literary junk, your problem is solved. Really just do what you normally do at home but without recourse to the TV, smart phone or laptop if possible. A kindle is helpful as long as it isn't dropped overboard. Provided their parents are up for the risk, Inviting along your children’s friends can be a mixed blessing,
A good tip from New Zealand friends is to give the children a goal, skills and an interest. So make up curricula that each child has to work through, with items to tick off: for cabin boy or girl, ship's boy or girl, second mate, first mate and so on (not skipper of course!). Reward the achievement of each stage with a certificate, and maybe something edible. In fact I don't believe any of my children ever finished all their certificates before they were on to their real RYA dinghy sailing qualifications.
There are of course several books written about coping with children on boats. I think the most informative is not a 'how to do it' book, but 'One Summer's Grace' by Libby Purves, 1989, and widely available as a paperback. Her emotions and views about sailing around the UK with her two children aged three and five at the time, and her husband, are incredibly helpful to those who struggle with just a trip round the bay.
I am often asked if my children enjoy sailing. Silly question. I have never asked them in case I get the answer I don't want. David Cameron made the mistake of asking the British people if they wanted to leave Europe, and look what happened.