Thursday, March 01, 2007
Things That Go Boom in the Night
While I can largely dismiss the hazards of surrounding children in billions of gallons of water, it is far more difficult for me to dismiss the dangers inherent in surrounding children in things that go boom at the slightest provocation. It strikes me as particularly insane to put 900 amps of battery power, 100 gallons of diesel fuel, and a fire extinguisher in the same room as an 8-year-old and her 6-year-old sister.
You are a boat owner with children or grand children aboard. What do you do? What DO you do?
I cannot tell you what to do. I can only tell you what we are doing which is essentially nothing. All right, it is closer to absolutely nothing than to essentially nothing but saying “essentially” gives me sufficient wiggle room in any legal action. The good news is that children are essentially indestructible. The bad news is that all protestations to the contrary, essentially is a really lousy word.
Now one thing I have long since learned about children – or at least my children – is that seeing is believing. Another way to state this, danger is only dangerous if it has actually bitten you on the ass. Okay, even simpler: your children won’t believe you. You can repeat, “Matches BURN!” until you are blue in the face and unless a child manages to set her cabin on fire, she will not believe you.
My suggestion is that the way you protect your children from the things that go boom on your boat is to let them hurt themselves -- in a controlled, structured, and well monitored environment replete with soothing words and a suitcase of medical supplies. Fortunately, live aboard cruising offers abundant opportunities to teach your children about the dangers of live aboard cruising. It is hard to imagine a life style more replete with wondrous moments for applied lessons in self-preservation.
Take for example the category of things that go boom that involves combustible fluids. Most boats carry at least three – and sometimes four – separate flavors of fuel: diesel, propane, gasoline, and kerosene. Each boat beverage is packaged with its own unique combination of disastrous potentialities. What you need to do is identify those that are most likely to entice junior into blowing up your home.
On our boat, we quickly learned that the girls couldn’t care less about diesel. Diesel was daddy’s problem. They weren’t much more impressed by gasoline. That was mommy’s problem. Kerosene, however, meant heat and light in the salon. Candles and matches meant warmth, light and coziness in the cabins. And propane! Wow. Propane is the source of all heated edibles.
The priority became clear. The girls received a crash course in how to use matches in combination with the propane stove. At every possible opportunity, we used them to open the valves, turn on the solenoid, and start the stove burners or oven. Matches matches matches! Tea candles are the ideal testing ground for good match manners. Scatter them around the salon and you not only learn how to avoid burning bitty fingers, but you also create a charming atmosphere for yourselves and all distant observers watching your boat bob at anchor lit up like an old fashioned Christmas tree.
Electricity follows the same pattern. Though, frankly, the real problem with electricity and children is not the high voltage lines running everywhere, the exposed plugs in every room, or the enormous batteries in the foot of their bed. The real problem is that they never turn out the damn lights. I’m far more concerned with teaching the little twits to conserve energy then I am about them electrocuting themselves.
Nevertheless, I advise getting the children involved in electrical production and maintenance as soon as feasible. They can quickly learn how to handle the electrical panel, hook up to shore power, and manage the battery switches. Teach them how to monitor the battery capacity, and you’ll never need to worry about forgetting to check again.
The real bummer boomer, though, is momentum. I find that where children are particularly prone to disaster is when they take on the basic laws of physics. In other words, chemistry and electricity are too complicated to hurt boat kids. It’s the physical physics that get them every time. Leverage, inertia, mass times acceleration, and good old gravity work wonders for moving your boat through the water and anchoring it to the ground, but against the soft tender skin of young human beings these forces are swift and evil.
I caution parents to spend far less time worrying about drowning and blowing up your offspring and concentrate more on toes crushed in an anchor rode, heads bashed by a swinging boom, or fingers stripped of skin by a line on a bucket dropped into the water at seven knots. Teach your kids basic physics, people, or your boat will do it for you.