I Ran Over My Daughter

I received an email today from a woman who is “very determined” to set sail with her husband and two kids ages 4 and 6. She had several questions, but one of which I felt needed to be addressed immediately, as we’ve had literally hundreds of people asking the same thing lately:

Elle R. writes:  

My biggest fear is the safety of my kids. I’m ridiculously paranoid about piracy, sharks, kidnapping, illness on board, etc. How did you mentally prepare yourself for this?

Hi Elle! Thanks for writing in. We have lived in the city all our lives, aside from a few summers spent in the mountains. We have had baby gates, outlet covers, front door alarms, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, high-end wifi-enabled home security systems, Beware of Dog signs in the yard (but no dog), helmets, knee pads, pepper spray…you name it. We lived a bubble-wrapped life.

And then we sold all that and perched our four kids atop a fiberglass rocking horse with a built-in lightning rod and set off for the unknown. Three years later, we have had no one fall overboard, get lost in a storm, or starve to death. Aside from a few tummy aches, jellyfish stings, and some cuts and scrapes, we have managed to stay alive and thrive while on this amazing journey!

We do keep a pretty elaborate First Aid Kit, we all know CPR and basic First Response, and we have plenty of antibiotics and medications on board. We also have a defibrillator on board as well. You know: the thing where you yell “CLEAR!” and it restarts your heart with a jolt of electricity. We purchased it when we completed the CPR course a few years back, just in case someone goes overboard and needs to be revived. We’ve never had to use it thankfully.

 brush with death

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, Australia

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, Australia

However, our closest brush with death was when all six of us went on a road trip in Australia two years ago. Ironically, we were nowhere near water and we were doing something we’d done a million times before: driving a car.

We’d rented a large family van for a two-week expedition across the Australian outback. We packed a cooler full of food and drinks and motel-hopped for over six thousand miles, enjoying everything from the Sydney Opera House to kangaroos and red dirt roads.

  One particular steamy afternoon, after about three hours on a desolate dusty backroad, we pulled over to grab a snack and relieve ourselves. Me and Anna squatted in the ditch, Kate walked up front to squat, and the boys did their business at the back of the van. Afterwards, with flies swarming us and sweat dripping down our necks, we quickly grabbed a drink from the back, climbed in and slid the doors shut. Keith kicked the A/C on and threw the car into drive.

This was the worst moment of my life. I’ll never forget it. Immediately after Keith pressed the gas pedal, we felt a distinct “thump thump” like we’d hit two small potholes. At the same time that Finn yelled from the back saying “KATE’S NOT IN,” I heard her scream from under the console where I was sitting buckled up in my passenger seat. Keith and I instantly looked at each other, he threw the car into park, and I swear I have never exited a vehicle so quickly. I dropped to my knees on the gravel road and looked under the car to see my youngest daughter face down on her tummy, directly under the middle of the van, between all four tires. She was only half-clothed as she had removed her bottoms to go pee, and unfortunately, she did so in front of the giant van, and Keith couldn’t see her when he started to drive away.

She was trembling, her hands outstretched in front of her. I said something to the effect of “Kate, slide on out, come to Momma.” On her tummy, my 10-year-old girl slowly scooted out to me and stood up as I took her in my arms.

I’ve never been so scared in all my life. Keith was in shock, swearing and crying, because he could not believe he’d done that. It all happened so fast. She’d been squatting, with her back to the bumper, directly in the middle of the front of the van. When the car rolled forward, it nudged her bottom and pushed her right onto her stomach, where she splayed out between the two front tires. The right front tire rolled over her tiny hand and ripped the fingernail off of her pinky finger, but other than that she was fine, with no broken bones. She recalls feeling a little light-headed but was more concerned that “Daddy was cussing, and I don’t like that.” The first thing she said to me when we broke the embrace was “Mom, can I put my pants on?”

We realized right then that you can never “plan” for accidents.

You can prepare yourself and secure your children, but accidents happen, and if it’s their time to go, it’s their time to go. We are not an overly religious family, but we do believe in God, and I think as long as you know where you are going when the inevitable happens, you might as well enjoy your life and live it to the fullest.

Kate the day before the accident, South Australia

Kate the day before the accident, South Australia

It took us months to recover from this accident, which I like to call the Best and Worst Day of My Life. It only took Kate a day or two to move past it, kids are so resilient and forgiving, but she knows now not to EVER get in front of a vehicle, no matter whether it’s parked or not. And Keith always does a head count when we get in a vehicle. Nowadays, if you ask Kate, it’s no big deal; she’ll gladly tell you the story about how her Daddy ran over her.


Elle, my point is, you can’t ever completely prepare yourself to go sailing with your kids, but you can take as many precautions as you think best, learn from others, and always have a backup plan. Rogue waves, great white sharks, and pirates are about as common as winning the lottery. Make smart choices: secure your boat while you’re not on it, lock your dinghy up at suspicious docks, keep the kids down below in rough weather, make sure your boat has modern communications and radar tracking, and stock up your medical kit.


Then just sit back and enjoy your time adventuring with your family!


Happy Sailing,