Baby On Board

February 2022 Live By Heather Magda Serrano

Baby-proofing a houseboat is no small matter, as Forrest and Kayleigh Packebush can tell you. There are a lot of precautions and modifications to make, but it’s all absolutely worth it if it means a safer environment for your child. As proud parents of their baby girl, Emerson, who’s only 11 months old, both parents continue to be enchanted by their daughter and their houseboat lifestyle on Lake Pleasant in Peoria, Ariz.

The Packebushes purchased their 80-foot Sumerset houseboat about three-and-a-half years ago, but before that, they had lived on a 1978 Drifter that Forrest had renovated. Prior to that, Forrest lived on a 30-foot Cruiser. Altogether Forrest has lived on the water for 12 years and Kayleigh’s lived on it for about five, so it’s safe to say they’re no strangers to houseboat living.

Of course, now that little Emerson is a part of the picture, living on the water has become a whole new ball game and they’ve worked hard to make sure she is as safe and comfortable as possible on their houseboat.

From the typical modifications you’d find on land-locked homes to houseboat-specific ones, Forrest and Kayleigh have made sure to cover all the basics and more. And it’s a good thing too because now that Emerson is almost a year old, Forrest mentioned she’s become considerably more mobile.

“She’s full on sprinting, running, getting into everything, and smashing things,” laughed Forrest playfully. “I’ve lovingly nicknamed her the ‘Kraken,’ the eight-legged sea monster that grabs ahold of everything and destroys it.”

Another Set Of Eyes

With Emerson running around and getting into all kinds of mischief, the Packebushes are happy to have their watchful dog Sully as another set of eyes. Sully isn’t usually a barker, but he always starts barking whenever he sees kids jumping and splashing in the water.

“I don’t curb him doing it because it lets me know there are kids around and he’s barking for a reason,” explained Forrest. “It’s nice having that third set of eyes watching the baby anytime she’s doing anything, especially if she were to jump in the water.”

Forrest and Kayleigh are both firefighters, and Forrest rescued Sully on a call. Ever since living with Forrest he’s become a part of both the fire station and boat life. “The first day I had him he was swimming,” chuckled Forrest, “and the second day I had him he was riding on a fire truck.”

The Packebushes also have 12-year-old goddaughter named Lexi who hangs out with them on the houseboat quite frequently, and they have always been grateful to have their loyal dog around to keep an eye out for her too.

Typical Baby-Proofing

The first thing Forrest and Kayleigh did to get ready for Emerson to live on board were the typical things that most homeowners would do like putting locks on doors, cabinets, drawers, and toilets. They made anything potentially harmful inaccessible to curious, grabby little hands.

They also put outlet protectors on all electrical outlets to keep the baby from sticking her little fingers or objects into the outlets. Additionally, the Packebushes have alarms on the sliding glass doors that go off anytime the doors open. A chime goes off during the day and at night they switch to a loud, obnoxious alarm.

They actually installed the chimes when they first bought the boat for their goddaughter Lexi who was only eight at the time, and they have always been helpful for keeping track of everybody’s comings and goings.

Baby-Proofing The Houseboat

After all the typical baby-proofing, Forrest and Kayleigh got to work on baby-proofing specifics for their houseboat. The first on this list was the railing of the houseboat. When they bought the houseboat, the railing on the upper deck only had canvas on its upper portion, leaving the lower wide open. A ball or anything could roll over the edge of the houseboat and the baby could go after it. So the Packebushes had custom screens made that close the lower portion of the railing so that nothing can get through. Secured neatly, these screens keep Emerson from being able to crawl off the edge.

The Packebushes also have some custom gates for the spiral staircase in the back and the main stairway in the front, which they were able to make and install with the help of their neighbor who blacksmiths as a hobby. Once Forrest and Kayleigh latch these gates shut, Emerson can’t get through without the help of mom or dad.

Baby-Proofing The Slip

The Packebushes have two slips at Pleasant Harbor Marina: they have their houseboat in the one and their speedboat in the other. With the help of the same blacksmithing neighbor, Forrest was able to fabricate some black iron pipe for fencing and put safety screens along the fence lines. This makes it so that even when she’s out on the slip, Emerson can’t get into the water.

The screen material Forrest used is the same used to contain cattle, so she can’t rip it, tear it, or poke things through it. It’s secure and long-lasting while still allowing her to see the water through it. Forrest added that one of her favorite pastimes is to sit and look at the water, so that’s a definite plus.

Inside the slip, the Packebushes decked in a 30- by 20-foot area in front of the speed boat. Forrest put some artificial grass down there so she has a little play area. He also put a gym in there for himself and his wife so that they can exercise while they watch Emerson. It’s quite the perfect set up for the whole family.

“So far so good, but it’s always a work in progress,” smiled Forrest.

Of course, Forrest stressed that all the safety precautions they’ve made don’t replace proper parenting and vigilance, but they do make it a lot easier to avoid accidents. Another precaution the family has taken is to give Emerson a Safety Turtle 2.0 bracelet which sets off an alarm when submerged in water. She has also been through Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) classes and is currently in swim lessons.

Other Challenges

Naturally, there are some other challenges that come with living aboard a houseboat with a baby. Forrest mentioned that one of the biggest challenges is grocery shopping, since the parking spots are a half-mile walk from the boat.

“Walking with a stroller and a cart full of groceries can get quite cumbersome because the garage is no longer 20 feet away from the kitchen,” admitted Forrest.

Some of the other challenges include people going to the lake to recreate and have a good time. It’s completely understandable to the Packebushes, but some weekends can get a little loud, especially when you just put a baby down to sleep. For this reason, they’ve come up with some inventive ways to keep the noise down so Emerson doesn’t get disturbed.

The solution to the noise problem that’s worked the best is white noise. “We’ve gotten a white noise machine for her,” described Forrest. “During the monsoon seasons we also put a dehumidifier with her because the humidity gets very high with the monsoons. Not only does it help her sleep more comfortably, but it also provides some extra white noise.”

All Worth It

One of Forrest’s absolute favorite things about living on the houseboat with Kayleigh and Emerson is coming home after a stressful day at work. “The minute we crest the hill and are coming down the ramp looking at the water, all of the stressors go away,” attested Forrest.

Life is good and tranquil living on the houseboat and being able to raise Emerson on board is a special adventure. From her frequent habit of gazing at the shimmering water with delight, it’s quite clear she loves living on the water too.

“Her new favorite thing to do is sit on the floor by one of the longer windows that goes down all the way to the water and watch the boats go by and say, ‘Daddy,’” beamed Forrest. “I scuba dive a lot so she’s used to me coming in and out of the water.”

Kayleigh enjoys scuba diving as well, and if all goes according to plan, Emerson will also have a scuba diving certification in hand when she turns 10 years old so she can go diving with Mom and Dad.

Lately, the Packebushes have had some really nice weather and they’ve been taking the houseboat out of its slip as often as they can. When they took it out for their first ride of the season, it was the first time they’d taken the houseboat out since Emerson had been able to walk.

“It was wonderful to be able to watch her run around and play on the deck of the houseboat while we’re out driving,” shared Forrest. “Of course, Mom’s about 2 feet behind her chasing her and making sure she’s not falling down with the waves or throwing toys over the railings.”

In moments like these when the Packebushes get to see their little girl frolicking and playing, they can’t help but reflect on how happy they are that they chose to raise their daughter out on the water. Baby-proofing the houseboat turned out to be a small price to pay for all the precious moments they are experiencing together as a family.


For more information, check out Sumerset Houseboats and Pleasant Harbor Marina.

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