Taking Children On A Boat: Safety and Preparation Tips

Summer is a time for carefree days enjoying ice cream cones or time out on a beautiful lake. For parents with young children, however, a peaceful boat ride can be stressful. In 2009, 54 children under the age of 19 died in recreational boating related accidents, while dozens more were injured, according to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. Don't become part of those statistics. Use and promote safe boating practices. Learning boating safety doesn’t just protect your children now. These important life skills decrease the likelihood that they will experience a boating accident at any point in life.

Always Use a Life Jacket

One of the most important rules in boating safety is to insist upon life jacket use for all children. Many younger kids complain that life jackets are uncomfortable, while older kids might worry that it looks uncool to use a personal floatation device. Insist on them anyway.

First, ensure that your child’s life jacket fits appropriately to alleviate any problems associated with comfort. Check the label to make sure it is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and is sufficient for your child’s size and weight. Also make sure that your kid has spent time in the water when wearing a life jacket and knows how to most easily keep his or her head above the water.

Among the most important ways that you can encourage your child to wear a life jacket is to always wear one yourself. Many parents forego personal floatation devices, saying that they are strong swimmers or safe boaters. Modeling safe behavior for your children makes it more likely that they will acquiesce to wearing safety gear.

Consider Age Appropriate Boating Activities

Many recreational boaters enjoy tubing, water skiing, and other fun summertime activities. Kids especially love the opportunity to get wet and take part in more adventurous water sports. Before heading out on the water, set some ground rules for boating safety. Tubing is not an appropriate activity for young kids, so make sure your child has the size and strength to safely take part (many tubing manufacturers list size or age guidelines — know your equipment before heading out). Always make sure an adult acts as a spotter when tubing or water skiing to prevent accidents.

Engage in Safe Boating Activities

Before heading out for the afternoon, check to make sure you have all necessary supplies. Bring extra sunscreen and reapply every hour or two, especially if your kids are in and out of the water. Having plenty of water and snacks on board is also key. Discover Boating recommends that recreational boaters have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, charts, sound producing device such as a horn, and a marine radio at all times. Take a boaters safety course to ensure you know the appropriate rules and regulations to safely operate on the water. Even if you’re heading out for a short excursion, having appropriate equipment ensures that you will stay safe in case of an accident.

Boating with children can be an enjoyable activity for the whole family. Always remember to keep an eye on your children, as water-related accidents happen fast. By practicing boating safety, you’ll create great family memories while minimizing risk.

This blog was submitted to The Children's Workshop by guest writer, Gerard Hamilton. Gerard is a Little League coach, sports fan and stay-at-home dad.