The Top 5 Safety Tips for Having Kids on a Boat

The Top 5 Safety Tips for Having Kids on a Boat

Kids love boats. One of the most attractive features of boats is that they're truly family friendly. Hopping on the boat is a natural way to get some wholesome family entertainment outdoors.

Who wouldn't love to spend time on the water with their kiddos? It's so great to know that you're giving them lifelong memories with every day spent out on the water.

But whether the purpose of your voyage is to enjoy a day of water skiing, fishing, tubing or just cruising around, there are a few realities that must be taken into consideration.

Perhaps the most vital thing to realize is that, even though you may have done your best to instill in them the importance of onboard safety, children are just not as physically, mentally or emotionally mature as adults. That's why every adult on the boat must shoulder a shared responsibility to keep an eye on the youngsters during the cruise.

Here are five tips that will help to ensure a safe and pleasant trip for all of your passengers.

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The Top 5 Safety Tips for Having Kids on a Boat

1. Give the Kids an Onboard Safety Orientation

Once everyone has boarded, it's a good idea to take a few minutes to go over a few basic safety issues. Talk to the kids about wearing their personal flotation devices at all times.

Talk to everyone about properly distributing the passenger load, and make sure that every passenger knows where the "kill switch" is located in the event that an unexpected emergency should arise.

Stress the extreme importance of continuous rehydration under a blazing sun, and make sure everyone knows where the drinking water is stored.

2. Have PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) for Everyone

It's not just the law that you must be wearing one when onboard a boat in most places these days, it's the sobering fact that, if you don't and something unforeseen occurs, you or one of your passengers could end up dead.

U.S. Coast Guard regulations mandate the wearing of an approved personal flotation device for you and everyone aboard your boat. Always remember that in the eyes of the law, if it's your boat, it's your responsibility.

PFDs that are designed for adult usage are generally made with an adjustable "one size fits all" concept. But when selecting the best PFD for children in the middle of their growth cycle, it can get a little more complicated especially as they physically mature, or if they happen to be toddlers.

Although from a financial standpoint, it may be tempting to buy your child a PFD that's roomy enough to allow them some wiggle room as they grow, it's a foolhardy concept.

Growing into a pair of blue jeans or tennis shoes may be acceptable on the home front, but not out on the water. Toddlers also have a tendency to try and ditch their PFDs because they don't yet understand the importance of wearing one.

Try to make a game out of it, and establish some sort of reward that will be given to them if they keep their flotation device on throughout the entire trip. This often does the trick.

Remember that the most important function of these types of PFDs is to keep the head of a child above water. If it's too loose, it's likely to float away while the child sinks.

Upgrade the size as they grow, and consider passing down the smaller size to younger children who might need one in the future. Unlike adults, whose PFDs are either adjustable or determined by their chest size, fitting a child with the correct device is calculated and classified by weight:

The Coast Guard recommends that children and youths use a Type III USCG-approved model, while infants are often best suited for the Type II design.

For infants and very small children, a proper PFD should also be equipped with padded head support to help keep the child's head above water, a grab handle to assist retrieving the child out of the water and a crotch strap to help keep the PFD from riding up.

3. Keep Kids Protected from the Elements

There was a popular margarine commercial on television many years ago that offered the warning, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature!" And that admonition is even truer today.

Protection against escalating UV rays has become a much more important issue than it was 30 years ago. Back then, a sunscreen that was rated between 10 and 15 SPF was considered adequate.

These days, sunscreens with a rating two to three times that have become common. For tots and young children, it's best to select products that don't contain potential hormone disruptors, such as retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone.

Most dermatologists recommend mineral-based products that contain a higher percentage of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Babyganics makes a nice, safe and healthy option for youngsters (check price on Amazon here). In addition to UV-blocking agents, broad-brimmed hats and lightweight windbreakers will go a long way in helping to protect everyone onboard from excessive exposure to the sun's rays, whether they happen to be children or adults.

And, even if it's in the middle of summer, always be prepared by keeping sufficient foul weather and cold weather apparel aboard as well. Always keep an eye on developing weather conditions, and try to schedule your voyage so that you'll be hoisting the anchor, line and chain and returning to port before sundown.

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4. Be Prepared to Combat Motion Sickness

Getting seasick is one of the most unpleasant experiences that you can have while on the water, and it can be especially rough for kids. Luckily, many of today's leading over-the-counter remedies have been formulated for both adults and children over the age of two.

Two of the most popular and widely available brands of motion sickness remedies are Dramamine (Dimenhydrinate) and Marezine (Cyclizine), each of which has its own contraindication profile.

However, in rare instances a prescription medication like Zofran might be necessary, and must be authorized by a physician's prescription.

There are also a few time-tested natural remedies that you might want to consider. Perhaps the most valuable of these is raw ginger, which has been proven by research to be effective in treating the symptoms of motion sickness. It's believed that it works by slowing the muscular contractions of the stomach walls, thus calming the tummy.

Some have gotten relief through aromatherapy, with lavender being at the top of the list as a natural anti-nausea agent. A dab of concentrated lavender oil (check price on Amazon) placed just beneath the nostrils is one way to take advantage of the effects.

Originally devised by Japanese fishermen, one of the oldest methods of combating seasickness is to wear a tightly-fitting "sea band" around your wrist that relies upon acupressure to correct the condition. Although this technique seems to work for some people, it hasn't worked for everyone who tries wearing the one I ordered to keep from being sea sick (just in my experience).

5. Explore the Safe Ways for Kids to Have Fun on the Water


Studies have shown that 70 percent of the people who fish today were initially introduced to the sport of fishing by the time that they had reached 12 years of age.

Don't wait until you get onboard to show them the basics, start out in your living room or garage by exposing them to the types of rods, reels, lures or other terminal tackle that you anticipate using aboard the boat. It can also be useful to kick start the adventure with a trip to a local bait and tackle shop to help perk up their interest.

Alternatively, you can go prepared with a little hand-fishing setup (check price on Amazon) or a whole child-friendly fishing set (check price on Amazon).

Keep things simple, either begin with basic hook-and-line bait fishing or by trolling lures at various speeds behind your boat. Repetitively casting and retrieving lures is better left for those who have already developed their fishing skills.

Remember, kids new to fishing get bored quickly. Above all, keep things fun! Always emphasize that the real joy of fishing is found in the experience, not in how many fish you actually catch.

Water skiing

Because of the skill and coordination necessary, water skiing is a sport that a child must not only be truly be interested in taking it up, they also need the physical and mental development to do it safely.

Make sure you start them off with water skis made for children (check price on Amazon). These are designed to accommodate their size and weight. One of the most important things to teach them is to keep their knees bent and their weight centered on the balls of their feet.

This makes it much more difficult for them to fall backward. It will also allow your child develop better control for turning and successfully making other maneuvers as they improve their skill level.


Tubing can not only be great fun, but it's well suited for youngsters because all that they have to remember to do is hang on. Just make sure that all PFDs are well adjusted and fit the children who are wearing them snugly.

You'll also want to make sure you've got a towable tube that's not only durable and safe, but has handles to grab onto and back support to help kids stay upright while you boat around. Here's one great option available on Amazon.

Remember that while sharp turns and higher speeds might seem exhilarating, they can be particularly dangerous when towing smaller kids around. It's also important to slow down when you're crossing the wakes of other boats.

Be sure to have a spotter onboard who can alert the skipper immediately when someone falls off the tube. Always check local regulations regarding the towing speed limitations that may be in force on the particular body of water that you're tubing.

Final Thoughts on Having Kids on a Boat

In the end, the message is short and sweet. Your children are the most precious cargo that you'll ever take onboard your boat. It's totally up to you to keep them safe!