Is a Teenager Able To Operate A Boat Without an Adult?
Have you ever had your teen ask to take the boat out by him or herself? Your first thought was probably similar to mine: "Is that even legal?" Well, I did my homework and after careful consideration, decided not to let her go. Teenagers always seem to want independence, but don't seem to enjoy being saddled with the responsibility. Well, obviously those two things go hand in hand.
There are multiple cases of kids that were sent our for a day on the water and ended up never coming back. It can seem like a good idea to keep your kids happy, but the truth is that solo boating is a very dangerous prospect. You can gauge your teenager's readiness in a few different ways, and it is extremely important to do so. Keeping your teenager safe is much more important than keeping them happy.
Is a teenager able to operate a boat without an adult? What exactly is required for them to legally do so? Additionally, what sort of signals should you be looking for to confirm whether or not your fledgling adult is ready for a day out on the water all by themselves? Some of these answers are more straightforward than others, but we will strive to bring you all of the information that we can regarding whether a teenager is able to operate a boat without an adult.
Is It Legal?
The actual legislation regarding whether or not a teenager is able to operate a boat without supervision varies quite widely, but in the vast majority of states, it is legal for children as young as 12 to operate a watercraft without supervision. Some of these states require completion of a boating course, while others stipulate that a certain horsepower. Check your state boating laws to ensure you are within compliance.
Alaska, South Dakota, and Wyoming are by far the most lenient states. They don't require any sort of boating course at all. Illinois and Massachusetts allow children 12 years or older to go solo if they have completed a boating education course first. My home state of California requires a boating course, and people with moving violations might be required to successfully complete an additionally course.
Don't feel pressured to let your teen go boating regardless of the legality. Your teenager can point to every regulation in the book, but the final call is yours. A teenager needs to prove that they are prepared to take their lives into their own hands. Does that sound a bit dramatic? Well, it isn't. Without the knowledge and maturity to handle dangerous situations you might send your progeny out only for them to never return.
Signs of Maturity
Now, even if you are completely covered under state law your kid still might not be fit to take the boat our by themselves depending on their maturity level. Just because your teen can legally operate a boat doesn't always mean that they should. Some 12-year-olds might be totally ready, while there are a few 18-year-olds out there that I'd still refuse. Does your teenager help with tasks? Hand them some boat scuff erasers and see if they put them to good use or set them down.
One of the best signs of maturity that is easiest to look for is your teen wearing their safety gear without needing any prompting to do so. If you check that box, ask your teenager about the location to test whether or not they have a knowledge of hazards like stealthy rocks or rough waters. Observe how much they focus on the task at hand. If they're steering while fiddling with a smartphone, they're definitely not ready for a solo venture.
The last thing is probably the most difficult to judge, but arguably the most important of all. Confidence on the water can allow a boating teenager to overcome any and all challenges that might present themselves on the water. While boating doesn't come with the same risk of crashing as cars do, it can be much more dangerous when a situation does arise. Test the waters and allow them to take a couple short trips before giving the OK for an entire day on the water alone.
Boating courses can be a good idea no matter what your specific state laws dictate. This can allow your teenager to get some knowledge before throwing them in both feet first... Figuratively speaking, of course. Of course, if money is tight you can probably save by teaching your teen yourself, just make sure that you cover all the bases. A life jacket should be worn at all times, along with a secondary flotation device on deck.
There are plenty of other safety essentials that should be onboard and readily available at all times. Marine air horn, navigation lights, communication devices such as a GPS satellite phone or VHF radio, carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguisher, and a fully stocked first aid kit. You can't go overboard as far as safety gear goes. Emergencies do happen on the water and your teenager will need to be equipped to handle anything. That includes even those with extremely low chances, check out our article on dealing with maritime piracy.
No amount of safety equipment will help if your teenager lacks knowledge on how to handle emergencies. Simulation can be a good idea to practice up and ensure proper execution. Is a teenager able to operate a boat without an adult? Perhaps so, but without the know-how to conquer emergency situations a small boating outing can escalate from a scary moment into a real tragedy.