Safety tips for boating with children

1st November 2021 Elizabeth Jett in collaboration with Volvo Penta

Safety tips for boating with children

Boating is one of the most popular summertime pastimes for families, however, since it involves the water and moving vehicles there are certain dangers to keep in mind when boating with your children. The tips for safe boating with your children outlined below can help ensure a fun and safe boating experience for everyone.

Establish rules

Perhaps one of the most important tips for boating with children is to establish the rules they must follow on and around the boat and make sure those rules are communicated clearly to them. The rules are non-negotiable, and children should not be allowed to participate in boating if they refuse to follow the rules. Here are a few examples of boating rules for your children you may choose to establish.

Keep hands and feet in the boat at all times

This rule will help to prevent accidental falls from the boat or injuries. Pay special attention to hands and fingers – it is sometimes natural for children to hold on to the edge of the boat with fingers on the outside. This places them at a crush risk if the boat comes into contact with the dock or another boat. This rule needs to apply to all people on your boat – many adults have this bad habit that could result in a trip to the emergency room.

Hands off the motor and propeller

Curious younger children may be interested in any exposed motor or moving parts like the propeller, so if the boat has an outboard motor, make sure they are aware that it can be dangerous.

Always wear a lifejacket

Most states require children to wear lifejackets and it is important your children understand that they must always wear their lifejackets when on the water. Children will need to understand that this rule is non-negotiable and is like the rule that they must be in a car seat when riding in a car.

Stay seated when the boat is moving

Very young children do not have the agility and balance that adults do and can easily fall either in or outside the boat if it is going fast. This rule may only apply to speed boats, not slower moving vessels unless your children are very young.

No running onboard

There should be a strict no running rule onboard the boat and on the dock. There are too many items your child can trip on that can result in an unpleasant fall.

Boat maintenance

First and foremost, it is imperative for everyone’s safety that your boat is in good working order. The start of the boating season is a great time to review the functionality of your boat from bow to stern especially if it has been in storage over the winter. If you find anything is broken or not working correctly, it must be fixed before your next boat trip. You may complete repairs and replacements yourself if you are handy. You can find boat maintenance and replacement parts at Volvo Penta. Regular boat maintenance can help ensure you don’t get stranded on the water, have an accident, or worse – end up taking on water.

Choosing a lifejacket

Lifejackets in the U.S. are available in 3 types – Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3.

  • Type 3 lifejackets are those typically used by water-skiers, and they have the least amount of buoyancy but are most comfortable since they are less bulky. These life jackets are only appropriate for older children who are strong swimmers.

  • Type 2 lifejackets are the typical orange jackets provided on most boats. They are in the shape of a “U” and fit behind the neck and in front of the chest and are secured by straps around the torso. This type is recommended for all children. Type 2 lifejackets designed for younger children may have a no-slip strap that keeps the lifejacket in place in the water. You may also find young child lifejackets with a handle on the back to assist with pulling them out of the water. 

  • Type 1 lifejackets have a larger neck and head support and are designed to keep an unconscious swimmer’s head above water. These are bulkier and are used mostly used in offshore situations.

{ In other places, including Australia, that rating system has been replaced to accommodate specific buoyancy and safety requirements.

  • Level 50S is for use in smooth water only, and should be used for a short time period while wakeboarding, water skiing and tubing.

  • Level 50 lifejackets come in a range of safety colours for best visibility, and should be used in partially smooth waters include open water within 2 nautical miles from land. Level 50 are designed to provide buoyancy and support the wearer.

  • Level 100 lifejackets are designed with the highest level of safety and can be used in all water conditions. They include a collar that will keep you afloat even in an unconscious state. }

You will need to ensure the lifejacket you purchase for your child fits properly and that you are able to adjust it to fit comfortably. Lifejackets that are sized incorrectly can be dangerous, so it is very important that you take the time to fit and adjust it. Check the lifejacket periodically to make sure your child has not outgrown it and replace if necessary. There should be lifejackets available for all adults and children on the boat. Any adult who cannot swim should also wear a lifejacket at all times on the boat. Children and adults who need lifejackets should also wear their lifejacket on the dock as many falls occur during launch and docking.

Teach your children to swim

Making sure your children know how to swim is an important part of their safety when boating. Children who know how to swim will be more confident in the water and will be more able to self-rescue if a situation does arise. You can enrol your children in swim lessons at any age to get them started on the way to becoming confident swimmers.

Know the water

Understanding the water you are on is an important component of boating safety. A calm lake can become suddenly choppy in the wind or a storm. The tranquil sea can harbour dangerous rip currents under the surface. Knowing these features and knowing how to deal with them will improve your likelihood of a good, safe trip.

Designated sober driver

As with operating a car, the operator of your boat must be sober and not impaired. Having a designated sober driver is not only for your children’s safety, but for everyone on the boat and on the water. Boating under the influence is one of the top causes of boating accidents, so having a sober boat operator can help ensure that everyone on the boat remains safe from harm.

Rigging and dock lines

Any lines in and around your boat can be tripping hazards. Rigging lines on sailboats can be especially dangerous as they can run quickly and entangle people. Keep all lines neatly coiled on deck or stowed away and make your children understand that they are not toys to be played with. Stow away any dock lines to minimize tripping hazards.

Protection from the elements

It is important that you protect your children from the elements. The sun reflecting off the water can be very harsh and lead to burns. Make sure you apply sunscreen and provide adequate clothing and a hat and sunglasses. Reapply sunscreen as needed, especially after swimming. Children can get dehydrated quickly, so be sure to provide them plenty of drinking water or other hydrating sports drinks.

Swim safety

Make sure you have rules established regarding your children swimming from the boat. You require your children to ask permission to go swimming and only allow swimming if a responsible adult is in the water with them. Depending on their swimming ability, children should stay close to the boat and within reach of the adult watching them to ensure they don’t get caught up by current or drift into the path of another boat. Children should stay away from the motor if it is still in the water, as the propeller is still sharp when not operating and can cause injuries. Teach your children how to get in and out of the water using the swim platform if your boat is equipped with one.

Childproofing the boat

While it may be impossible to entirely childproof your boat, it is a good idea to observe and correct some of the potential problems that could arise, especially if your children are younger. You can make sure they have no access to any electrical components or that they cannot accidentally start the motor.

Designated childminder

The last thing you want to hear on a boat is “I thought you were watching them!” Make sure that there is a designated adult watching the children at all times. If that person needs to take a break, there should be a verbal request and acknowledgement to their replacement. While this sounds a little formal and unwieldy, it can prevent assumptions that could lead to a tragic accident. Anyone responsible for watching the children need to be sober and not impaired in any way.

CPR and first aid

At least one adult on your boat should be CPR certified in order to render assistance in case of an accident. CPR courses are offered in-person in the community, or they can be completed online. The courses are relatively short and inexpensive. This valuable skill could save the life of your child or anyone else who is experiencing a medical emergency. A first aid kit is a safety essential onboard. Make sure your first aid kit is up to date with no expired items. Replace any used items as they are used.

Once the basic safety measures have been put in place, you can now enjoy your time on the water. Your rules and actions will become routine once you spend more time on the water, and your whole family can enjoy the fun in the sun. Teaching children the safe way to enjoy boating is a lesson they will remember and value for a lifetime.