Kids and boating go together. More than a mode of transportation, a boat is the ultimate ticket to fun on a watery playground that provides more entertainment value than anything on land. From tubing to cruising and fishing to swimming, there are endless activities to be enjoyed on a boat.
You already know why boating is more lifestyle than activity if you are a parent. Maybe you are even passing down that lifestyle to your kids after having grown up boating. Your parents taught you about the importance of following safe boating rules that are easy for kids to forget when the fun is in full swing.
Carry on that tradition by passing on the fun of boating, while keeping it safe, with these guidelines.
While a powerboat is underway, children under 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, unless they are below deck or inside an enclosed cabin. Although that’s the law, the likelihood of a child falling into the water is greater at the boat dock or when the vessel is idle. Think about it. Kids stay seated while the boat is underway but can easily get distracted while walking around a boat dock or marina. For younger kids, that makes wearing a life jacket while anywhere around water a good idea. Never bend the rules on life jackets. Make kids so accustomed to wearing them it becomes part of the routine, just like you would a seat belt in a car.
Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are more kid friendly than ever and designed specifically for all-day comfort. Choose a bright color, especially for younger children, that includes these three basic design elements—a crotch strap to prevent the child from slipping out of the device; self-righting capability to keep the wearer face up in the water; and head flotation to keep the head above the water.
Swimming is a given with kids and boating. Kids are used to learning at school, which also makes swimming lessons a logical idea. Lessons are a means of teaching them how to swim, along with learning the basic principles of water safety. Lessons instill confidence, self-achievement and confidence, all of which make being in the water safer and more fun. Find lessons at health and wellness organizations like the YMCA and American Red Cross.
Wearing a life jacket all day during summer can get hot. Beware of heat exhaustion and keep plenty of cold water onboard. Kids can eat some of their water too, with hydration-rich foods like grapes, watermelon, oranges and strawberries.
No parent—or kid—enjoys slathering on sunscreen from head to toe. Yet nothing is worse than having to end or postpone a day on the water due to sunburn. Wearing sunscreen designed specifically for fair-skinned kids is a must. Use products with SPF 30, which blocks about 97% of the sun’s harmful UVB rays, which are responsible for producing sunburn. Also look for broad spectrum sunscreens which block out UVA and UVB rays. The good news is that sunscreens come in a variety of applications—including sticks and creams—so there are enough options to make the task less stressful on parent and child. Above all else, apply before you leave home for the water and reapply throughout the day.
Most any kid likes to act like a grownup and boating is a cool way to do it. Empower your kids with a feeling of maturity and responsibility by commissioning the oldest onboard as the ship’s first mate. Make the safety inspection a routine and give your mate a checklist that you go through together. Learning how to tie knots for dock lines, checking the marine weather forecast and taking an inventory of safety gear are all part of the tasks. What’s so cool about it? When your first mate reaches the legal age of operating the boat, they will already have confidence and the basic knowledge of what it takes to be the captain. And, they can pass on the title to a younger sibling.
There is no shortage of things to do on a boat. Even if the fun needle is pegged to the max you need to have varied options to offset the short attention spans of kids. Fishing, tubing, swimming, exploring an island, and of course, eating are all givens. Keep things fun and busy by dialing into these parameters by age groups.
Keep the rides short and on picture-perfect boating days. All it takes is one bad experience when the child is too young to understand the watery world to make boating a feared activity. Bring along favorite toys and games while introducing nature to the mix. Go ashore with a small dipnet, plastic bucket and a mind for adventure. Help the child find and identify aquatic life, from fish to crayfish and cool insects they can’t find in the backyard. Fishing is fun for all ages, especially for kids. Keep it simple with a youth-sized rod-and-reel combo and a bucket of live bait.
By now, fishing kids should be skilled enough to bait their own hook and unhook the catch. If the nature idea worked early on, invest in a good pair of binoculars and nature guides. Add science to the mix and broaden the explorations to birding and other more involved activities. Create even more time-consuming and challenging activities like snorkeling. For safety’s sake, keep one adult aboard and disconnect the key from the ignition. Kayaking is another logical next step in giving kids ownership of their own boat. Rent first before buying. Remember that kayaking has its own boating safety rules and techniques. Be prepared if watersports became a front runner of the fun as kids reach adolescence.
Water skiing, wakeboarding and standup paddleboarding might have now replaced all other previous sources of fun. Best of all, those are activities teens and grownups can enjoy together. Teens are responsible enough to enjoy just about everything related to boating, including driving the boat. On a possible downer for parents, that also includes taking over the stereo. Get used to turning down the volume!
Regardless the ages of your children, they grow up quick. Make the most of the time you have now and hope that one day you will be passing along your love of boating to the grandkids.