Tips for Better Boating with Children

Watching your child beam from head to toe on a guided water-bound trip is a heartwarming experience. It’s important to know, however, that boating has its dangers, which water sports guides do their best to make clear; nobody wants an epic sailing trip to end poorly at the hands of a silly accident.

With the help of captains from Canada to Spain, we’ve come up with a list of potential dangers your little ones just might encounter at sea (or rivers, lakes, inlets and bays, for that matter). Start ‘em young on the safety-front, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come; as the saying goes, a young mind is an impressionable one.

Make life jackets non-negotiable

Since a rogue wave could rock the boat (and worse) at any point and with no notice, ensure your child is wearing a snuggly-fitting life jacket at all times. Superior life jackets have a collar that turns the child face-up in water, a handle for easier rescue, and a whistle that you should make sure your children knows how to work in case of emergency.

Limit boating to bite-sized chunks

Gregory Heroux captains sail boats on Lake Superior in Canada, and he’s the perfect boater to go to for tips on sailing with children because, first of all, he’s been in the trade for several decades, and, second, he has two six year old twins that he often takes to the water with. Heroux says, “When traveling on a boat tour, remember that kids have a very short attention span, and they like excitement and an ever-changing environment.” Accordingly, Heroux suggests: “Start with short trips, and talk them through the trip in advance,” and he reminds us, “Adults like to relax and observe when sailing, while kids like to be hands-on and move about the boat,” a pointer that reinstalls the importance of keeping trips kid-friendly. Heroux reassures, “We have never had an accident on a boat that was caused by the boat, but one common area of danger to consider is the sun; on the water, it’s very hot and amplified, so sunburns happen quickly.”

Repeat to no end: “Bottoms on the boat”

For one, boats are slippery, and two, they travel fast in a bouncy manner, so do your kids’ knobby knees and fragile heads a favor and make “bottoms on the boat” a must. In other words, unless the boat is stationary, nobody should be standing; it’s just too east to fall overboard, and, if not that, inherently hard boat materials (fiberglass: ouch!) can cause a nasty bump or two.

Make boating education a priority

Children are smart, so familiarize them with the ways boats work. For example, teach them about balance (stress the benefit of keeping equal weight port and starboard) and propellers (let them know how they work; the fear of sharp spinning things should quickly prevent curious fingers from going walkabouts in off-limits areas).

Luis Niño, a captain who leads guided boating trips off the coast of Florida, and who has over 25 years of sailing experience, stresses, “Be in control of of your children, and keep them nearby at all times, even if the weather is just slightly bad.” He also suggests, “Warn your children of upcoming sudden movements if you see a speedboat pass by;” this way they can brace themselves instead of potentially falling over, let alone overboard!

Talk the talk from the get-go

Teaching your child proper terminology reduces potential confusion in emergency situations, and thus the likes of starboard, port, forward, and aft turn from skipper-ish to life-saving.

Keep the car seat in the car

Since car seats sink quickly, it is not a good idea to bring your baby on board in one; instead, hold your baby in your arms while both of you wear personal flotation devices.

Differentiate swimming pools from open water

A day out and about on a guided trip in the stunning waters of New Zealand or Greece is bound to be a good time, but know that open water poses many more dangers than swimming pools, mainly in the form of currents, undertow, and hidden obstacles. Make clear to your child that he or she should not jump or dive into rivers, lakes, or oceans, especially when visibility is compromised, and allow them only to swim in designated swimming spots.

Pack smart

Infants and kids develop hypothermia more easily than adults, and since it can get mighty cold at sea, bring warm layers and/or plenty of towels on your boating excursion. Excess is not always best, but, in this case, too much is definitely better than too little; chilly children are not an eardrum’s best friend.

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