Boating is a hobby enjoyed across the globe by people of all ages. In fact, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reported that in 2019 alone, annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products, and services totaled an estimated $42 billion.
While it’s tempting to hit the waters as soon as possible, there are a few safety precautions to consider before doing so, particularly if you’re headed out with children. Throughout this article, you’ll find information on general boating safety for kids, as well as tips to ensure you and your little ones can have a safe, yet fun time on the boat.
Respecting the Open Water
An open body of water is a large open area of water such as a lake, ocean, reservoir, or river. While some bodies of water are larger than others, they can all be equally hazardous. Here’s a list of a few general safety tips to consider before taking your children to play in open water:
- Ensure there are no distractions around when you’re watching your kids play in or around the water.
- Always make sure at least one person is keeping an eye on the kids in the water at all times.
- Educate children on the importance of water safety.
- Explain how swimming in open water is different than swimming in a pool.
- Set designated swimming areas.
- Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills.
While the above tips are helpful, they’re not the only ones to consider. Before swimming in the open water, let’s take a look at a few additional considerations, including the dangers to avoid.
Dangers of the Open Water
There are five hidden hazards of open water to watch for, regardless of location.
- Limited visibility: Anybody in open water, regardless of size, can have limited visibility into the water for a variety of reasons. For instance, some open bodies of water are riddled with large rocks, logs, and uneven surfaces. Not only do these factors make it difficult to see into the water, but it makes it more dangerous to navigate, as well.
- Depth, distance, and drop-offs: Swimming pools are a little safer because the exact depth can easily be determined. Whereas in open water, it’s challenging to know just how deep the water is. This can be especially dangerous when swimming with children, for it’s difficult to determine if and when the water would be considered “too deep” for them to swim in.
- Water currents: Currents, whether they’re in oceans, lakes, rivers, or streams, can be dangerous because they move swiftly and unpredictably. Some currents are easy to spot, while others are underwater, also known as an undertow, and can sweep people away in an instant.
- Water temperature: There are a few factors that determine the temperature of an open body of water. For instance, the location, water source, and size of the body of water can all play into how cold it is. Swimming in water that is too cold may result in shock or hypothermia. It’s important to always ensure the water is of suitable swimming temperature for you and your children before diving in.
- Weather and seasonal differences: Another possible danger is how the weather plays a role in the state of the open waters. Heavy rains can contribute to flooding, create strong currents, and change the depth and clarity of the water.
Always check the weather conditions before a day on the water to ensure they’re something you and your family can safely endure.
Open Water Safety Tips
While there are some precautions to take before swimming in open waters, that doesn’t mean you should avoid enjoying them entirely. Instead do so, safely, and consider these tips when planning a trip to the open waters:
- Always swim in a pre-scouted, pre-approved, designated swimming area.
- Don’t go swimming if you’re hesitant about the conditions.
- Never let your children swim alone.
- Refrain from swimming alone, yourself, if able.
- Familiarize yourself with the area.
- Don’t swim while under the influence.
- Wear the right gear, like a life jacket and swimsuit.
You may notice the above tips repeat throughout this guide. That’s because they truly are important for every parent and guardian to know. Let’s take a closer look at a few more general considerations for water safety to pair with the safety tips mentioned above.
Basic Swimming Safety Tips for Kids
Once you’ve determined the area is safe enough for you and your children, it’s time to sit back and relax with your family. However, this doesn’t mean that safety is completely disregarded because you’ve found a spot for the day.
Here are a few swimming safety tips for your kids:
- Always ensure there’s an adult nearby.
- Don’t leave children alone in, near, or on the water.
- Double-check that your children know where they’re allowed to swim/what areas to avoid.
- Don’t rely on water wings, floaties, or pool noodles as life jackets.
- Instruct kids not to dive or do any other tricks into the water if it’s less than nine feet deep.
- Be extra mindful of undertows/currents.
You should refrain from bringing too many toys, as well. For they could drift off and tempt children to swim after them, potentially entering dangerous territories.
The Five Water Survival Skills
According to the American Red Cross, there are five basic safety swimming steps or “water competency skills” every swimmer should be able to achieve. These steps are:
- Step/jump into a body of water (like a pool or lake) that is deep enough to go over your head and submerge yourself underwater.
- Swim back up to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
- After the minute is up, swim in a full circle.
- Swim to an exit at least 25 yards away.
- Exit the body of water without using a ladder.
You may consider enrolling in swimming courses if you or your child struggles to achieve any of the basic swimming skills.
General Boating Safety Tips
The above advice can apply to anyone enjoying a day on the water, but there are certain safety tips especially pertinent to boat owners. Listed below are a few general boating safety tips to consider for the whole family.
- Ensure the boat’s engine is turned off if people are swimming/playing near the boat.
- Keep a safe distance from the propeller, even when the motor isn’t on.
- Make sure any child on the boat is being watched by an adult at all times.
- Don’t operate a boat while under the influence.
- Keep weaker swimmers in water floatation devices while on the boat.
- Make sure everyone chooses a life jacket that is U.S. Coast Guard-approved, is the proper size, and is appropriately stored when not in use.
Of course, all precautions and safety tips depend upon having a reliable, well-maintained watercraft. While it may be tempting to opt for the thriftiest boat available, or put your trust in an old, weathered craft, it is essential to know whatever you take to the water is in operating shape.
This could mean leveraging a boat loan to finance the purchase of a new, sea-worthy craft. Alternatively, you may need to invest in some repairs and restoration before your boat is ready to sail. In any case, it is essential to inspect the boat — even one you’ve used before — thoroughly before you hit the water. The last thing you want is to get far from shore only to realize the motor is faulty, the fuel is out, or discover water coming in through the hull.
Just as there are more specific tips for boaters, there are specific safety tips for each type of boater. Let’s take a look at how those who take their families on a fishing boat can do so safely.
Fishing Boat Safety Tips
Fishing with the family creates memories that are made to last. However, the memories could quickly turn if you, your kids, or the fishing boat aren’t well-equipped. Not only is it helpful to invest in a fishing boat that best fits your needs, but you need to make sure it’s equipped with the right gear, too. There are a few things to consider before taking the kids out for a day’s worth of fishing.
- Remember to get everything you need before you leave. This includes fishing necessities for you, your children, and the fishing boat. Examples of watersport gear and accessories include waterproof shoes, sunglasses with straps, a hat, sunscreen, a warm change of clothes, towels, life jackets, and basic fishing equipment like barbless hooks.
- Be mindful of where your fishing gear is placed. You don’t want yourself or your children to accidentally hook themselves with a fishing line because it was out of place.
- Keep all unused sharp objects and tools put away in a tackle box.
The end to an even better fishing day is if you’re able to reel in a catch or two! If you’re lucky enough to catch something, make sure you store it in a proper storage receptacle.
River Raft Safety Tips
Whitewater rafting is an exciting watersport that can be fun for everyone in the family. However, because river rafting involves floating down a sometimes fast-moving river, there are a few additional safety precautions to be wary of than if you were in stagnant water. Here are a few safety tips to remember the next time you plan a family whitewater rafting trip.
- Familiarize yourself with the different river classes and only raft classes so that everyone on the trip, including your children, feels comfortable rafting.
- Make sure you have the right paddle type and know how to use it properly.
- Know how to use the raft and other paddle-sport equipment the right way.
- Refrain from panicking if you fall out. Instead, remember how the rafting instructor taught you to get back in the boat. If too far from the raft, look for other rescue options like other rafts, riverbanks, or a safety throw rope from someone onboard.
Additionally, it’s helpful to ensure you and those you’re rafting with are familiar with whitewater swimming techniques. For instance, to prevent foot entrapment, you’ll want to swim in the down-river swimmer’s position with your legs and feet up in front of you.
This position should have been taught to you by a rafting instructor before your trip. However, it’s safe to learn it on your own time, just to be extra aware of what to do if you fall out of a raft.
General Water/Boating Sports Safety Tips
Like how frequent travelers know the road trip rules of the road, there are a few last-minute rules everyone in the family should know before heading out on the boat.
- Educate yourself, your kids, and anyone else who expects to utilize your boat on the various boating hand signals.
- Remember to shut off your engine when people are loading/unloading from watersports like water skiing or wakeboarding.
- Don’t participate in watersports unless you/your children know how to swim.
- Learn CPR.
- Only boat in areas you know are deep enough to withstand a boat and watersports.
Those who invest in a boat, regardless of the kind, typically do so knowing they’ll take on greater responsibility — not only for the boat, but for everyone that occupies it, as well. Following all of the advice we’ve given above is just one way to ensure you do your part as a responsible boat owner.
Additional Boat Safety Resources
Remember, the above guide on boating safety with kids is just a glimpse into the number of helpful resources available before boating with your kids. Listed below are just a few more general resources to be aware of to ensure ultimate safety.
- American Red Cross water safety guide: The American Red Cross is an excellent online resource to turn to for all things water safety. Their digital water safety guide addresses the ins and outs of why water safety is essential, what it means to be water competent, and know what to do in case of a water emergency.
- Boat insurance: Like insuring your vehicle, insuring your boat is helpful if you need to cover the cost of a personal boating vessel that is stolen, in an accident, or damaged. Whether you’ve recently purchased a new or used boat, it’s always a good idea to get a quote on boat insurance to ensure you’re getting the best deal for coverage. Insurance can help cover a motorboat, sailboat, or personal watercraft if it’s stolen, in an accident, or damaged.
- The National Weather Service: The National Weather Service is an online tool boaters and anyone else spending time on the open water can use to check the weather of any given location in real-time. Remember, knowing the weather conditions ahead of time is a must if you wish to have the ultimate safe boating trip for you and your family.
- Sea Tow Foundation: The Sea Tow Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “provide access to education, tools, and resources to promote safe and responsible boating.” They offer a variety of online programs and host a few opportunities to make a difference in the boating community.
- United States Coast Guard boating safety services: The United States Coast Guard offers boaters access to an abundance of online safety resources to access at any time. A few resources, in particular, include, but certainly aren’t limited to course refreshers on boating laws and regulations, boating safety courses, and consumer safety defect reporting for recalled boating parts.
- Wear It Safe Boating Campaign: The Wear It Safe Boating Campaign was launched by the National Safe Boating Council in hopes of spreading awareness about the importance of properly wearing your life jacket and other boating safety tips.
Spending time outdoors is a must, no matter your age. Not only does doing so help heal your emotional health, but it’s a great way to continue to build relationships with your children and other loved ones. Even more so, boating with safety in mind allows you to fully enjoy the moment, instead of worrying about what could happen if neither you nor the ones you’re with are aware of the importance of water safety for all.
Ensure the boat's engine is turned off if people are swimming/playing near the boat. Keep a safe distance from the propeller, even when the motor isn't on. Make sure any child on the boat is being watched by an adult at all times. Don't operate a boat while under the influence.How do you keep kids safe on a boat? ›
Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (PFD) when boating. Choose a life jacket that is right for your child's weight and water activity. For younger children, choose a PFD with both a collar for head support and a strap between the legs. Keep weak- and non-swimmers in PFDs while on docks and marinas.Is it safe to take a toddler on a boat? ›
According to the U.S. Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety, babies should not travel on a boat, including rowboats, kayaks, motorboats and sailboats until they are at the appropriate weight to wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD).Is boat ride safe? ›
Out of the numerous outdoor activities that a person can choose to do, boating is a relatively safe choice. However, it doesn't take long for a fun day to turn into a bad accident because of some wrong decisions. When you're out on the water, anything can happen, and it's crucial to be readily prepared beforehand.How do you be safe on a boat? ›
- Always wear a life jacket.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Be especially careful on personal watercrafts.
- Children younger than age 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD while underway.
- Enroll in a boater education class.
- Don't overload your boat.
- Operate at a safe speed.
Boats float because they are less dense than water. According to the scientist Archimedes, the weight of the water displaced, moved to make room for something else, by an object is equal to the weight of that object.How do you not get scared on a boat? ›
- Do not beat yourself up if you feel anxious. ...
- Allow yourself time to face your fears and get over them.
- Being in the know helps as knowledge dispels fear.
- Be aware of the capabilities of the boat.
- Practise safety drills.
- Feel a sense of achievement in mastering a new skill.
IMPORTANT: It is very important not to place an infant in a car seat or other non-floating device when cruising in a boat. It's just not safe.Can a 3 year old go on a boat? ›
According to the U.S. Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety, babies should not travel on a boat — including rowboats, kayaks, motorboats, and sailboats — until they are at the appropriate weight to wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD).How old should kids be on a boat? ›
Wait until your baby weighs at least 18 pounds and can wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) before taking them on a boat (whether that's a rowboat, kayak, motorboat, or sailboat). The average baby reaches 18 pounds at about 7 months for boys and 9 months for girls.
Lower decks or cabins may be the safest places on a boat
On calm seas, any part of a boat is equally safe. On rough seas, the lower down you can get, the less you'll feel the effects of the rolling. That means less seasickness, but also less risk of injury from flying objects.
- In-date flares, both handheld and aerial.
- Sound producing device.
- An adequate number of Personal Flotation Devices (remember to have a PFD available for every person on board)
- Throwable devices to assist in overboard situations.
- Fire extinguisher(s)
- Navigation lights.
Boats and airplanes are a lot safer than cars. There's only a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying on an airplane and only 5-6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational boats. In comparison, 18 people in 100,000 die from road accidents per year globally.What are 7 ways to stay safe while swimming? ›
- Top 10 Water Safety Tips for Families. Water safety encompasses a person's behavior in and around the water. ...
- Never Swim Alone. ...
- Supervise Children When They're in the Water. ...
- Don't Play Breath-Holding Games. ...
- Always Wear a Life Vest. ...
- Don't Jump in the Water to Save a Friend. ...
- Enter the Water Feet First. ...
- Stay Away From Pool Drains.
A boat moves because something is pushing it forward through the water. For a sailboat, it's the wind pushing against the sail and moving the boat forward. Other boats have a propeller underneath the water that is pushing the boat forward using a motor.What is the fear of swimming under boats? ›
Submechanophobia (from Latin sub 'under'; and from Ancient Greek μηχανή (mechané) 'machine' and φόβος (phóbos) 'fear') is a fear of submerged human-made objects, either partially or entirely underwater.What is the fear of small boats called? ›
Letter: “Naviphobia” – a fear of (small) boats.What is the fear of being in water with boat? ›
Causes and treatments for thalassophobia. Thalassophobia is a fear of the ocean or other large bodies of water. This phobia may stop people from visiting the beach, swimming in the sea, or traveling by boat.How do you occupy a baby on a boat? ›
To keep your little one happy and occupied while onboard, bring along plenty of their favorite toys from home. Just one suggestion: even though they'll be playing with these toys while onboard the boat, it's a good idea to stick to the waterproof toys. Nobody likes a soggy teddy bear.What weight can a baby go on a boat? ›
The baby life jacket should keep your baby face-up on the water's surface. The USCG recommends that babies weigh a minimum of 18 pounds for a life jacket to fit correctly. If your child is smaller than 18 pounds, it's too early to take your baby on a boat.
Yes, every person counts.Is it safe to bring a baby on a pontoon boat? ›
The bobbing motion of the boat can injure a newborn's neck and head. Because of the constant motion of a boat, you should never take a baby on the water before they're able to hold their head up.What should kids bring on a boat? ›
- Their Favorite Toy. Especially for little ones, a sense of familiarity helps in acclimating to new environments and experiences. ...
- Books about Nature. ...
- Waterproof Camera. ...
- Travel Journal. ...
- Recipes to Make Onboard. ...
Under California law, every child under 13 years of age on a moving recreational vessel of any length must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in serviceable condition and of a type and size appropriate for the conditions and the activity.What age is a Montessori boat for? ›
Recommended Age Group: 18 - 36 Months. Made in: U.S.A. Dimensions: 12" High x 24" Wide x 47" Deep.What age can children go in the sea? ›
It's OK to take your baby into a river, lake or the ocean from 2 months, but it's very important to make sure they don't get cold. Choose a spot where the water is warm and clean. Watch out for currents that prevent you from holding them properly. And don't let your baby drink the water.What is a boat for kindergarten? ›
A boat is a vehicle used to travel on water. It is smaller than a ship and can be lifted out of the water and carried on a ship. Some boats have sails, some are powered by rowing with oars, and some use motors. These boats are usually made of wood. However, some parts are made of metals like steel and aluminium.What state has the most boating accidents? ›
There were 4,439 boating accidents in 2021 alone. Florida was home to the most boating accidents in 2021 (723) as well as the most during the 10-year study period (6,819). Alcohol is a factor in more than 7% of boating accidents, or around 330 per year.Where are most boat accidents? ›
This makes other vessels and channel markers difficult to see. Boating accidents that happen under these circumstances can have serious consequences such as severe injuries, boat damages, and even death. Most accidents occur in the ocean or bay areas, as opposed to rivers or lakes.What state has the most boat thefts? ›
Personal flotation devices, or PFDs, are one of the most important safety items to have. The term PFD covers five different types of flotation devices and in most cases with recreational boating, you're required by law to have at least two types on board at all times.Which safety precaution should be taken first by a boat? ›
The boat operator should first make sure that all passengers on board the boat are wearing US Coast Guard approved life jackets or PFDs (personal flotation devices) when boating in stormy weather. That's the short answer.What are the risks of boats? ›
Being unprepared for changing weather or sea conditions. Collisions due to excessive speed. Having a vessel that is not seaworthy. Failure to wear or correctly fit a lifejacket.
Sand is abrasive and can damage the gelcoat finish on a hull, while rocks pose a real threat to both the boat and the engine. If sand gets into a jet drive, it can also wreak havoc with the engine. If the beach is sandy but there's mud below the water, the suction it creates can get a boat stuck fast.What is the safest boat in the world? ›
The Kraken 50, billed as the 'safest blue water yacht in build today,' has been launched. Unlike all her contemporaries, the K50 has the unique 'Zero Keel' construction: An all-in-one hull and keel with scantlings to match.What side of the buoys do you go on? ›
Likewise, green buoys are kept to the port (left) side (see chart below). Conversely, when proceeding toward the sea or leaving port, red buoys are kept to port side and green buoys to the starboard side.What is the one third rule boats? ›
Use the “thirds rule.” This means you should use about one-third of your fuel to get out and one-third to get back. The final third is a reserve in case you run longer than expected.What is red and green in boating? ›
The memory aid of “red, right, returning” will help you interpret the channel marker correctly. Basically, red marker buoys should be on your right (starboard) as you return from open water. Conversely, green channel markers should be on your starboard side as you head out into open water.What is the golden rule in swimming? ›
Never swim alone: Always make sure someone watches you when you swim. Even adults. Learn to swim: At six months, children should start swimming lessons. Adults who don't know how should learn to swim too.What are the top three rules for staying safe in the water? ›
Never swim alone; swim with lifeguards and/or water watchers present. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket appropriate for your weight and size and the water activity. Always wear a life jacket while boating, regardless of swimming skill.
Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising, even when a lifeguard is present, no matter how well the child can swim or how shallow the water. Avoid distractions including cell phones.Can kids wear floaties on a boat? ›
Arm floaties or water wings are NOT Coast Guard approved and serve no purpose in keeping your child safe in the water. There is no body or head support with those blow up rings, so don't waste your money - or risk your child's safety.What can I put on my boat seats to protect them? ›
You can do this by using a marine vinyl protectant. You can just apply it to your seats after wiping it down. Using protectants helps keep the seats clean, and helps prevent fading and cracking over time. You don't need to apply a marine vinyl protectant after each use, but you should every few weeks or so.What should kids wear on a boat? ›
A child should wear a life jacket anytime they are near water such as in a boat or float tube as well as on docks and river banks and at the beach when allowed by the life guard. Contrary to many TV shows and the movies, drowning is usually silent.