That time of year is here. It’s almost the 4th of July when families with children are considering how to spend a few days of much-anticipated vacation! July 4th not only represents the American Colonists’ gaining independence from British rule, it also signals to many people the beginning of summer. And July 4th is often touted as the biggest family boating weekend of the entire summer season. There will be colorful boat regattas, races, sailing classes, pleasure boating, fishing, and water sports of all kinds frequently taking place in and on the same body of water at the same time. This means lots of boating traffic and boating safety rules and local laws will be enforced to keep everyone safe in and on the water.
Wherever you go boating with your children, whether it is on the ocean, in a lake, canal, river, or pond, boating with children means fun. Let’s look at some important things for parents and guardians to consider and remember when taking children in a boat:
Make sure the boat you are getting in and placing your children in, is SAFE. Never place your children in or on a boat you think (just from observing it) may not be safe, whether it is your neighbor’s speedboat, the tourist ferry boat or a simple canoe.
Never place or allow your children (under 12) to go out in a boat alone without an adult who can swim.
Never place your children in a boat with an inexperienced captain, i.e., someone who has never run a speed boat or paddled a canoe. Whether it’s a fishing boat, a sail boat, ski boat, or canoe, it takes a certain amount of knowledge and experience to run a particular boat. Make sure the captain is knowledgeable, not a first-timer.
How can you, as a parent, tell that a boat may be safe and water-worthy? The boat should be in good physical condition–with no leaks and dry floorboards. It should be obvious that the boat has been well cared for. A boat should have a license in the state in which it is housed. A boat’s registration should be up-to-date, with registration numbers and decal displayed on the outside hull or aft of the boat, and a current registration card must be carried by the person who owns and is running the boat at all times. While a license doesn’t guarantee a boat is completely safe, boat owners who keep their boat registration current and carry their registration card are somewhat conscientious.
Conscientious boat owners also may have their boats inspected (often free) annually by the local Coast Guard Auxiliary Chapter or the local law enforcement agency specializing in boat safety. You can ask the boat’s owner, “Has this boat been inspected recently?” Good captains will want you to know!
Every water-worthy craft (boat) should contain equipment that represents safe boating. If it’s a boat with gas-powered engine(s), such as a speed boat, fishing boat, deck, or pontoon boat, look for a fire extinguisher visible on board the boat and a certain number of flotation devices in the boat. At the minimum, a boat should carry an extra paddle, a rope, an anchor, and a map of the body of water, especially if it is many miles around or long. If you are boating at night, the boat should have lights, red/green in the front and white in the aft and a horn to alert other boaters.
Every person in the boat, especially children, should wear a Coast Guard- approved flotation device, often called a life jacket or sometimes a “May West.” The Coast Guard approved-flotation device may be bright orange in color–or it might be brightly colored, fashion designer wear. Whatever the case, in 90% of boating accidents, a life jacket will keep your child’s head above the water in case of a boating emergency.
Just having life jackets on board is not enough, make sure your child wears a life jacket and make sure its straps are securely fastened. Don’t just put it around you or your child and say, “Oh, (I or) he can swim.” Unfortunately, a person can’t swim if they’ve been knocked unconscious by a bad spill, crash, or explosion.
Make sure your children stay seated when the boat is in operation. It’s not a good idea to be walking around causing a shift in the boat’s weight distribution while it’s in operation. Also, a boat in motion is just that–walking can be a tremulous thing on a boat–your child can fall. Pay attention to your captain, if he/she tells you to move or change seats or sides, do it!
Make sure the boat isn’t overloaded with people. If it is, don’t get in it! What’s the boat’s capacity–Ask–Don’t be shy!
All of the tips we have previously mentioned about safety in the heat, safety around water–all of those cautions apply when you take children in a boat out on the water–make sure to stay hydrated in the heat, absolutely use sunscreen and cover-ups. Tee-shirts or beach towels help to cover exposed skin. It’s easy to get sunburned and/or wind-burned while out on the water!
One final caution for boating safety with children applies more to parents and guardians and is a watchword of extreme caution to be taken to heart:
Boats, water, and alcoholic beverages do NOT mix.
If the person running the watercraft you plan to ride in–whether it’s a family member, a neighbor or an old friend– is or has been drinking, please don’t get on the boat–and don’t place your children on that boat. If there would be an emergency or an accident–someone whose reaction time has been impaired by consumption of alcohol may not be able to save you or your children or even themselves. If they are or have been drinking–any amount–they are liable to cause a boating accident and even if there is no accident or emergency, you can be sure they are operating the boat in contravention of the local laws, placing you and your children in jeopardy.
The goal of boating safely with children is to ENJOY boating and your children. Safe boating makes for good memories and fun that will be repeated now and in years to come. So, come aboard for a safe summer!