Ten tips for boating safely with kids

5/23/2014, 12:22 p.m.

Warmer weather and the end of the school year signals the start of the family boating season. Boating offers one of the best ways for parents to escape the distractions of everyday life and share their enjoyment of nature with their kids. However it’s important for parents— especially those new to boating— to follow a few basic safety steps that will help make the experience more enjoyable for the whole family.

The Sea Tow Foundation, a 501[c][3] nonprofit organization dedicated to boating safety and education, offers the following list of 10 Tips for Boating with Kids:

Life Jackets Save Lives. Be sure all kids on board are wearing a life jacket whenever the boat is moving. This is not just sound advice; it’s the law. The U.S. Coast Guard requires that all children under 13 years of age must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while the vessel is being operated unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

Make sure it fits. Children’s life jackets come in different sizes appropriate to the child’s body weight. Make sure you have one that fits each child onboard, and that the kids haven’t outgrown their life jackets over the winter. Infant life jackets have a strap that runs between the legs and extra flotation behind the head to ensure the baby floats face up at all times. Keep an extra child’s life jacket or two on hand in case a friend comes along.

No Exceptions. Kids often complain about having to wear their life jackets on board. Get them “invested” in theirs by letting them pick it out for themselves. Make sure the life jacket fits the child properly, both for comfort and safety’s sake. Be a good role model. If the kids see you wearing your life jacket, they’ll be more likely to wear theirs.

Safety Starts in the Parking Lot. Get the kids in the habit of putting on sunblock, a hat and their life jacket even before you walk down to the boat. That way, they’ll be protected if they accidentally tumble off the dock into the water.

Keep Everything “Shipshape.” When you board the boat, have everyone stow their gear and any water toys away neatly. Be sure there are no loose lines, mops, buckets, etc. on deck that someone might trip over.

Pre-Cruise Check. The adult who is driving the boat should give the kids a safety lesson before leaving the dock. Make it a point to tell them that there can only be one captain, and it’s important to follow his or her orders quickly and quietly. Set a few basic rules, including: No running or sitting on the side rails, foredeck, aft sunpad or swim platform when the boat is under way.

First Mate. Kids will get a bigger kick out of a boat trip if you make them your First Mate. Before you leave, show them where you’re going on a chart. While under way, have them keep a lookout for marker buoys. Teach older kids how to work the chart plotter and find your GPS coordinates.