BOATING WITH CHILDREN
Boating with children can be a rewarding experience and an adventure that will be fondly remembered by adults and children for years to come. Before taking children out on a boat, it is essential to plan for safety purposes and ensure that there are plenty of activities to keep the children entertained. Planning will ensure an enjoyable experience for all.
If you plan more than a day trip, do some research ahead of time and identify some points of interest along the way. If you have the time, stopping at these points of interest can break up the trip. It is also essential to let the children provide input in the trip planning. Leave some open time so that there is some unscheduled time to relax and do whatever comes to mind.
Activities for children on a boat:
There should be age-appropriate activities for children on board that will keep them entertained and make the trip enjoyable. Playing games while onboard is fun and can include some of the same games you play with your children when traveling in the car. For example, you can play “20 questions”. Each person takes a turn and picks an object on the boat. Others ask no more than 20 questions about the object while trying to guess what it is. This game will help everyone on board learn about boating and have fun at the same time. You can also play “I Spy.”
There are many other activities you can do. Bring along board games, including ones with magnetic pieces, so they won’t slide around and reduces the risk of losing game pieces. Be sure to bring along books to entertain your children. You can include a headlamp so children can read before going to bed if you are staying overnight, and it can also be used to find their way to the head (bathroom) in the middle of the night. Water toys and even water squirt toys are other good ideas. These will be a big hit when at anchor, and it is time for a swim.
Children can also help with boating tasks. With adult supervision, they can help with mooring, docking, anchoring, and driving or steering the boat. Be sure to explain the task thoroughly before they are required to do the task.
There are specific rules that should be followed whenever children are on board a boat. The goal is to keep everyone safe and ensure that certain safety situations have been thought about ahead of time.
Each child must wear their PFD (Personal Floatation Device) whenever they are near or on the water. Remember that children are style-conscious, so you may want to allow your child to have some say in picking out their PFD. They may desire one with their favorite cartoon character or prefer a specific color or style. If they like the PFD, they will hopefully be more willing to wear it without complaint.
Children should be supervised directly by adults whether they are on deck or below deck in the cabin. Whenever possible, try to have one-on-one coverage with one adult individually responsible for one child. Excellent communication among adults is critical, and you should verify who is watching which child or group of children. Each adult needs to understand who they are watching. It is essential to have a verbal “hand-off” when changing who is watching which child. It can be a terrifying moment when you realize you don’t know where Johnny is and are worried that Johnny may have fallen overboard, only to realize that Johnny is below deck, safe and sound.
Communicating boating safety rules to children when they are on your boat is very important. It would be best if you let them know what the rules are and why you have them. For instance, you should inform everyone that you expect them to wear their PFD, whether they are near or on the water; there is no running on the boat, and they should hold on to railings. If you are on a sailboat, you should explain that they should grab onto a stay before they grab a lifeline if they feel like they are falling. The lifeline may not support them, and they could end up in the water if they grab for the lifeline.
It would help if you childproofed your boat as you would your home depending on the age of the children on your boat. You want to create a safe environment for the children.
You should show your children the safety equipment on board and teach them how to use it and include fire extinguisher(s), flares, whistles, horns, mirrors, and radios. A child must know how to use the VHF radio. They should understand that the VHF radio is not a toy and should know which channel to use for calling other boaters or the U.S. Coast Guard. They should know how to communicate who, what, where, and why during an emergency. You can make a game out of teaching them how to use each piece of safety equipment. It is essential to teach children how to read charts so they can give an approximation of their current location.
It is also essential to practice a “person overboard” drill so that the entire crew knows the process and steps required for getting someone back on board after falling in. If you are doing this on a sailboat, it is crucial to explain to crew members that if you are under sail, it may appear that you are sailing away from them at first, but you are positioning the boat so that you can make a safe approach to rescue them. It is important to allow each person to be rescued as well as being the rescuer.
You may want to sign your children up for a basic boating safety course to ensure that they have the necessary training and information about boating.
Written by Steve Charlebois – the owner of Sea Dog Boating Solutions, LLC, a boating consulting firm that can help you solve your boating problems and a boating merchandise retailer.