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.