As a new parent, whether you are new to boating or a seasoned boater, you may be wondering when can you take your new baby out for their maiden voyage and if there laws or restrictions you need to follow for taking a baby on a boat.
There are no laws regarding infants and boating other than requiring the use of a personal flotation device (PFD). However, the U.S. Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety, recommends infants not travel on a boat until they weigh at least 18 pounds and can wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
Additionally, they advise, infants should not travel on a boat when they are newborns or before they are able to hold their head up as the bobbing motion of the boat can injure a newborn's neck and head. They may not be ready for boat travel, but they can still enjoy some fresh air on a docked or anchored boat.
When the time is right, with thoughtful planning and some additional safety precautions there really is no reason why you can't boat with a baby on board. Here are some dos and don'ts for taking a baby on a boat.
Do use a Coast Guard approved life jacket. The Coast Guard recommends a Type II infant personal flotation device (PFD). The Type II vest will have a pad behind the head and a crotch strap to keep it from riding up. It's made of durable nylon and has a rescue handle to easily lift the child from the water. The head and neck support, will typically upright a young child in the water.
Do test the PDF before your first outing. The PFD must fit snugly on a child. Pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD, the child's chin and ears should not slip through. Ideally, test the PDF in a swimming pool make sure the head won't slip through the neck hole and that the infants head will remain above water. There are different styles of vests so if one does not work well, try another style.
Do acclimate your child to the PFD beforehand so he/she will be comfortable wearing it. Type II PFDs can be very restrictive and bulky so the child may struggle with it initially.
Don't use an infant car seat on boat as it would act as an anchor and quickly sink to the bottom. The safest seat for your baby is in your arms while the boat is in motion.
Don't use a baby carrier in place of a PFD. In the event of an emergency while boating, if your baby is strapped to you in a baby carrier it would be very difficult to keep your baby's head above water.
Don't use floaties, inflatable toys or rafts in place of a PFD.
Don't buy a PFD that is not in the proper weight range thinking they will grow into it. It needs to fit snuggly, as they can easily slip out of an ill-fitting vest.
Don't leave a child unattended even if they are wearing a PFD.
Do keep infants in the shade as much as possible. Keep them under a canopy if you have one, if not, there are a number of after-market options out there. Bring along a beach umbrella added protection and for when you're beaching.
Do use sunscreen for infants over 6 months. Use a sunscreen recommend for babies. Perform a patch test first to make sure your baby can tolerate the product. Use a sunscreen that consist primarily of physical or mineral sunscreen agents, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and avoid sunscreens containing PABA or oxybenzone, which have been associated with skin reactions.
Do dress the baby appropriately. Use UV protective quick drying clothing. Look for long sleeves and long pants for added sun protection. Select clothing in bright colors as soft whites and pastels let more light reach the skin. Don't forget to cover their feet, they are just as sensitive and can sunburn easily.
Do use a wide-brimmed hat that will cover and protect sensitive ears, nose and neck and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Don't use sunscreen on infants under 6 months. According to the FDA, because an infant's skin is less mature than older children and adults, and infants under 6 months have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio, an infant's exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens may be much greater, increasing the risk of side effects from the sunscreen. The best approach is to keep babies under 6 months of age out of the sun.
WITH A HAPPY BABY IN MIND
Do keep the baby hydrated. It's very difficult for an infant to regulate body temperature as their sweat glands are not fully developed. Giving water and other fluids to babies regularly during the outing can prevent them from dehydration and heat strokes.
Do take plenty of food, water, baby formula, juice, snacks, and don't forget the pacifier. More is better, if run into an unexpected delay or an emergency, you can go without food or water for a while but your baby can not.
For nap-time, you can take along a portable rocker or pack-n-play (not a car seat) for use when docked or anchored. Keeping the child in your arms is best when cruising.
Do plan for fun in the water. Drop anchor or pull up on a sandbar and give them an opportunity to splash around in the water or crawl around in the sand. Bring along some sand and bath toys.
Do keep them happy on board. Bring along plenty of their favorite waterproof toys from home. You can never go wrong with bubbles, pinwheels or finger puppets.
Do keep the outing short. Keep in mind their regular schedule to help avoid a meltdown. You can increase your time out as your infant gets older and becomes more accustom to boating.
Do plan for the unexpected, accidents or unforeseen circumstances do happen. Ensure that your boat is operating properly before heading out onto the water.
Do share your float plan with a friend or relative. Be sure to include your destination and expected time of return.
Take child proof precautions to make sure your boat is safe for your baby. As your baby begins to get more mobile, child-proof your boat as you would your home. Cover all your outlets, put up gates and lock all your cabinet doors. Cover sharp corners and tie up any cords or cables. Look at your boat from their eye-level, what would catch their attention.
Be sure to have a first aid kit and any medicines handy. Keep medical kits stocked, including various types of antibiotics. Also, carry the necessary medicines or prescription for your baby.
Check the weather before you go and bring a radio along. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile and rough changing winds or sudden drops in temperature, play it safe and get off the water.
Don't drink and drive, leave alcohol onshore. Alcohol's effects are greatly exaggerated by exposure to sun, glare, wind, noise, and vibration.
Consider adjusting your boating hours to earlier morning or late afternoon when many boaters are off the water. Not only will you have smoother waters and cooler temperatures, you'll avoid the sun's peak hours.
With some adjustments and pre-planning, boating with your baby on board can be a happy and memorable experience for all.
Happy boating and don't forget the camera!!!