Boating Life

Boating Safely with Children on Board

June 29, 2023
Ingman Marine
Boat Safety
June 29, 2023
Ingman Marine
Boat Safety

Growing up in the boating capital of the United States, children of Florida are likely to end up on a boat at least once throughout their childhood. Many children even get the privilege of spending their younger years on the water, making memories that are bound to be some of their most memorable. No matter how many times they find themselves on a boat though, safety should always be the top priority.

As parents or adults in charge of young boaters of any age, it is essential to make boating fun while also following safety guidelines. The best way to boat safely with children is to instill the following safety rules and practices by remaining consistent and vigilant.

Life jackets

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but there is a reason this is the most important rule. In the U.S Coast Guard’s 2022 report on recreational boating statistics, it was revealed that 85% of the individuals that drowned in boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket. This is why the Coast Guard (USCG) and state governments urge everyone, especially children, to always wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD). In fact, in the State of Florida, it is required by law that any child under the age of 6 wear a Type I, II or III PFD while aboard any vessel shorter than 26 feet in length while it is underway (“underway” being defined as anytime other than when the vessel is moored, anchored, made fast to shore or aground).

Children should have their life jackets on at all times near open bodies of water, not just when on the boat; this includes while they are on a dock and during water sports. Getting your kid, tween or teenager to wear a lifejacket every time you go boating may be a chore for some families, but helping them to understand the importance, and setting a good example by always wearing yours as well, will show them that you take boat safety seriously. Just like with car seats and seatbelts in the car, wearing a life jacket will become second nature.

When selecting a child’s PFD, you will want to base it on weight, not age, so check the weight classification of the life vest. The most recommended life jackets for children will be bright in color and have 3 key features: a crotch strap to keep them from slipping out; a head flotation piece to keep their head above water; and the ability to self-right, meaning it will instantly turn the wearer upright in the water. The life jacket should be snug enough so that it will not move beyond the chin or ears when lifted. PRO TIP: Have your child lift their arms up in a “touchdown” motion – if it reaches the ears or chin, it is not properly fitted. Test the life jacket in a controlled setting, like a swimming pool, before your first boat outing to avoid any issues.

Personal Flotation Devices for Infants

The USCG’s Office of Boating Safety advises families not to bring infants on a boat until they reach the appropriate weight for a Type II Infant PFD. The Coast Guard does not recommend any infant under 18 pounds be taken aboard any vessel. Even with a life jacket, infants should be held. Bringing a car seat or any similar seating is hazardous; in the case of capsizing, the seat would immediately sink.

Swim Lessons & Open Water

Life jackets can certainly be the difference between a good day and a devastating one, but empowering your kids to become strong swimmers, especially in open water, is strongly encouraged. Sign your children up for swim lessons as early as you can. Once you feel comfortable with their level of swimming, teach them about the differences between swimming in open water versus swimming in a controlled setting.

They need to be aware of the depth, limited visibility, undertow, rip tides and other potentially hazardous situations. This includes identifying and understanding the potential harm associated with marine life such as sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, water moccasins, coral and lionfish, among many others. Children should understand how to remove themselves from each of these situations. Teach them the meaning behind all warning signs they see during your family boat day. Lastly, try to stick to designated recreational and swimming areas when possible or else other boaters may not notice them in the water.

Safety Protocols

In addition to wearing a life jacket, there are many rules that should be implemented when a child or multiple children are onboard a vessel. For starters, despite the increased kid friendliness of many boats these days, there are still some areas that need to be monitored or secured to keep curious children from injuring themselves, causing boat damage or shutting off critical functions. Be sure that all doors are locked and if your boat is not equipped, install straps that snap over latches. Use a helm cover when the helm is unattended, secure the electrical panel, cover all outlets and protect them with ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), and monitor any switches that are accessible. Treat the boat as you do your home when kid-proofing.

It's also wise, depending upon the age of your child(ren), to practice crew-overboard drills with them. Add marine-grade whistles to everyone’s life vest and coach them to blow it until help arrives if they ever fall overboard. Also teach them that if someone goes into the water and appears to be struggling, they should throw a flotation device instead of jumping in to help.

Children should keep all body parts inside the boat while it is underway and should not lean over any sides. Children should not stand in the companionway or play in or around areas such as ladders, baitwells, coolers and any area with dangerous equipment. When the boat is underway, no children should be riding on the transom or gunwales. In fact, there should be a designated “safe zone” in which children should stay until given permission to move about (especially at night, during docking or anchoring and during a storm). To make the safe zone more enticing, bring lots of pillows and/or cushions for comfortability, as well as plenty of age-appropriate toys to keep them entertained.

Most importantly, active supervision is the best way to keep kids safe, both on the boat and in the water. We recommend assigning an adult to supervise the kids on the boat and someone else, if possible, to watch the kids in the water. Having multiple adults on board when kids are present is very helpful. Supervision requires full attention, so make sure the adults are not distracted by their phones, a good book or social interaction. Additionally, if there are older children on board, encourage and trust them to help you keep younglings safe. Explain to them that they can be role models for the younger children by following rules and setting good examples. Lastly, and this most likely goes without saying, alcohol should not be consumed by the individual(s) operating the boat, as well as those that are in charge of keeping an eye on the children.

Boating Basics

From their very first boat trip, children should be taught not to be afraid of a boat, but to respect it. It can be dangerous if rules are not followed and precautions are not taken around the boat’s various components. For instance, children should always stay clear of the propeller. Whether it is running or at rest, it is very dangerous. It is best practice to remove the key from the boat’s ignition when people are in the water or behind the boat for any reason. If the boat is running, children should stay away from the motor to avoid breathing in carbon monoxide, whether they are on land or in the water.

If you are traveling with infants or children under the age of 7, short boat trips are ideal. Children at these ages cannot fully comprehend everything surrounding boating basics and safety, and they will get bored quickly. Children between the ages of 8 and 12, however, will start to become interested in more activities, such as fishing and driving. Having them at your side learning how to drive a boat will be such a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. Use this time to teach them all about the different markers, navigation rules and basic courtesy standards. Just double check state laws regarding allowing children and teens to operate the boat.

If you have a teenager that wants to take the helm on their own, you should first teach them navigation rules, how to use a VHF and call for help and how to tie several types of knots. Before they take their boating safety course and begin taking the helm, work with them on keeping the engine kill switch lanyard around their wrist until it becomes habit. Let them help you plan your next trip or excursion, navigate and anchor the boat while you’re there to help. This will help build their confidence.

No items found.


The most successful boat outings with children are those that are thoroughly prepared for. Children get tired and hungry and hot very easily, so the best way to keep everyone happy and safe is to make a list beforehand. You will most certainly need loads of water and food. You should have the trip’s meals made and a ton of snacks available. If you have room, you should also load-up on ice and bring some popsicles, which can help to keep kids hydrated and cool.

Be sure not to forget sunscreen by the gallon. You will need to apply sunscreen, lots of it – and frequently. Hats and sunglasses are also recommended if you can get your kids to keep them on. You’ll also want to have water shoes onboard, but these can probably stay stowed away on the boat so you don’t have to remember them every time.

Having blankets and pillows aboard can be a blessing you never thought you would need. Young children will most likely need a boat nap during the trip, and having a comfortable place to lie will be the difference between a cranky child and a well-rested one. Not to mention, blankets come in handy if you’re taking an evening trip because children are more susceptible to hypothermia and need to be kept warm.

Consider bringing age-appropriate, non-water/beach related toys on board, such as games or coloring books and utensils. For very young children, bring a playmat or playpen with zip-up mosquito net and sunshade.

If your child has never been on a boat before and you’re not sure how they will handle the motion, you can consult a physician about seasickness medication and bring it with you just in case.

Resources for Parents/Adults in Charge

The U.S. Coast Guard relies on boat owners and operators to “help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r) or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners”.

If you are interested in learning more about anything mentioned in this article or doing some more of your own research, please view the following sources:

Now That Everyone's Safe, Let's Have Fun!

Whether you are a family new to boating, a family with a new child, or you and your family have been on the water for years, adults should never waver in their pursuit of safety. Children that are taught boat safety in a positive manner from a very young age are more likely to develop and preserve them into adulthood. When everyone is doing their part to stay safe, the options for fun are limitless. Check out our articles on skiing and wakeboarding for some great family fun ideas. If you’re also curious about bringing the family pet aboard and keeping them safe, check out this article.

Happy (and safe) boating!

Follow Us
No items found.
No items found.