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Boating with Children - Safety First!

Boating with your children can be a fun family adventure. Outdoor activities encourage fitness and strengthen family bonds. Many activities on the water such as fishing, swimming, water skiing and tubing can increase strength, balance and self-confidence in older children. It is important to understand the risks of these activities to ensure everyone’s safety.

Long days on the water with lots of sun exposure can lead to visual fatigue due to glare, dehydration due to loss of fluids from heat and wind, in addition to the pain and skin damage from sunburn. Environmental stresses such as wind, motion, noise, and dehydration can lead to fatigue. This can affect balance, coordination and judgment. Keep in mind that these things affect not only children but adults and may make the boat operator unsafe. Alcohol will worsen these effects and should be avoided when boating.

Children should be taught boating safety at a young age, as well as being taught basic swimming skills. Your whole family should attend a boating safety course available through the Army Corps of Engineers or the Coast Guard. Adults should model safe behaviors at all times, and rules should be set that are clear and understandable:

  • Remember to reapply sunscreen throughout the day (SPF at least 30)
  • The risk of accident or injury increases greatly when a personal water craft is involved (such as a jet ski.) In fact, in the year 2000, personal water crafts accounted for 19% of all boats registered, but were involved in 45% of boating related injuries!
  • Everyone on the boat, including you, must be wearing a personal floatation device, or PFD. If you are boating with children, it is just as important for you to be wearing a PFD as it is the children. If an accident occurs, saving yourself will be the only way you can save your children. Be sure the PFD you choose is suited to your type of boating, whether salt water, fresh, slow boating or fast.
  • Show your children where the safety equipment, such as the radio, fire extinguisher, first aid kit and flares, are stowed. Teach them how to safely use this equipment, keeping it appropriate to their ages. Teach your children how to pull the throttle back to slow the boat, and how to take it out of gear to stop the boat.
  • Bring plenty of snacks and drinks on your outing, and especially plenty of drinking water.
  • Keep extra clothes on the boat, stored and sealed in a bag. Always prepare for the cold, even on seemingly warm days.
  • Do not bring extra toys and items on the boat. They can be distracting, and can also hazardous.
  • Keep your outing to a reasonable amount of time. Long trips can cause fatigue in both you and your children.
  • Always have enough adults to watch the children, and never overload your boat.
  • Bring along medication, such as inhaler, epipens or insulin, and be sure a first aid kit is on board.
  • Do not operate your boat without a kill switch.
  • Be sure everything on the boat is secured. Tie down fishing rods and your cooler, stow your jackets, and hats. Remember, it just takes a bit of speed and wind to make your fishing rod a dangerous projectile. Be prepared to treat cuts, bruises and even unexpected hooks in your children.
  • All passengers, especially children, should be sitting and be in plain view. If you have pedestal seats, lower them and do not allow passengers to ride on them while the boat is in motion.
  • Slow down when passing other boaters.
  • Take on wakes slowly, and straight into the bow. Angle your boat into the waves. You cannot afford to knock a passenger overboard.
  • Be sure your motor is an appropriate size for your boat. Equip your boat correctly. Have it inspected annually.
  • If a storm approaches while you are on the water, immediately get to safe harbor.
  • When you launch your boat, be sure the area is clear both in the water and out.

Your children may enjoy interactive websites that teach boating safety.

Written by Dr. Pat Nevius, MD
On behalf of PAMPA


© 2011 Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
PAMPA is a pediatric medical practice in north Atlanta, Georgia consisting of twelve pediatricians, five nurses,
and four locations in Roswell, Woodstock, Atlanta, and Marietta. area.
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