Quicksilver Blog

How to Get Your Kids Started in Boating

Boating with your family is a great way to create memories, to bond around a fun activity and to help kids develop confidence and new skills. Kids can join in the fun of boating as soon as they are big enough to wear an approved life jacket. The key to making boating a great experience for kids is to keep it fun, because as every parent knows, once the kids are not having fun, nobody is having fun.

Here are some tips for getting kids out on the water and having a great time.

Safety First

The safety of everyone on board is always the captain’s primary responsibility, and when kids are aboard, extra vigilance is required. These are the basics:

  • A life jacket that fits

Federal Law requires that when a vessel is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear their life jacket. Your state regulations may vary. The best way to encourage kids to wear a life jacket is to put one on yourself. Set the example by asking everyone on board to wear a life jacket when the boat is underway.

An adult life jacket is not sized for a child and may not be effective when worn by a child. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, youth life jackets should have these characteristics when it comes to size and fit:

  • Appropriately sized based on current weight (buoyancy matters most).
  • Snug fitting to stay on while in the water.
  • Able to keep a baby’s head upright (for baby and infants).

Visit USCG Boating for help with sizing and selection of lifejackets.

  • A ship-shape boat

A mechanical issue can always ruin a day on the water, but it can be especially stressful – and even dangerous – when kids are on board. When family boating it’s more important than ever to make sure your boat is equipped with all the required safety gear and is in good working condition. Have your boat checked over by a professional marine technician if you have any doubts about its reliability

  • Choose your day

Be ready to change plans if the weather or sea conditions are not cooperating, even if everyone has been looking forward to a day on the water. Your kids won’t have fun if the boat is pounding and pitching in the water, and there’s no misery worse than a sea-sick kid. Busy holiday weekends, when heavy boat traffic can make the waterway chaotic and stressful, might also not be the best time to boat with young kids on board.

  • Avoid injuries

The boat and the waterfront may be new environments for kids. Keep them safe by setting a few rules, such as no running on the dock, no swimming near the propeller, and staying away from the boat sides when docking. When the boat is underway the safest place for small kids is on the lap of an adult. When the boat is not underway, always disable the ignition or remove the ignition key so that only you can start the engine.

Kid Basics

The supplies you need, your plan for the day, and the involvement of kids on the boat will depend on the age of the child. Here are some basic tips to consider:

  • Keep it short

You might like to be out from dawn to dusk, but kids tire more quickly than adults. Plan your day around the kid’s endurance, not yours. Create some breaks in the day, such as a stop at a sandbar or beach for a swim or a walk around a marina.

  • Bring extra clothes

Kids get cold more easily than adults, especially if they get wet. Pack extra dry clothes and a jacket or sweatshirt.

  • Sun protection

Apply sunscreen before you hit the water, and don’t forget to reapply it as necessary. For very young kids, consult your pediatrician about the best type of sunscreen. A broad-brim sun hat can also help keep kids cool and protected from UV rays.

  • Shade

If your boat has a wide-open deck, consider adding a sun top or Bimini to create some shade in the cockpit. If you are shopping for a new boat, consider extended top options, or a boat with a cabin, which can also be great for naps.

Keep Kids Involved

Even young kids can help carry gear to the boat, and as they get older you can find ways to help them be actively involved in the activity. Before you know it, they will be asking to use the boat themselves. Here are some things kids can do:

  • Safety check

Give them a check list of safety items – flares, paddle, fire extinguisher – and tasks such as checking the fuel level or engine oil before casting off.

  • Line handling

Assign a line to make ready as you approach the dock. Show kids the proper way to secure the line to a cleat and toss the looped line to the dock. This also keeps them stationary while you are focused on handling the boat.

  • Wash down assistant

Spraying a hose is always fun.

  • Navigator

Teach young boaters how to watch for channel markers and what they mean. Show them how to interpret the navigation screen on a multi-function display, comparing the screen to landmarks. Then show them how to plot a course or navigate back home.

  • Radio operator

Teach the basics of marine communications and assign a kid to monitor the radio.

On Their Own

Sooner or later your kids will want to experience the freedom of being on the water without you along. In most states almost everyone is required to complete a basic boating education course. There may also be special rules for boaters under the age of 18, such as a minimum age to operate a powerboat. A good resource for state-by-state information is the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) web page with the basic training requirements for each state and a link to that state’s boating administration website where you can find more detailed information.