Boating with kids helps instill a love of nature and teaches valuable outdoor skills. It’s one of life’s greatest joys. With that pleasure comes an awesome responsibility – keeping them safe. Kids are curious, spontaneous and carefree. They don’t give much thought to their safety so it’s up to you to do that for them. They can learn safety practices but that takes time and it takes vigilance on your part to make sure they’re doing the right things.
Photo: Keli Keach
This is the most important safety gear for any boater, but especially for kids. PFDs designed for young people are sized by weight range instead of the chest measurements used in adult models. Kid’s growing bodies are so variable – one 60-pounder may be a tall, skinny beanpole, while another may be short and stocky. Chose a PFD that fits their body well. It’s unsafe to choose one with a sloppy fit that they’ll “grow into”. They’ll probably need several different sizes over the years. Don’t skimp on this; it’s a wise investment in their safety.
Snug all the adjustment points, starting with the lowest one and working up. Then check for the proper fit by picking the child up by the shoulders of the jacket. If the fit is right, the child’s chin and ears won’t slip through. Some jackets come with leg straps that help prevent ride-up. We’ve put together the Kids PFD Reference Guide
to help in finding the best jacket for your youngster. When you’ve gotten a good fitting life jacket, make sure they wear it! Insist they have it on any time they’re on the water or playing around the shore. You can’t watch them every minute and it only takes that long for them to get into trouble.
Young bodies get cold. Protect them with layers appropriate for the conditions. Synthetic fabrics are best, avoid cotton. More and more outdoor apparel pieces are being sized for kids. You can find wetsuits, base layers and waterproof outer layers that will fit them. Same for helmets, insulated footwear and gloves. And don’t forget warm hats, the head is a major source of heat loss. Protect their fragile feet by having them wear shoes when on the water or playing in camp.
We know now that over-exposure to the sun’s harmful rays in childhood can lead to skin cancer in later years. Apply water-resistant sunscreen early and often. Many outdoor apparel pieces now come in a weave that gives excellent sun protection. Look for garments that have an SPF or UPF rating of 30 or higher.
Brimmed hats offer good shielding for face and ears. If they’re wearing a ball cap style of hat, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the tops of ears. Also, good quality sunglasses protect the eyes from the dangerous glare that comes off the water.
The outdoors has all kinds of stinging, biting insects and animals. Teach children to watch where they walk and put their hands. In areas with poisonous snakes, extra care needs to be taken to educate kids on how to avoid encounters with these dangerous reptiles. Insect repellents can keep the bugs at bay. Choose ones made for kids’ sensitive skin. It’s a good idea to pack a children’s antihistamine in your medical kit in case of adverse reactions to bug bites or bee stings. If your child has a bad reaction, consult your doctor for future treatments.
If poison ivy/oak grows where you boat, teach them how to recognize it. If they do come in contact, wash quickly with soapy water. Remember that if pets run through the plants, kids can pick up the oils from their fur.
Photo: David Blue
Boating Dos and Don’ts
Explain to your child what to do in case of accident or upset while on the water. Going over possible scenarios will build their confidence and help them react correctly to an emergency. When planning to take your children on a stretch of water, think of the worst things that could happen. Can you and your children handle those worst-case emergencies? If the answer is no, choose different water to boat. Exposing them to situations they can’t handle is unsafe and can lead to bad experiences that will set back their outdoor education.
Never tie a child into a boat; in the event of an upset they’ll be trapped. In a raft have them sit next to an adult who can hold onto them or help them hold on through any rapids. If they’re in their own kayak or IK, have them stay close to other experienced boaters and upstream of a rescue boat in moving river waters. Make sure they wear a helmet.
A great training tool for river boaters is to find a Class I stretch of water without any dangers below. Make a “game” out of having them float through the gentle waves on their backs, feet downstream. Practice tossing them the throw rope and pulling them to shore. They’ll have a blast while you’re teaching them valuable skills.
Boating’s a great family activity and it’s fun! Make it safe for your kids and you’ll be preparing them for a lifetime love of the outdoors.
Check out the Kids Gear page for great choices on outfitting your young boaters.