The end of the school year is approaching, which signals the start of the family boating season in much of the country. These days, you don’t have to own a boat to start having fun on the water, thanks to the growing number of boat rental outlets and clubs. The non-profit Sea Tow Foundation provides these 10 tips to keep youngsters safe and happy on the water and make wonderful memories as a family this summer!
1. Life Jackets Save Lives. Be sure all kids wear a life jacket. The U.S. Coast Guard requires that all children under 13 years of age wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while the vessel is moving and it is important to know that life jackets come in different sizes based on the body weight and size of the wearer. If a friend joins the kids for the day, you can make plans to borrow an extra life jacket for the day from the Sea Tow Foundation’s Life Jacket Loaner Program which now boasts over 550 life jacket loaner stations located across the country. You can find one near you at www.boatingsafety.com/map.
2. Safety Starts Ashore. Get the kids in the habit of putting on sunscreen, a hat and their life jackets while still in the parking lot. That way, the kids will be protected if they accidentally tumble off the dock into the water.
3. Sober Skippers are a Must! When the lives of your family are in your hands, it is crucial to ensure that the boat operator is sober and able to operate the boat safely. Pack plenty of water, juice and other non-alcoholic drinks in the cooler for the kids as well as the boat operator so that everyone stays hydrated and safe.
4. Clear the Decks. Have everyone stow their gear and any loose water toys away as well as loose lines and fishing gear before leaving the dock.
5. One Hand for Yourself and One for the Boat. It is important that kids understand that they can’t run on the boat deck, they should never walk around while the boat is moving, and they should always maintain 3 points of contact with the boat to avoid falling when rocked by the wake of a passing boat.
6. Ahoy, Mate. Kids get a bigger kick out of a boat trip when you make them your First Mate and let them help. The Sea Tow Foundation has developed a First Mate Checklist to help the kids and parents with some ideas, which can be found at www.seatow.com
7. Check the Radio. Be sure everyone knows how to operate the boat’s VHF radio in case of an emergency. The free Sea Tow’s Automated Radio Check service shows the kids how to key the microphone and talk over the VHF and it also lets you know if the radio is in good working order. To find the Automated Radio Check VHF channel in your boating area, visit www.seatow.com/arc.
8. Towing Sports are Fun for Girls and Boys. When you tow kids behind the boat on inflatable water toys, water skis or a wakeboard, be sure to designate an adult to be the official watcher, keeping his or her eyes on the towed rider at all times and communicating to the boat captain. Teach the kids hand signals they can use to tell you to speed up, go slower or stop.
9. Where the Fish Are Biting. Angling is another fun family pastime, and it’s even more fun on a boat. Teach kids to be careful with hooks and not to throw used fishing line overboard. Have them fish from opposite sides of the boat so they don’t tangle their lines. And, remember, kids have a shorter attention span, so make time for play or knock off early and go swimming.
10. Places, Please. Give the kids assigned seats on the boat while docking, so that they don’t block the operator’s view and that they keep their fingers and toes inside during this process.
These basic guidelines will help you ensure everyone stays safe on board. But the most important tip for your family boating adventure is this: Have fun!
About the Sea Tow Foundation: With a focus on safe boating practices that result in fun on the water, the Sea Tow Foundation – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization – was established in 2007 by Sea Tow Founder Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer. After his passing in 2015, Captain Joe’s legacy continues as the Foundation brings attention to the number of preventable boating-related accidents, injuries, and deaths, and directly addresses prevention methods through education and awareness. More than 550 life jacket loaner stands are now available across the United States and the Foundation’s Sober Skipper program continues to grow. For more information, please visit BoatingSafety.com.