Boating is a fun and relaxing hobby, in part because there are so many activities and options available to you. Whether you want to race against other competitive boaters, relax by yourself with a fishing pole, or enjoy your weekends with friends and family members, you can find a boat and a set of activity options that’s perfect for you.

Bringing kids on your boat can be even more fun – and truly engaging for them – but it’s important to make their safety one of your top priorities.

How do you keep your kids safe on a boat?

Choose Activities Wisely

First, choose your activities wisely. There are countless activities that can keep you entertained on the back of a boat, but not all of them are appropriate for children of all ages. You'll need to keep in mind the age, height, weight, and maturity levels of your children if you want to select appropriate, safe activities for them.

Towable tubes, for example, can provide hours of fun, but you must choose an appropriate size and shape for your children. Smaller and less experienced children may find it challenging to remain on the tube. Some activities, like barefoot water skiing, are best reserved for adults and older teenagers. And even activities accessible to young kids, such as swimming or fishing, should be planned with each child’s experience level and maturity in mind.

Use Lifejackets Appropriately

One of the most important safety measures you can take on a boat is buying and maintaining lifejackets. These personal flotation devices are designed to keep people afloat in water if and when they fall overboard.

  • Ensure ample inventory. Make sure every individual on your boat has a lifejacket of their own.
  • Check the fit. Make sure each lifejacket is appropriately fitted to the individual wearing it. A lifejacket that doesn't fit properly may not work as intended.
  • Inspect before use. Always inspect your lifejackets before venturing out; if one of these devices has holes, tears, or other issues, discontinue use and repair or replace it.

Childproof the Boat

Take some time to childproof your boat. Get rid of any potential hazards that could cause injury or complications to the children on your boat. This is especially important for younger children.

Provide Swimming Lessons (If Possible)

Swimming lessons are incredibly valuable even if you aren’t going to take your kids boating on a regular basis. After learning to swim, your children will be competently able to keep themselves afloat in water for long enough to be rescued, and they may be able to swim to safety if they find themselves in an aquatic predicament.

Pack Intelligently

Take these items to have a safer, more pleasant experience with your children:

  • Sunscreen. Even in good conditions, you can get sunburned in 60 minutes. In bad conditions, sunburns can start to set in after just 10 minutes. Bring sunscreen and apply it regularly throughout the day.
  • Ponchos. Ponchos can keep you dry and safe in rainy or inclement weather.
  • Extra water and food. You should bring plenty of clean water and food for everyone onboard – including some extras in case you end up stranded.
  • Extra clothes. Similarly, you should bring extra sets of clothes in case you need to change (or in case the weather changes unexpectedly).
  • Towels and blankets. Towels and blankets can keep a person dry and warm if they fall overboard.
  • Extra floatation devices. Extra floatation devices can assist you in rescuing a person in distress.

Review the Rules of the Boat

Before departing, review the rules of the boat with everyone on board, including the children. These are some of the most important rules to stress with children:

  • No running. Running and playing aggressively can be risky on the back of a boat, especially if you have limited space to work with.
  • Stay on the boat at all times. Children should be expected to always stay on the boat, with their hands, arms, and other body parts within the frame of the boat (i.e., not hanging off the side).
  • Listen to the captain. The captain is the authority on this boat, and your children need to always listen to the captain.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

Of course, you also need to be prepared for a potential emergency, such as a person falling overboard unexpectedly or the boat suffering a severe mechanical failure. You should have multiple ways to signal for help and be familiar with how to use them, at minimum.

Keeping your kids safe on a boat isn’t exactly hard, but it does require some proactive preparation and some vigilance on your end. With the right strategies and consistent attention, you can keep your entire family safe – without ever encroaching on the excitement and fun of your favorite maritime activities.