Boating with the family is a great way to spend more time in nature and have quality bonding experiences. However, a peaceful day on the water can quickly turn south if you don’t come prepared. Here are seven essential tips for staying safe on a family boat trip.
1. Bring the Necessary Safety Gear
Every boat needs life-saving tools and other safety equipment. The body of water and length of the trip make no difference. Your boat should have these items, at a minimum:
- Enough life jackets for everyone on board
- Extra flotation devices
- Cell phone charger
- Cell signal booster
- Emergency flares
- Fire extinguisher
- Horn, whistle or another loud device
- First aid kit
- Extra food and water
- Water filter
Your boat’s size also partly determines which safety items you need. For example, boats over 16 feet need at least one throwable flotation device and ones over 40 feet need a copy of the Coast Guard’s International Inland Navigational Rules on board. Make sure you bring everything that your craft requires.
2. Make Sure Everyone Can Swim
All of your family members over the age of five should know how to swim. This factor makes your job as the captain much less stressful. If someone falls overboard, the boat will drift away from them quickly and they need to be able to tread water before help arrives.
Give your children thorough swimming lessons in preparation for the boat trip. Make sure they’re comfortable going underwater and navigating choppy waves. These things can make even experienced swimmers panic, so your kids need some experience with unstable water conditions before they step onboard.
If you have a baby or toddler, put them in a life jacket and hold them as often as possible. You don’t want them to be strapped into a car seat or high chair if something goes wrong.
3. Monitor the Weather Forecast
Weather changes fast on the water, so you need to monitor the forecast before and during the boat trip closely. If the forecast calls for cloudless skies and warm temperatures, bring hats, plenty of sunscreen and a variety of hydrating drinks. Young children and older adults are the most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, so they need extra protection.
Even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain, bring rain gear anyway. If there are clouds in the sky, a storm can pass through in the blink of an eye.
4. Review Emergency Procedures
A review of the boat’s emergency procedures is an essential part of boating prep. Discuss potential emergency situations and the proper courses of action with the other adults on board. Lots of things can go wrong on the water:
- Man overboard
- Running aground
- Colliding with another boat
- Engine failure
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Non-boat-related health emergency
Each situation has a proper response requiring you to think quickly and clearly. The only way to ensure quick thinking during emergencies is to know the procedures like the back of your hand.
5. Follow the Rules of the Water
Waterways have a wide range of speed limits, wake restrictions and no-wake areas. As with emergency procedures, you should know these rules by heart — ignorance is not a valid excuse for violating them. In the best-case scenario, you get a small fine and citation. You also earn a reputation among other boaters as a bad seaman and a threat to people’s safety.
In the worst-case scenario, you cause an accident, people get injured and someone loses their life. Don’t underestimate the power your boat generates. Watch your speed and keep the wake low around other boats.
6. Keep the Kids Entertained
Your children should have no shortage of entertainment on the boat trip. Let them sit with you at the helm and control the steering wheel. Show them the fun aspects of being a boat captain, like reading the waves, interacting with other boats and identifying landmarks. Bring fishing rods and teach them about the different fish species in the area.
Kids have short attention spans, so they’ll probably get bored after a while. Bring some toys, coloring books and other age-appropriate items to keep them happy. A bored child often finds ways to cause trouble, so they must stay occupied throughout the trip.
7. Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
Heavy alcohol consumption is another risk not worth taking. Drinking and boating is a bad idea with anyone on board, let alone your kids. Having a few drinks while the boat is anchored and you’re relaxing is OK — just give yourself enough time to sober up before you get behind the wheel. If you’re not sober, hand off the driving duties to an adult who is.
Safety First, Fun Second
Boat trips are only fun if everyone on board feels safe. Remember to bring the right gear, read up on emergency procedures and keep a close eye on the weather forecast. Watch your alcohol consumption when driving the boat and keep the kids entertained as best you can. These tips will help ensure everyone’s safety, thus ensuring that everyone has a good time.
Jack Shaw is a freelance writer. When he’s not writing, you can find him lounging in his hammock enjoying the day.