Boat Safety for Kids from Baby to Youth

boat safety kids

Kids boat safety can change by age – follow these safe boating practices that grow with your kids from baby to young adults

Whether you are a new or experienced boater, bringing a baby onto your boat for the first time is probably one of the most anxiety inducing things you can do. As a mom of two kids born in summer months, I know the worrisome feeling of safely bringing my daughters onto our boat for the first time very well. Of course, looking back I realize that those baby days were relatively easy in terms of boat safety. It’s when they start walking on the dock, climbing around on the boat or, gulp, wanting to help drive the boat, that your boat safety anxiety really starts to kick in!

Each age group brings a new set of safety concerns or challenges with your kids. The good news is that kids who grow up on the water can learn at an early age the importance of following basic boat safety rules. And as kids get older, we can continue to increase their level of boat safety knowledge and responsibility so that each year’s new boating experiences are safe ones.

Here’s a round-up of some boat safety practices at each age group.

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Baby Boat Safety

BABY LIFE JACKETPeople often wonder if they can even bring a baby on a boat, but with the right safety precautions and gear there really is no reason why you cannot safely introduce a baby to boating.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Boating Safety, an infant should not travel on a boat until they weigh at least 18 pounds and can wear an infant life jacket. This means that you may want to limit boat rides to no wake zones, and you will need to invest in an infant life jacket that includes a “heads up” cushion, loop handle and strap between the legs. Most importantly, make sure it is a snug fit and labeled with the appropriate weight range for your baby.

Other baby safety concerns on the water include providing protection from the elements – like sun and heat – and avoiding strapping a baby into a non-floating device like a car seat when cruising. You’ll probably want to invest in new baby gear for the boat to keep them safe & comfortable.

Toddlers on the Boat

They are walking, talking and getting into everything at this age! The toddler age is a good time to start emphasizing rules on the boat, such as always wearing a life jacket or staying seated while cruising.

A life jacket with a loop handle and strap between the legs is especially important while on the boat or even walking down the dock. Toddlers should always be within arm’s reach while anchored or docked and preferably in your arms while cruising.

Sun and heat are also a big concern at this age as they are likely spending more time enjoying the water. This is the time to get kids into the habit of having sunscreen reapplied every few hours and staying well hydrated.

Boating with Young Kids

As their need for independence grows, so does their potential for risky behavior on the boat.

Kids need to understand the importance of following the rules while out on the water and know that your number one concern is having safe fun on your boat.

kids water safety

Young kids are eager to learn more about boating, so this is the ideal time to expand their nautical knowledge with safety in mind. Whether its boat navigation or docking, they can learn by observing or even begin assisting in some ways.

For life jackets at this age, it is important to be mindful of the proper fit and weight requirements, as they can quickly grow from the 30-50 to 50-90 lb. size range. Continued use of life jackets for even the best swimmers remains important – particularly on smaller boats or with watersports.

Older Kids or Teens Boating

We are currently at the “young kid to older kid” stage and the safety lessons we taught our kids over the years are now second nature to them. That said, there are still new boating experiences like watersports or assisting with docking that will require a new level of safety engagement. Having your teen take a boating safety course is a smart idea, and even required prior to driving a boat in most states.

Safety should be every parent or grandparent’s primary concern with kids around the water or on a boat – no matter the age. But with the proper safety precautions and practices in place, you can lessen the anxiety and focus more on enjoying the boating experience.

Boat Life Gear for the Family

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Diane Seltzer

View posts by Diane Seltzer
Diane is the founder of as well as the boating lifestyle site Active in the boating industry, Diane has also led the marketing for multiple recreational boating businesses and startups and is the author of the children's book The Amazing Adventures of Boat Girl.
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