Worried about taking your new baby boating? Here’s how to make sure a baby or infant is safe boarding and cruising on a recreational boat
As a new parent, it is expected that you may be nervous about taking your new baby or infant on a boat. That anxiety is probably even greater if you are a new parent that is also new to boating.
Most avid boaters that have been faced with the decision to bring a baby on board (myself included) will tell you that having an infant baby should not stop you from going boating.
In some ways, it’s actually very easy having a baby on a boat – much easier than an active toddler that has learned to climb and run around. And if this is not your first child then you already know that it’s so much easier getting out and about during the baby days. With a few extra safety precautions and the right gear, there really is no reason why you can’t boat with a baby.
Rules for Boating with a Baby
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 a personal flotation device (PFD). Most babies will reach that weight when they are between 4 and 11 months old.
As for bringing a baby on a boat, I think the key phrase is “should not travel” as opposed to “should not go on” a boat with an infant.
Note that my guidance here is for recreational boating.
Although they should not travel on a boat when they are newborn babies, there is no reason why you can’t have a baby on a boat that is docked, anchored or moving slowly (at no wake zone speeds of 6 MPH) as long as the baby is wearing an infant life jacket that is intended for infants under 30 lbs.
An infant life jacket has a built in “heads up” cushion with a loop handle at the top, along with a strap that goes between the legs (to keep the jacket from sliding up).
Infant life jackets are intended to fit snug and do a great job of raising the infant’s head out of the water.
Here’s the infant life jacket we used in the picture above – Salus Bijox Baby Vest.
It comes in 5 different colors (lime, blue, pink, orange and yellow) and is designed for babies 9 to 25 pounds – ideal for newborn babies that may be too small for standard infant life jackets that are intended for under 30 lbs.
Note that it is made in Canada so it is not US Coast Guard approved, however we found the Salus Bijox Baby Vest to be a good fit for both our babies that worn born in the summer.
See our full selection of recommended infant & baby life jackets
Safe Boating with an Infant Baby
Both of our girls were on our boat for the first time at about 2 weeks old. They were summer babies so we had about 6 weeks left of the season once they were born. We brought them to the boat and remained docked most of the time, except for an occasional short putt-putt cruise to drop the hook at the cove across from our marina.
While the boat was in motion we had our baby safely secured in the infant life jacket. I held the baby in my arms while the captain handled the lines and operated the boat. I should note that with both babies we had a mid-size cabin cruiser – a 25 foot boat with our first baby, and then a 41 foot boat with the second.
IMPORTANT: It is very important not to place an infant in a car seat or other non-floating device when cruising in a boat. It’s just not safe.
Safely Boarding a Boat with a Baby
Getting on and off a boat with a baby safely is also very important. There are a few ways to board a boat with a baby that I have seen done.
One way is to pass the baby to someone already on the boat while the baby is wearing an infant life jacket. Doing a hand off of the baby makes me nervous unless you can carefully hand the baby over the edge while not making the transfer over the water.
Personally, my preference is to hold the baby tightly in my arms while boarding the boat. Always have someone standing alongside you to steady you while boarding the boat if needed.
Once on board the boat, it is fine to have the baby sit in an infant carrier (or we used a bouncer seat because it was more comfortable for the baby)… as long as you are on a stable boat and not underway.
Also be sure to have proper shading on deck to protect the gentle and sensitive skin of infants. (Good rule for a baby or kids of any age too).
Both of our babies loved just being on the boat. The fresh air, views of nature and gentle rocking of the boat are very enjoyable for babies. In fact, our second baby had a bad case of colic and our weekend trips to the boat were very comforting to her.
The first summer when our baby was born (both times) we kept boat rides to a minimum and took it easy our baby’s first few months on the water. But we went to our boat EVERY weekend and had a very enjoyable – and safe – summer with our new boat baby.
See our full selection of recommended infant & baby life jackets
Also see our roundup of Top 10 Baby Boat Gear for all the must-have baby products on your boat.
We provide our favorite gear for life jackets, sleeping beds, booster seats, sun protection and more!
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Just my experience…put the baby in the infant life jacket early(neoprene if possible), even before they are big enough to go on the boat. One good place is a shallow pool (3 feet) and keep them in your arms (life jacket = good times). I always put on the life jacket when we removed our daughters from the car seat in the parking lot. Next go several times and let them fall asleep in the boat on the dock, but not strapped into a car seat as we do not want baby to accidentally go down with the seat if anything goes wrong. My children were started that way and now relish in going out on the lake, and would never dream of boarding without a life jacket.
Never forget to leave your cares in the car and make the boat (life jacket included) your happiest place on earth!
Thanks Stephen – really good advice and I completely agree! The sooner you get your baby used to wearing a life jacket the better because it will be second nature for them to continue wearing them as kids… just part of being on a boat!
I was happy to find this blog. My husband is very passionate about boating and we had our first baby last May. Our baby was about 2 months when we decided to start staying on our boat. We have a 30ft sea Ray crusier so plenty of room. As a new mom, I found it hard to relax. I was worried about sun exposure, was the baby comfortable and usual boating tasks such as docking, ect. I started not wanting to head to the boat, a place I use to love. Now that our baby will be one I was thinking it would be easier this season, now I’m thinking tougher being mobile. Being able to boat is such a great luxury and wonderful to make memories. Your blog is helpful in giving little tips on boating w a little one. Glad to have found it!
Thanks Emily that is so nice to hear! Its sounds like we are in the same boat 😉
Yes, being mobile does mean more responsibility… but as long as you stay on top of keeping your little one safe (life jacket, within arms reach of an adult at all times on deck) there is no reason you can’t enjoy all those memories together. In fact, they are even better when shared with a little one!
If you ever want to share your experience boating with kids I would love to have you as a contributor – just get in touch! http://www.boaterlifeonline.com/contact-us
Id love to!! I definitely will! Quick question. Last season we used the brica fold up bed when she was in infant and it worked great on our sofa. She is bigger now and moves around a lot in her sleep. My husband doesn’t think a pack and play will fit in our aft. I guess I’m curious if some of the “tent” like options will tip if she rolls around a lot. I’m thinking of one of those if I pull the aft bed out? Thoughts? Thanks for your help!!
Ok great – I’ll send you an email with some more info on contributing!
As for the pack-n-play… yes, I dreaded having one take up space on the boat too, but as a toddler (1-2 yr old) I couldn’t find a better option. They do move around too much sleeping and putting something on top of a bed didn’t seem like a good option. Some people just have them sleep in the aft bed with a side rail on it. Not sure about your particular boat’s floor space, but we had one slide into the aft area nicely on our 30 ft cruisers with aft bed in couch position. with baby #2 we had our 41 sea ray and found the step down to the aft cabin to be a challenge – had to build a little platform to level it out and make it fit. Maybe you might need to do something like that? Here’s how I did it on our sea ray: https://www.boaterkids.com/how-to-fit-babys-pack-n-play-on-a-boat/
Hope that helps!
The one thing I’m worried about is the heat, we do have shade on our boat. Do you have any advice for that?
Hi Marisha – yes, I have the same concerns about the heat and the sun! Sunscreen, sunwear and SHADE are SO important for kids. Of course for babies under 6 months you shouldn’t use sunscreen – so shade on a boat is even more critical! I highly recommend you get some type of shade on your boat – depending on your boat size and style that could be a bimini or even retractable shades by SureShade that can extend from a hardtop or arch to give you more sun protection in the cockpit. They have automated shade systems as well as manual shade systems that can be a DIY installation. Check it out here: http://www.sureshade.com/
(full disclosure – I also do the marketing for SureShade… and have one installed on my own boat!)
You have such great tips. We have a 21′ center console, with a custom shade kit for the back, but with a 6 month old that’s already outgrowing the car seat (for a nap) any ideas since we’re limited on space? Also, when we anchor out and go to the beach, any tips on a feeding tray/chair combo or advice for that?
Hi Jennifer – thanks, glad you find the post & site helpful! I just did a post recently on the top gear I recommend for babies on boats – the booster feeding seat is on there among other things: https://www.boaterkids.com/baby-boat-gear-top-10-must-have-baby-products-for-your-boat/
For napping, maybe check out this post on pack-n-plays: https://www.boaterkids.com/how-to-fit-babys-pack-n-play-on-a-boat/
The kidco peapod might be a good option for naps.
I have a 2 month old and I have an infant life vest however can I put her in the car seat or bouncer without the life vest on?
I would only do that if you are safely docked or anchored – its certainly not comfortable to have your baby in a life jacket the entire time you are sitting on a boat that is not moving. However, I would never put her strapped into a non-floating seat while the boat is underway.
Hey there- You said you took your two week old out on the boat. I can’t imagine the baby was 18 lbs… what do you recommend about wearing a life vest if the baby is not yet 18 lbs?
Hi – good question! The US Coast Guard recommends that infants “do not travel on a boat” until over 18 lbs – we took our babies on the boat as a newborn but did not cruise with the baby. We would either be at the dock or anchored in the cove across from our marina – a 6 mph no wake zone.
Here are some infant life jackets under 30 lbs) that we recommend: https://www.boaterkids.com/infant-and-baby-life-jackets/
hope that helps!
This isn’t what the Coast Guard says, at least not anymore. Since posting my comment below a few minutes ago, I found the US Coast Guard policy. It does not say “do not travel on a boat” until the child is18 lbs. (This webpage is also the only one I found with the exact phrase “do not travel on a boat” — I definitely didn’t see it from the Coast Guard.) The Coast Guard does have a recommendation about *recreational* boats. The Coast Guard “does not recommend taking infants onboard a recreational boat.” It goes on to say: “The PFDs currently available for newborns up to 18 pounds may not provide a proper fit to perform as expected. Unless the parent is able to test their newborns out in a PFD, sized for infants, in a swimming pool, they will not know if that device will float their child with his/her head out of the water. You must be sure you know the PFD you have works for your infant. Otherwise we recommend the child not be exposed to any risk in a boat on the water.” The Coast Guard statement is avilable at https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/
I’d kindly recommend updating this post to reflect the Coast Guard’s current guidance. It may be obvious to you that your site is only about recreational boating, but many people will come across this website when looking into any vessel on water. I searched on google for whether I could take a baby on a ferry, and this was the fist site to come up.
Thanks for your feedback KV! Yes, this site is intended for recreational boating – not ferry boats or commercial vessels (as evidenced by the site name, post name, photos and my references to boats throughout this post) but I did add your suggested not that this advice is for recreational boaters to the post as well. While its possible USCG alters exact language for rules, the rule of a proper fit for infant life jackets still applies. Also, in the article I make the distinction between taking an infant on a boat and a boat ride. Hope you found what you were looking for!
I’ve found many websites that state the U.S. Coast Guard policy along the lines you’ve described here, but I can’t find a similar statement from the Coast Guard itself. Nobody seems to link to any actual policy. This isn’t a criticism, but a link would help. Do you have one? Trying to figure out the latest policy and the scope of the rule/recommendation that an infant “should not travel on a boat until they weigh at least 18 pounds”? How does it define “boat”? Does it apply to all vessels on water, including a larger commuter ferry, for example? So if you live in NYC, the Coast Guard says you shouldn’t take your infant on a large ferry service across from Brooklyn to Manhattan? Or is this just a policy about smaller, recreational boats? No need to answer all these specific examples if you have a link to the actual US Coast Guard policy, which I can’t find anywhere. Thanks!
Well, there are certain rules must be followed on strict basis if you are planning to ride on boat with baby. If a baby is eligible to be carry on boat, then use a life jacket and keep the boat riding speed slow and constant. In case of any help, you can contact emergency helpline provided by the agency.
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