7 Boating Safety Tips to Help Your Family Stay Safe on the Water

Before you set sail, get peace of mind from knowing some essential boating safety guidelines.

Published May 8, 2023
Family enjoying riding a boat

With the summer heat sneaking in early this year, many folks are already enjoying the warm breeze and cool waters of area lakes and oceans. While this is a typical pastime for many, it's important to prioritize the safety of the littlest members of your crew who may be less experienced swimmers.

Not only are they more at risk for drowning in natural waters, but the drivers of fast moving watercraft may find them harder to spot. For the parents looking to have some fun on the water, fret naut! We have a list of the top boating safety tips for families.

Wear a Lifejacket

Most game wardens refer to these attractive accessories as your seatbelt on the water. No matter where you are in the United States, there are laws in place that require children to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when a recreational water vehicle is in motion. These are required because if you were to get in a crash with another vessel or hit a submerged object while cruising on the water, this would keep your kids afloat until emergency crews arrived.

The U.S. Coast Guard notes that 86% of individuals who died by drowning in 2020 were not wearing a life jacket. This is the highest percentage that has been seen in a decade. The age requirement varies from state to state, with some locations requiring kids up to the age of 16 to wear a PFD while the boat is moving on the water. While there is not always someone policing the waters, parents can be proactive about life jackets to keep kids safe.

Additionally, it may seem tempting to let your kids show off their swimming skills without a PFD when you have put down the anchor, but if they are not a strong swimmer, you might consider having them keep it on. Wearing a lifejacket can keep your children safe and give you peace of mind while on the water.

How to Find the Right Fit

The key features to look for in a life jacket include:

  • Coast Guard approved device

  • Snug to the chest

  • Does not rise above the ears when you tug on the shoulder straps

  • Rated for the weight of your child - just because it says "CHILD" does not necessarily mean it is the right choice

  • Has neck collar supports

Pick the Right Color Swimsuit

Did you know that the color of your child's swimsuit could save their life? It may sound ridiculous, but aquatic safety experts at Alive Solutions have done studies that clearly show that "bright and contrasting" swimsuits in "neon yellow, green and orange" colors are the most visible shades when submerged in a dark pool.

Approximately 40% of child drownings (ages five to 14) occur in natural waters that tend to be more murky, so swimsuit color can be a game changer when it comes to spotting a child in trouble. Not only that, but these colors make your kids more visible to other boaters who are driving by.

Teach Your Kids Water Safety Skills

Mother with daughter swimming in pool

Swimming is such an underrated life skill. We think of it as a fun pastime, but don't really recognize how crucial it can be for saving a life. Parents with children as young as six months of age can sign up for survival swimming courses that teach their littles how to flip themselves face up after falling in a body of water while fully clothed in winter gear. They will also learn to float until they can regain some energy and then swim to safety.

Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but after enrolling my son in these classes, I am amazed at what someone so little can do all by themselves! Taking the time to educate your kids on how to handle these situations in the water as well as refreshing those skills each summer is an extremely important part of boating safety.

Review the Rules of the Boat Before Setting Sail

You may go on the water every year, but it has probably been a hot second since you got off dry land. This means that certain details may not be at the top of your kid's minds. Here are the most important boating safety topics to discuss with your kids, not matter what their age:

  • Where emergency supplies are located

  • How to work emergency supplies (fire extinguisher, distress signals, etc.)

  • Areas of the boat to avoid (propeller region)

  • General boat rules

    • Lifejackets on and secure at all times

    • Staying seated while the boat is moving

    • No running on the vessel

  • Cannot get in the water without mom or dad's permission

  • Hands in the boat until the anchor is dropped

Take a CPR Class

Do you know what to do if your child inhales water and suddenly can't breathe? CPR is another important skill to have on the water. It only takes seconds to drown, and by knowing how to resuscitate babies, kids, and adults, you could save your child's or another child's life. These courses only take a few hours and are normally quite affordable.

Enroll in a Boater Safety Course

Senior Sailing Instructor Giving Safety Briefing

While not everyone is required to take a boater safety course, many states require that boater education be taken before you get on the water. Most of the time this is determined by your birthday and the state that you plan to go boating in.

However, despite your age, this can be a beneficial way to better prepare yourself for issues that may surface while you are on the water. Best of all, many states allow kids as young as 10 to take this course, which is a great way to ready them for your time on the water.

Check the Forecast

Whether we like it or not, the weather can ruin a perfectly beautiful day on the water. One of the best ways to get the most out of your time is to check the forecast before you head out. If storms are expected in your region, be cautious with going out on the lake and keep an eye on the forecast throughout your time on the water.

Many people don't realize that lightning can strike up to 12 miles away, with less common bolts from the blue reaching up to 25 miles from the location of the storm. Even more surprisingly, these instances can occur when you have a blue sky above you. Water activities account for the largest percentage of lightning deaths (35%), with 20% of those fatalities being directly tied to boating.

If you find yourself away from shore when a lightning storm strikes, get to a dock as soon as possible. Also, try to have everyone spread out on the boat (huddling together makes you a bigger target) and crouch into a ball as low to the boat floor as possible.

Boating Safety Is Simply About Being Proactive

Boating safety is similar to putting on a helmet before riding a bike or applying sunscreen before playing in the sun for hours. It's the practice of taking precautionary measures just in case the worst may happen. By being proactive and following these basic boating safety tips, you can better ensure that you, your family, and other visitors on the water stay safe.

7 Boating Safety Tips to Help Your Family Stay Safe on the Water