While all of these activities create fun and memorable moments, if you are vacationing with kids, you need to take the right precautions to keep them safe on the water. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young people aged between 0-18 years.

Good news? There are many things that parents can do to ensure kids water safety. We are going to look into these in detail as well as the right age for your little ones to rowboat, kayak, canoe, or sail, to ensure fun-filled family water sporting. Ready?

Four Important Boating Safety Tips

1. Have Your Kids Wear A Life Jacket

There is a reason it’s called a “life” jacket – it can literally save your child’s life. Make sure that each kid has a life jacket on when the boat is underway. This is not just good advice but also what the law demands.

US Coast Guard requirements state that all children below the age of 13 should wear a life jacket when the watercraft is being operated. That’s not all. The life jacket must fit snuggly, too. To ensure this, have the kids raise their arms straight up. A jacket that hits their chin or ears is probably oversize or the straps are too loose.

Fit is important, as it will keep the head of your youngsters above water. Do not be tempted to get something too big thinking they will grow into it.

Infant life jackets will support weight of about 8-30 pounds, child jackets 30-50 pounds, and youth jackets 50-90 pounds. If you know how much your child weighs, you should be able to get them the perfect fit.

For infants and toddlers, get a life jacket that has padded head support so the child’s head can stay above water, and a grab handle so you can retrieve them out of the water quickly. Have the kids familiarize themselves with the life jackets beforehand so they will feel comfortable in them and hopefully reduce panic when boating. Babies and toddlers may not like their life jackets. This might be a time to consider offering a reward for keeping them on.

2. Keep Kids Warm

Infants and young children are more prone to hypothermia than adults. When bringing a baby on a boating adventure, plan in advance how you are going to keep them warm. In the spirit of observing boating safety for kids, you will need to pack extra clothes or a big towel to dry your little ones off if they do get wet.

Even on a sunny day, the cold wind from a moving boat can chill babies quickly. Layer them up so they can stay warm when it’s cool and shed layers when it gets warm. Avoid clothes made from heavy cotton or wool because if they get wet, they could take a long time to Quick-dry synthetic fabrics can be great when out on the water. Garments that are 100% polyester will keep your child warm and continue to insulate them even if they get wet. Even better if they are SFP rated to reduce sun exposure.

3. Make Kids Water Wise

It is important to teach your young ones proper boating behavior. So even before you load your kayak to a kayak trailer or pack up an oar for your canoe, make sure your kids are familiar with basic boating safety rules. For instance, have them know that their feet and hands should remain inside the boat and that they should not run up and down, or lean over the rail when the vessel is in motion.

Remind them to be on the lookout for pinch points that may get them injured and most importantly emphasize the importance of keeping their life jackets on all the time.

If they will be using inflatable boats make sure they know how to inflate and deflate them properly.

It would be wise to enroll older kids in boating and water safety courses. If possible, take the class with them to increase motivation to keep going.

4. Watch Your Kids

Don’t assume your children will obey the boating rules. Kids will be kids and may forget all the rules as soon as the craft touches the water. It is your responsibility to keep an eye on them just to be sure there is no chance for sneaky behavior.

Mischievous activities aside, watching your kids will also help you notice any signs of motion sickness. Children are more susceptible to seasickness than adults, so stay alert.

When motion sickness sets in, a child may start vomiting or showing signs of fatigue or lightheadedness. It is wise to pack something for nauseous kids before you go so you are not caught unawares. There are Dramamine products approved for kids aged between 2 and 12 years, so stash some of these in your boat bag just in case.

At What Age Should Kids Go Boating?

There is no minimum age for your kids to ride on a rowboat, kayak, canoe, motorboat, or sailboat. However, according to US Coast Guard, an infant should not go boating until they are of the right weight to wear a life jacket. They should be at least 18 pounds before being taken on a boating adventure. Most kids reach the minimum weights by about 7 to 8 months old.

Some parents bring infant car seats to the boat but this is not safe because if the boat capsizes, the seat will sink instantly, with the baby.

A rowboat or canoe will be a better vessel to take infants and young children out on the water than kayaks. Because these are more stable than kayaks they don’t tip as easily, so they are much safer. Just make sure the little ones are wearing life jackets and keeping them on when the boat is moving.

Older kids, who already know how to swim or paddle can use kayaks. Some kayaks are quite stable and your kids can ride on them without flipping. Sit-on-tops will be a better option than sit-insides because kids can easily get in and out. And even if they tip, everyone will just float out, unlike sit-insides where paddlers will need to master wet exit and reentry to safely get out and back in the boat.

Children should always be accompanied by their parents or a professional kayaker on a paddling tour. This is a good practice for ensuring boating safety for kids and will keep them out of harm regardless of whether they know how to kayak/swim or not.

Sailboats will also provide an unforgettable adventure for both older and younger children. If you will be having very young kids on board, however, you may want to have a safety net installed before you start the sail. A safety net will offer protection for kids sunbathing or playing on the deck and prevent any sliding overboard.

Important Safety Tip

The sun’s rays reflect off water intensifying their impact on skin. Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and reapply often. And did I mention, kids should always wear life jackets when boating?


In you enjoyed boating in the past, just because you have kids now doesn’t mean you have to give it up. However, bringing your kids with you on an adventure like this will require you to teach them the rules of safe boating as well as being around open water. If you practice safe boating routinely, then your boating activities will be more pleasurable for everyone. Just don’t forget to carry a waterproof camera – you don’t want these moments to go undocumented!

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David Hamburg DrGreene.com contributor

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