Teaching your kids boating safety could one day save their life and like good boat insurance will likely reduce your stress while on the water. To help with this, we have compiled some handy tips for teaching kids all about boat safety. If you would like additional resources visit www.boatsafe.com/kids for fun games and trivia.
Ages and Stages
Different children take danger and safety more seriously than others. Consider the personality, age and maturity of the children you will be teaching to help you best capture their attention and motivate their learning. The earlier you start teaching safety the more ingrained it will be in their thinking:
• Preschoolers and primary students do not have a long attention span and quickly lose focus unless their learning is hands on. Be prepared to break concepts into simple messages that are age appropriate. For example, a 10-minute lecture on all the reasons to wear a personal floatation device complete with statistics will not keep little ones listening, but bringing out a lifejacket for them to touch and try on will. Tell them the lifejacket helps them float, helps search and rescue find them (get them to guess why the colors are so bright) and that even grownups should wear them. Coloring books let you work through different boat safety topics and you can review them during story time.
• Elementary school children are able to grasp additional details and often enjoy being asked for input. For example, ask them what kinds of things they think are important to bring on a boat trip and to write them down. Then take out a boating safety checklist and highlight the things that they didn’t include, asking them why they think those things would be important. Consider online boat safety games to help reinforce learning.
• Preteens and teens, while able to understand and learn the finer points of boating safety, are often the ones you need to convince need to take precautions. This is the age group to dazzle with statistics about drowning deaths where victims were not wearing lifejackets. Get them to see why it is important and necessary, and then involve them in the planning. If they feel part of the process they are more likely to take ownership of their own safety.
Learning is a Process
Don’t think one lesson in boat safety is enough for children or teens of any age. Consider instead making safety a part of every boat trip, both in the pre-planning and on the journey. Involve children of all ages in the pre-trip planning as well as ensuring safety while on the water. Some ideas to make boating safety a way of life rather than a one-time occurrence include:
• Discuss safety as a family regularly. Ask younger children what they remember in a fun way, challenging them to help list ways to stay safe on the water. Find interesting news stories or television shows about boat safety to analyze with older children and teens.
• When you’re planning your next boating trip, talk through practical considerations as a family and ask for your children’s input. Get them to feel part of the process and make their contributions seem valuable to the safety of everyone on the boat.
• Consider taking a Red Cross first aid class and boating safety classes as a family.
• Create a family boat safety checklist. Get the children to help ensure all your safety items are on board and in good shape. Learning to plan and take inventory is invaluable.
• When you are on the water, ask the children to check to see if each person is safe. Young children delight in finding mistakes and being part of the solution. Have older children run through the family safety checklist to take inventory. Appoint older children to watch over younger ones, using the buddy system as an effective way to watch that everyone stays safe.
The Nuts and Bolts
One of the most important things you can do for boating safety is ensure that every person on the craft has a lifejacket on while on the water. Buy lifejackets that fit properly and that are certified, taking note that there are special lifejackets for cold-water survival and lifejackets that are designed especially for infants and young children. If you have a pet consider a lifejacket for it as well because there have been many cases of families losing loved ones who attempt to rescue the family pet.
Have a plan for other boating emergencies, including what to do if someone falls overboard, if your boat starts to leak or if the boat capsizes. Never leave shore without a Float Plan whether you are on a short day trip or a long boating excursion.
Essential items to have on board include:
• Lifejackets for everyone
• First aid kit
• Flotation devices and life ring
• Flare gun
You need to be prepared and ensure your canoe, motorboat or pleasure craft is properly equipped. Don’t wait for disaster to find out what you’re missing.
Have an Emergency Drill
Experts talk about body memory and children as well as adults often cope better in an actual emergency if they have run through the process or plan before. Consider tipping a canoe with everyone in their lifejackets so they can experience being capsized. Talk about what to do – treading water, keeping their body warm in very cold water to guard against hypothermia, kicking off shoes if they drag them down – and practice. Plan for and practice different scenarios:
• What to do if one person falls overboard.
• What to do if you are a long way from shore or close enough to try to make it to shore.
Practice What You Preach
Children learn what they observe. For example, if you tell them to wear lifejackets but you and the other adults never wear them, they will soon want to be like the adults and not wear them either. If you want children and teens to take boat safety seriously, you need to set the example.