Children On The Water

May 2012 Feature

Armed with knowledge, a boater might even feel so confident in his abilities that he wouldn't think twice about bringing children onboard, whether his own or not. But overconfidence could lead to tragedy.

The U.S. Coast Guard ( reports that in 2009, 18 children under the age of 13 drowned while boating. The best-and most obvious way-to prevent tragedies like this is to ensure every child on your boat is wearing a life jacket. This requires a bit more work than just buying five or six PFDs (personal flotation devices) and storing them under your chaise lounges, however.


There are five types of life jackets, each designated by a Roman numeral. Type I is best for open, rough water, where rescue may take a while to reach you. This generally is not the case if you're in a pontoon or deck boat, however. Type I jackets will also turn unconscious victims face up. Type II life jackets are better for inland water situations, where rescue should arrive quickly. They are generally more comfortable than Type I jackets, but will not always turn an unconscious victim face up.  For situations where the wearer is conscious, in fairly calm water and rescued quickly, a Type III life jacket may be the best option. However, the wearer may have to tilt his head back to avoid going face down, so they may not work for younger children.

Be sure to purchase life jackets that are specifically for children. Some are clearly designated as such, while others just show how much weight they can safely support. Infant sizes are rated up to 30 pounds, while children's sizes rate between 30 and 50 pounds. Youth sizes are from 50 to 90 pounds, and an individual who weighs 90 pounds and up requires an adult jacket.

While a larger life jacket can easily support a child's weight, the holes for head and arms may be so large that an inappropriate wearer may slip through unintentionally. Check the jacket while on your child to make sure it fits snugly, but not too tightly. Also ensure there is no extra space under the arms by picking up your child by the shoulders of the jacket; his chin and ears won't slip through if the PFD fits correctly.

Never buy a jacket for a child intending to have them grow into it. This is unsafe, and while it works for buying school clothes, it's a bad idea when it comes to PFDs. According to the Coast Guard, 44 percent of the 18 children that were under the age of 13 and lost their lives through drowning in 2009 were wearing a life jacket at the time, as required by state law. In these cases, either the water was too rough for the type of life jacket being used, or perhaps rescuers were unable to retrieve the child before it was too late due to darkness or other conditions. This number shows the importance of keeping a vigilant eye on children while on a watercraft, no matter the type.

Additional Protection

For another warning system when a child falls into water, Safety Turtle ( has created a personal immersion alarm to protect children against a fatal outcome in such an event. Simply explained, the Safety Turtle system includes a mobile bracelet in the shape of a turtle that the child wears, as well as a base station. A loud alarm instantly sounds on the base station if the "turtle" is immersed in water. The alarm will continue until it is reset, and the battery life on the bracelet is three to four years, giving you an additional layer of protection for your children for multiple boating seasons.

The Safety Turtle works in any body of fresh water, including pools, rivers, ponds and hot tubs, giving it multiple areas of use. Use in salt water requires additional precautions.

Teaching your children how to be safe around water is another way to keep them safe. Keeping a watchful eye on young'uns will only go so far if they are constantly getting into trouble.

Stress the importance of these rules and why they need to be followed. Even smaller children can be taught these three basics of boating safety:

  1. Always stay seated while the boat is moving.
  2. Keep your hands and arms inside the boat.
  3. Wear your life jacket at all times.

Make sure there are no bumpers or life jackets or coolers rattling around while the boat is underway. Tripping and falling over a railing is a real danger for those who don't exercise caution.

Mr. Sunshine

While cruising around the lake on a deck boat, it can be easy to forget that you're being constantly pounded by ultraviolet rays from the sun. In addition to the danger of sunburn, being exposed to the elements for a long period of time can also lead to heatstroke.

Part of the problem is while the boats is underway a headwind cools you off, making you less likely to feel the heat from the sun. Meanwhile, the aforementioned ultraviolet rays are hitting your exposed skin just fine, thank you. No measly breeze will keep them from doing damage to you and any children onboard.

In addition, being surrounded by water can strangely suppress thirst. Even if all you've had to eat since breakfast is a grape, you may not notice the warning signs until it is too late.

The federal Center for Disease Control, or CDC (, explains that heat-related illness occurs when a person's temperature control system experiences more strain than it can handle. Normally, the body cools off by sweating, but in cases where sweating is not enough, damage to the brain and other vital organs may occur.

Children are especially vulnerable to heatstroke, as until the age of four, their natural ability to regulate body temperature is not quite developed. Even beyond that age there is an increased risk. Warning signs of heatstroke include red, hot and dry skin, a headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and even unconsciousness. The best way to avoid these symptoms is by drinking plenty of water. In hot weather, the CDC recommends drinking two to four glasses of water (16-32 ounces) per hour. In addition, keep under shade as best you can, either by wearing a hat or taking shelter under a bimini top.

To treat heatstroke, immediately call for medical assistance. Then get the victim to a shady area and cool the victim as rapidly as you can, using whatever methods are at your disposal. Immerse the victim in cool water to cool him as quickly as possible. Monitor body temperature until it drops to around 101 or 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

No one wants to see a tragic incident befall his loved ones, and by following these tips, you can increase your chances of having a safe and accident-free boating season every year.

  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Send to your friends!