You’d never know it by the weather lately, but it is now boating season. This week, May 18-24, is National Safe Boating Week. To help you and your family get in the mood for a summer of floating fun, check out these safety tips from Sea Tow, a network of U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains who provide on-water assistance to boaters in need.
Safety Starts Before you Leave the Dock
Check Your Safety Equipment. Inspect the boating safety gear that the U.S. Coast Guard requires you to have on board your boat. Make sure it’s all there, is working properly, and hasn’t passed its expiration date. Once you’ve checked off every item on the Boater’s Safety Equipment Check List posted on our website in the “Captain’s Classroom,” you’ll be good to go!
Choose the Right Life Jacket. It has often been said that the best life jacket is the one that a person will wear. A life jacket needs to fit properly and be suited to the wearer’s typical activities on the water in order to be the most effective. Life jackets come in five different types based on U.S. Coast Guard approvals. (For more information, visit the Sea Tow Foundation website.) Each of these types has been thoroughly tested and rated for safety. Yet, with all these options, boaters can easily get confused. The Sea Tow Foundation has provided some quick tips to help you choose the correct life jacket for your body type and boating activity.
- Check the label inside the life jacket to make sure it is Coast Guard-approved and that you fall within the weight restrictions and chest size measurements listed for it.
- Try on the life jackets in the store to make sure they fit snugly when all the buckles and/or zippers are fastened.
- Raise your arms over your head and have a friend tug on the jacket to make sure it doesn’t go above your chin. This is especially important when fitting a child who could slip out of a jacket that is too big for him or her.
- Move your arms and body as if you were out on the water and see if the jacket is comfortable and allows you to move easily.
- Then, make sure that it is rated for your boating activity using the following guides:
- Boaters involved in activities that take place in calmer waters (fishing, canoeing and cruising on a pontoon boat) can look for inflatable life jacket options (over age 16 only) or look for a Type II or III life jacket.
- Activities that involve possible impact with faster-moving water (riding a PWC, water-skiing and white-water kayaking) should avoid any inflatable life jacket options and stick with a foam vest that can be adjusted to fit snugly against the body. A Type III life jacket would be a good option for these activities.
File a Float Plan. Before heading out with the family for a day of fun on the water, it’s important to file a float plan and leave it with a responsible person. That way, if you should wind up being overdue on your return, someone ashore will know to alert the authorities. Filling out the float plan with your kids can be a fun and educational way to start your boating adventure. For a blank form, click here.
Safety When Boating with Children. Boating is one of the best ways to bond with your children, teach them about nature and create memories that will last a lifetime. Taking a few basic precautions before you head out onto the water can ensure the experience is safer and more enjoyable for the whole family. Here are five tips from the Sea Tow Foundation:
- Life Jackets Are the Law. All children under 13 years of age must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while the vessel is being operated, unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin on board. The Sea Tow Foundation suggests letting the kids pick out their own life jackets (as long as you make sure they fit). You might want to keep a couple handy for friends.
- Safety Starts Ashore. Get the kids in the habit of putting on sunblock, a hat, and their life jacket even before you get to the boat. That way, they’re protected if they accidentally should tumble off the dock into the water.
- The Captain’s in Charge. The adult who is driving the boat should give the kids a safety briefing before leaving the dock. Make it a point to tell them that there can only be one captain, and it’s important to follow orders quickly and quietly.
- Ahoy, Matey. Kids get a bigger kick out of a boat trip when you make them your First Mate. Before you leave, show them where you’re going on a chart. While under way, teach them how to work the chart plotter. In many states, children as young as 12 can take a boating safety course to be able to operate the boat with your supervision.
- Places, Please! Give the kids assigned seats on the boat while docking, so that they don’t accidentally block the driver’s view. Make sure they know to keep their fingers and toes inside during this process!
For more tips on boating with kids, visit Sea Tow’s Captain’s Classroom at www.seatow.com/boating-safety/captains-classroom.