Parents have been sailing up to me with questions about how to make sure their children are safe when boating. This is especially true for fathers who want to be out on the water on Father’s Day this coming weekend. Well, let me try to navigate through their concerns and provide some information on this subject.

First, children and teenagers on boats should always wear a life jacket whether or not they have learned to swim. The life jacket needs to be the right size, not too loose or tight. Parents should tighten all straps, including the one that fits between the legs for smaller children. Adults should also wear life jackets to set a good example for their children.

Use only life jackets and preservers with labels that say the product is Underwriters Laboratories tested and US Coast Guard approved.

The life jacket should be one that you cannot lift over your child’s head after you have properly fit and fastened it. Children under 5 should use a life jacket that has a flotation collar. This collar will keep their head upright and their face out of the water.

You should never use blow-up water wings, inner tubes, rafts, and air mattresses found on boats as life preservers. If you puncture or damage one of those, you are in danger of drowning.

Children should always stay seated in a moving or turning boat. They should never sit on the edge of the boat or lean over. Teach them to never drag their hands or feet in the water when the boat is in motion.

boating with children

Follow these tips to keep kids safe when you go boating.

Parents and older children need to know where the first aid kit is located on the boat. They should know what’s in it and how and for what it is to be used. They should also check before leaving the dock that the boat has enough life jackets and safety equipment for everyone.

Hopefully tips like these will float safely when it comes to cruising in a boat with your family this summer.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center. You can also catch 'First with Kids' weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.

Subscribe to Our Blog