Much of that success came because we followed the following safety rules:
- Wear life vests at all times. Take a comfortable, well-fitting life jacket for each adult and each child. If you plan to take a trip with a tour group or outfitter, be certain that they provide personal floatation devices (PFDs) that will properly fit your child; the smallest size some boating companies provide is an adult's size small, which might be too big for your three-year-old.
Coast Guard-approved PFDs are rated according to the amount of floatation. A child's small body makes it essential to use PFDs with a crotch strap, which keeps the jacket from riding up around the head. You should not be able to pull a PFD more than an inch above the shoulder when it is secured properly.
- Use a buddy system to alert you of an accident. Water, as we all know, makes things slippery. Running on docks or horseplay on the boat is dangerous; one slip and a whack on the head, and your child may not even scream that he or she has been hurt or, worse, has fallen overboard.
- If you are going to overpack anything, overdo it with food and drink. Remember, you are limited to what you've brought aboard. If you have a galley aboard and can heat water, pack hot-cider mixes, hot chocolate, hot teas, noodle soup mixes and dried oatmeal. If you can't boil water aboard, consider taking two thermal bottles of hot water with you.
- Explain to your kids that there will be times when you cannot give them attention. If you are in charge, you will need to give all your attention to battling windy weather, leaving and entering docks and driving the boat. If children are prepared, they'll understand.
- Stress that "getting there" is not the goal of a boating excursion, that the journey has its own rewards. Be honest about the confining nature of a boat, but be enthusiastic when describing the trip. Explain that they will have to hang out sometimes and entertain themselves. Our kids afterwards talk about how much they enjoyed this non-structured, non-supervised time.
- Come well prepared. Bring books, games, paper, colored markers and cassette players with music and books on tape.
- Dress for the elements. Everyone should wear clothing that protects against wetness, wind chill and sunburn. Dress in layers and bring a warm pile jacket, a windbreaker, a bathing suit, and extra T-shirts and socks.