Preparing your children for boating

A few years ago I presented a column with information on how to keep your children active and safe on board your boat and how to help them develop a sense of safe boating.

What about preparing your children for the boating experience and lifestyle? What can we do to prepare them in the first place so they can confidently go boating for the first time and be confident around water early on?

What would a safe boating guide for children look like? Since safety on board should be our first priority, what can we do to make our children boat-proof?

The number one concern around boats is always drowning, while the number two concern for children is falling. Tied up in both of these is the use of PFDs.

While the latest Canadian Drowning Report from the Lifesaving Society of Canada shows drownings are declining, it is still a major concern on board boats.  An average of around 60 people each year lose their lives in Canada to drowning while they are boating, or fishing from a boat. The statistics are heavily tilted towards adults.  I wonder however, if they were taught as children, would they become safer adults.

Swimming

Children, up to the time they can learn to swim, must be actively supervised at all times around water. And even though toddlers can be taught basic motor skills, they cannot comprehend safety. Once children learn to swim they must still be supervised until they gain confidence and ability.

Knowing how to swim and being comfortable in and around the water, is the number one key for children. Boating and all the activities associated with it, take place at or near the water. It only makes sense to make sure your kids are comfortable around the water and know how to swim.

Teaching them yourself is better than nothing, but a professional instructor will help your young children overcome any natural fear they might have of the water.  You can start them early at home with a small outdoor pool. Make sure they are not afraid to put their head under water and know how to follow bubbles to the surface if they should accidently end up underwater.

Even a simple relaxed swim stroke will propel them if they have to move through the water and these are easily taught. Swimming lessons are available almost everywhere and in every season. Besides water safety, a professional instructor will involve your children with games and quizzes that help them understand everything about being safe in the water.

PFD Wear

The previous column suggested that children should be able to help choose their own PFD, and they would thus be more likely to wear it. It should fit properly and shouldn’t come up off their shoulders by more than an inch when they are in the water.

Be careful with toddlers and babies. Their head weighs considerably more as a percentage of their body weight than older children. Their life jacket may flip them over. Be sure you supervise them closely in and near the water.

Drowning statistics show that 82 per cent of the boating related drowning deaths occur when people do not wear their PFDs. Young children should be taught that it is important that they have their PFD on them at all times. Make it a source of pride for them to wear their PFD. They should learn that their PFD goes on before they get near the water or onto the dock or the boat.

The Drowning Report shows that most of the children who drown are unsupervised, or are being supervised by another minor, or the adult supervisor is otherwise distracted, and the children are not wearing a PFD. With lessons, adult supervision and PFDs your children will be safe around the water.

Other Guidelines

With swimming and PFD wearing out of the way, it’s time to teach children a few other guidelines so that they will understand how to act on their own boat and any other boat they visit. These guidelines will help them understand what to do and will reduce that chance that they panic in an emergency.

It should be explained that they need to locate a seat and stay in it while the boat is underway unless they speak with an adult and have supervision to move. They can be assigned simple tasks to help prepare the boat to leave the dock but they must understand to return to their seat once the boat is underway.

Prior to taking your first trip in the boat with a young child, spend some time on board at the dock.  You can teach them the parts of the boat and the directions – bow, stern, port, starboard, forward, abeam and aft – as these are important for them to know.

Teach them where the safety gear is and how to use it as they gain capability and responsibility and ensure they understand that items like the VHF radio, emergency signaling devices, and flares are not toys. Teach them emergency procedures as they can absorb them and answer all their questions so they don’t ask them during a real emergency.

You can also explain to them that during an emergency your voice may be tense and you may be on edge and that it doesn’t mean they have done something wrong. Tell them that everyone, including them, must follow instructions.

The aim of everything you do is to make them confident and safe in and around the boat.

By Mark King