Taking children boating is a great responsibility because in an emergency they will be almost totally dependent on the accompanying adults. Here are some guidelines to help you and your children have a safe, fun time while boating.

First things first:

Swimming ability

Adults accompanying children should be able to swim well and have a good understanding of survival techniques. Remember, they may have to save children as well as themselves.

Adult-child ratios

Have more than one adult on board if you are taking children out. The more children you have on board the more adults you need. The skipper needs to be able to devote full attention to handling the boat so at least one other adult will be required to supervise the children.


Children should wear lifejackets at all times while on board the boat. Their swimming ability is unlikely to be sufficient for long-term survival in the water without one. Lifejackets also help to prevent hypothermia and drowning induced by hypothermia, to which children are particularly susceptible.


Consider the chances of survival before taking infants on board boats. There is a large element of risk should there be an accident. Infant survival cots are available on the market but are expensive to buy.


Just as with driving, alcohol and boating don’t mix. In the case of taking young children on board, the adults have the added responsibility of caring for their lives as well.

Set a good example

Children learn by example and are great mimics of habits – both good and bad! Lead by example and explain why you have rules on a boat.

• Have an emergency plan and practice it. Panic kills, so let your children become familiar through practice with emergency procedures, such as man overboard, fire, engine failure or sinking.

• During rough weather put children in the cabin. They should have their lifejackets on as normal.

• Travel at a safe and comfortable speed.

• Jolting and rolling can throw a child off balance and even into the water. Endeavour to keep the ride smooth!

• Take particular care when planning your voyage.

• Unless you have sufficient adult support, refrain from going into unfamiliar territory as all your attention will be required for safe passage, greatly diminishing your ability to look after others.

• Do not take children if you have any doubts about any aspect of your trip.

• If you are letting your children go out with someone else, make sure the person is experienced and capable enough to do the right thing in an emergency.

• Check that the boat is seaworthy and has the proper safety equipment. Note where they are going and when they will be due back.

Boating safety equipment

Because children are dependent on adults for survival, extra safety equipment is essential.

• Additional flotation, such as flotation cushions and lifebuoys in case of a child overboard.

• Safety harnesses are available for toddlers and young children to prevent them from falling overboard. The harness should have a quick release system in case of emergencies.

• Keep a knife handy in case the line gets tangled or jammed.

• Ensure your boat has handholds at child height as well as adult height if children are regular visitors on your boat.

Hypothermia prevention

In all cases of ‘man overboard’, hypothermia will be a possibility. The priority is to minimise the loss of body heat. Depending on whether you are alone or in company, there are two ways to keep warm. Both depend on you wearing a lifejacket.

If you are alone…

H.E.L.P (Heat Escape Lessening Posture)
– Back of head out of water.
– Knees together and hunched up to chest with arms clasped firmly around outside.

If you are with a group…

HUDDLE (Two or more hold together)
– Back of head out of water, arms hugging each other, maximum body contact and legs intertwined.
– Keep morale high by talking and stay calm.

Buoyancy aids

‘Buoyancy aid’ is the generic term for all types of flotation aids. A lifejacket is a particular type of buoyancy aid, able to turn an unconscious person into a position where their face is out of the water.

Lifejackets are recognisable by their flotation collar and greater bulk in the front chest. Children in boats should wear lifejackets rather than something just buoyant.
If they go on boats regularly, they should have their own lifejacket. These should be regularly replaced as children grow out of them. Some boating and yachting clubs have buoyancy aid swapping centres (similar to school uniform depots). If your club does not, then perhaps you can suggest starting one.

Children should have a lifejacket on at all times because of their low survival ability without them.

The lifejacket should be fitted individually in the shop before buying because children don’t come in standard sizes. The jacket should also be ‘Standards Approved’.

After buying the lifejacket, children should be encouraged to wear the jacket in the water with their parents present, so that they can become familiar with how it feels.