Every year there are an estimated 360,000 deaths worldwide related to drowning making it the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death and a cause for major concern (World Health Organization). Unfortunately, children make up a large percentage of these drowning accidents particularly if they are under 9 years of age. The chance to drown is exacerbated for kids when boating because of a variety of additional factors that can make the environment more difficult for inexperienced swimmers.
Swimming from your boat in the ocean, in a river, or in a lake comes with a multitude of potential situations. Currents and murky water can add a level of difficulty for even adults if conditions get too bad. The captain on board the boat, as well as the adults responsible for the kids, should keep an extra eye on everyone in the water and be alert to weather changes. Summer storms seem to come out of nowhere sometimes and can cause higher waves, rip currents, and lightning strikes. Diving off of boats into shallow water is also a major cause for concern. All children on board a boat or yacht should be explained that jumping or diving from the sides or towers of a Viking Yacht for example, could lead to serious injuries.
Educational video from the American Academy of Pediatrics on boating safety:
- The most important work starts before you leave the dock. Make sure your boat has had all of the proper service and maintenance so there are no unexpected problems once you get on the water. Everyone on board should be told to keep their arms and legs in the boat at all times while it's running. Additionally, everyone should stay seated until they are told it is safe to stand up and walk around. Make sure everyone knows where your safety gear is located.
- Child-proofing the boat is also a must. If you are a fisherman, make sure all hooks, knives, and lures are safely put away. Nothing puts a damper on a day boating than a 5-year old with a hook in his toe. Make sure wires are not exposed and any sharp corners or edges have some padding. Styrofoam and duct tape work great as a temporary cushion on metal corners.
- Always make sure your life jackets are in good condition and fit the child correctly. The "Three Inch Rule" is standard to make sure it fits. With the child standing in a normal position, have them put their arms at their sides. The adult should grab the life jacket and lift up, seeing if you can lift it three inches above the kid's ears. If it does, it does not fit properly. Every young child should wear a life jacket when swimming near a boat regardless of how good of a swimmer they are.
- Make sure the boat key is out of the ignition and the kill switch is off. There should be no way that the engine could potentially be started and someone get caught in the propeller. When you do start the engine, be careful to make sure everyone is securely in the boat. If you have a boat with outboard engines, like a center-console, raising the engine out of the water is common. If you do, try tying an extra life jacket on the propeller to avoid anyone accidentally hitting it with their head or body.
- Communication is key with children on board. Before anyone gets into the water, have a discussion with everyone on the boat about the rules. Let the children know that if they break the rules, that they will have to come out of the water.
- Hypothermia is a serious risk to smaller children, particularly if they are swimming outdoors in the Spring or Fall when water temperatures might be a bit cooler. Make sure you limit the amount of time that younger kids stay in cold water. Have multiple towels nearby to keep them warm once they are back on the boat. Here is an additional resource on hypothermia prevention.
- It is very important to actively supervise children when boating and avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol on a boat is common today, but it is highly recommended that when kids are involved and in the water, that adults refrain from drinking. All attention should be on the kids on the boat or in the water when they are swimming. Adults that decide to swim off the back of the boat after drinking also put themselves at risk in addition to the children.
- Download and print this boating scavenger hunt for children. Once they locate each item on the scavenger hunt, go over with them why it is important, how to use it, and any additional information needed to stay safe.
Written by Frank Bongiorno
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