This morning I received an email from a reader who was struggling with a boating safety question.  She and her husband enjoy the water and and they have two small children and they just couldn’t seem to get together on one issue:

How much supervision is enough out there on the water?  She gave me permission to post her question and my answer to her here.

What do you think? Your comments would be appreciated.

Here is the email and my answer:



Hey Mario –

Given your area of expertise, I was hoping you could provide an opinion on a boating matter to help settle a family discussion.

Here goes – Do you think it is wise for an adult to boat alone with two 2-year-olds. They would be on a standard pontoon boat that has seating around the entire front and 36″ guard rail where there isn’t seating. The little ones would obviously be in life vests. The adult would not be wearing a life vest (but there would be an available life vest for him on the boat). Thoughts?

Thanks for your input! I didn’t know who to ask and you came to mind!!

If you are celebrating Easter – Happy Easter!

A Concerned Mom

Never shrinking from getting into the middle of a family …discussion…I replied.

Dear Concerned Mom:

There are a huge number of variables to consider and I thought about getting into all of them but I’ll just tell you my initial gut reaction and why I had it:

On a calm, shallow, backwater or pond? Sure…if I could strap the kids down…and I knew the area…and I could walk the boat back to shore.

On almost anything else…rivers, large lakes, the ocean, bays….no way.

There is no way in the world I would feel comfortable handling a boat AND two toddlers on open water. If anything does go wrong, the consequences are too great for very little gain. Sure, the kids would have a blast and it would be a great experience, but they would have a blast if two adults were aboard as well. Why go alone? I can’t imagine what would be so pressing that I would not be able to wait for another adult (or young-adult) to be available to go along for the ride.

Most people make these decisions (What could go wrong?) based on the likelihood of all out tragedy. The logic sounds like, “They are wearing life jackets, if they do fall overboard, I can definitely get to them….what could go wrong?”

It’s a fair point – the chances of all out tragedy are remote – but there are other thing besides drowning to consider:

Example: The adult is handling the boat (a full time job) and another boat throws a wake (as they often do) and the toddler that isn’t on the operator’s lap takes a tumble and cracks her mouth on the really nice 36″ railing. Now we are offshore, alone, 45 minutes from medical care (if we are lucky) and we have two full time jobs – boat handling and a screaming toddler…..and the life jackets never came into play.

(I’ve seen that one, personally. It was a full lip split and face fracture of a 3-yr old on a North Carolina sound. Calm water, 1 mile from shore.)

Sometimes it helps to rephrase the question to change perspective. You asked, “Do you think it is wise for an adult to boat alone with two 2-year-olds?”

Put it this way: “Do you think it is wise to take small children who have yet to fully develop basic coordination, who may or may not follow instructions, and who’s basic response to crisis is screaming, out on the most unpredictable environment within 50 miles of our house, in a machine with literally hundreds of moving parts…..alone?”

What is YOUR answer to that question?

Mom, I don’t know which side of this you are on, but from my perspective (and no kidding I am an expert at this stuff) I wouldn’t take a small boat on the open water (Great Lakes?) with two-children alone for love or money.

Two adults. One for the boat, one for the kids. Now we are being safe enough for the risk.

I hope that helps.

Happy Easter, and be safe out there!

~ Mario

So what do you think?  Am I taking this safety thing with the kids too far?  Are two-adults aboard, one for the boat and one for the kids too much to expect?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.

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