Children on Boats are Still Children

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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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By | 2017-05-18T15:29:50+00:00 April 24th, 2011|Boating Safety, Risk, Water Safety|47 Comments

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  • laravissant

    I absolutely agree with your response! I wouldn’t want to take my one 2 year old out on a boat by myself let alone two of him, and he is very mellow and well behaved most of the time.

    I grew up spending months out of each year on my dads sailboat out on the ocean, but he never took us without my mom until we were 6 or 7. By that point we knew how to steer, use the motor and could even manage to raise and lower the smaller sail. Even then it was still only short, close to shore trips unless my mom came along, until we were a bit older. Toddlers are just too much work and too unpredictable. When I was 10 we got stranded when the motor died and the wind was totally still. The current was drifting us closer and closer to a very rocky unsafe area of shore with no control over the boat. My dad was frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with the engine while he had me and my brother keep an eye on the shore, watch for any breeze that might help and periodically radio for help. I cannot imagine him having to deal with that situation with a screaming child at hand. Or even just having a storm come up, trying to handle the boat and keep the kiddo safe. Just scary. Kuddos to the mom who wrote you for wanting to make sure she’s being safe! Hope she and her husband follow your advice!

  • Leigh C.

    My 8-year-old (who always wears a PFD when on the water, no matter what, and who is a competent but not proficient swimmer) asked me just the other day if we could take a kayak out on the river in front of our house. It was a perfect day for it; there was a very slight breeze, no chop to speak of, and no chance of foul weather. I immediately said “Absolutely not.” Why? Because there was no one else at home to notice if we were in some sort of trouble, and because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m neither a strong swimmer nor am I particularly experienced in a kayak.

    I think that if more people were willing to admit that they might not be capable of handling certain situations, there would be many fewer accidents on the water. Your rephrasing of the above question put things into the right perspective. And two adults for one or two children is a MUST. More than two children and I’d probably want a third adult, and so on. Had my husband been home to supervise or join us, we would have certainly had a nice mommy/daughter paddle within sight of the house, or up the river all together. Instead, we stayed safely ashore until a better opportunity arises.

    Thank you for your articles and information, especially concerning children’s safety on the water. Keep up the good work!

  • K Jfitz

    First question: What if one child does go overboard? Who will be left in the boat with the remaining child if the only adult jumps in to rescue the child? Obvious, two or more children requires at least two adults. As you said, one to rescue kiddoes, and one to handle the boat and other children in it!

  • K Jfitz

    Guess there was only one question… Oops!

  • Kirsten Cooper

    Why would the adult not be wearing their life jacket? For their own safety and because children are impressionable and learn by example.

  • Kirsten Cooper

    Why would the adult not be wearing their life jacket? For their own safety and because children are impressionable and learn by example.

  • Marisol

    And children can still drown while wearing a life jacket.

  • emergRN

    NOt only that but if something does happen the adult will not have time to help the kids and put on a life jacket. Even if the kids were not around the adult would not have time to put their vest on in an event of an accident!!!!

  • Linnhinn

    I would take it a step farther…yes two adults to two children…good ratio, but one adult per child would be even better…on a big pontoon boat there is plenty of ‘running room’ and that is what 2 year olds love to do, RUN…if you have one on one per child, the risk drops a lot more. Leaving the boat driver to just that, driving the boat safely. We take our two small children on our boat (one driving, one with the kids) and it still doesn’t feel completely safe. Our kids want to lean over the edge, try and touch the water, etc…It feels much safer when there are three adults and our two children. (Plus then it’s safe enough to have some fun towing/tubing experiences)

  • Kris

    Another point to consider is what if something happened to the one adult, such as a slip and fall and becoming unconscious or even a heart attack?

  • pinkcamojeep

    That was my gut thought, as well.

  • pinkcamojeep

    That was my gut thought, as well.

  • Valancydawn

    I totally agree that at least two adults are needed on a boat with small children. Even any children 12 and under. If they are required to wear life vests on the boat, it is for a good reason, and adults should take that to mean that there is enough risk to warrant at least two of them being onboard.

  • Ted in Chapel Hill

    Interesting – I am now at a difficult stage in that I have two girls, 5 and 7, who are excellent swimmers for their ages. They are NEVER on our boat without a vest, they know the boat rules (pretty simple – ALWAYS listen to the Captain and follow all instructions IMMEDIATELY, always wear your vest when on the lake, never jump off the middle of the back of the boat where the motor is hidden underwater, and HAVE FUN!) and they are good listeners, especially when something is wrong like the boat won’t start, etc.

    I have often wanted to take my girls out on the boat by myself, but my wife has said not to. Knowing I am usually on one end of the spectrum and she on the other, I have been a little bitter at times thinking “we can handle it”, but this article made me take a good hard look at my arrogance. I would never forgive myself if I did something endanger my girls, but there are simply too many variables in boating to take any chances with my little angels.

    That argument is over and I am happy to admit defeat!!! No “solo” boating until the girls are old enough to operate the boat AND the cellphone!!!

  • Ted in Chapel Hill

    Interesting – I am now at a difficult stage in that I have two girls, 5 and 7, who are excellent swimmers for their ages. They are NEVER on our boat without a vest, they know the boat rules (pretty simple – ALWAYS listen to the Captain and follow all instructions IMMEDIATELY, always wear your vest when on the lake, never jump off the middle of the back of the boat where the motor is hidden underwater, and HAVE FUN!) and they are good listeners, especially when something is wrong like the boat won’t start, etc.

    I have often wanted to take my girls out on the boat by myself, but my wife has said not to. Knowing I am usually on one end of the spectrum and she on the other, I have been a little bitter at times thinking “we can handle it”, but this article made me take a good hard look at my arrogance. I would never forgive myself if I did something endanger my girls, but there are simply too many variables in boating to take any chances with my little angels.

    That argument is over and I am happy to admit defeat!!! No “solo” boating until the girls are old enough to operate the boat AND the cellphone!!!

  • Theston

    Caution ;1 thing that you also have to think about is that when a small child is wearing a diaper and it gets wet they are very heavy and there life jackets are only rated for so much weight and they will sink no joke this happened to me on the boat we put our 3 year old in the water to swim with us and after about 3 min he started to sink because his weight +a water soaked diaper was to much weight for the life jacket and each child should be watched all the time never take your eye off them

  • reading the local paper this am I came across this.. think it answers a lot of questions..

    Toddler drowns, father missing after small boat sinks in Snake River

    BOISE – Officials in Washington County in western Idaho say a 2-year-old girl wearing an improper flotation device has drowned in the Snake River and the search continued Sunday for her father, who is missing.

    Washington County Chief Deputy Matt Thomas said the 14-foot aluminum boat that also had two other men aboard sank Friday after the anchor caught and pulled the front of the boat underwater.

    Thomas said that none of the men were wearing life jackets, but two made it to shore after the boat sank near the southern tip of Brownlee Reservoir by Steck Park.

    Thomas said the girl was found face down in the water about two hours after the boat sank, and lifesaving efforts failed.

    Names have not been released.

  • Andrea

    “when something goes wrong (as it always will if you’re on the water long enough!).”

    So true! It seems so fatalistic to talk about everything that can go wrong, but having grown up around the water, there’s no end to the list of things that have gone wrong on or near the water.

    In matters of water safety, it’s always better to be overly safe and prepared.

  • rolystrike

    Have you tried swim nappies as they dont take on water? There not waterproof either but you could put him in something you dont mind being covered with pee (at least it holds poop in though;))

  • Not at all. Kids will be kids and what kids do is run around and try to explore. I don’t think all children stay quietly coloring in one corner until an adult decides to go get them. They’re curious and adventurous; they need supervision. Maybe i’m going too far but I’d even suggest 3 adults -one for the boat and 2 for the kids if there’s more than one.