Our own kids started boating with us from a very young age, and in fact we took them on our pontoon boat as soon as they were babies.

From day one we wanted to make sure that not only were they safe due to us knowing our own parental duties towards boat safety, but also that they started to learn as soon as possible themselves.

As the skipper, parent, grandparent, or guardian of children it’s your responsibility to make sure that the children and toddlers know what to do in the case of an emergency, as well understanding boat safety basics.

It is of paramount importance and we’ve managed to instil a sense of safety and responsibility in them which we hope will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

How did we do that?

The main way we did it was simply by them seeing how we act and behave on our boat, and leading by example.

But we also developed our own child boat safety briefing and plan.

On every single boat trip, we go through this safety briefing, with no exceptions.

And yes, our kids do get bored of it sometimes, just like us adults do when the flight attendants talk us through safety at the beginning of a flight.

However, if you can get these procedures in their mind from as young an age as possible, chances are that one day it could save a life.

This is our child boat safety briefing plan we developed. Yours might be different and you might want to adapt and change, but we hope it serves you well for your boating trips.

Child Boat Safety Briefing Plan Example

Even if your own kids are entirely comfortable with safety, you should always go through this briefing at the start of every trip.

There will also be occasions when you have other child passengers onboard, and it could be their first ever time on a boat.

Never be tempted to get underway as soon as everyone is on board. The weather and conditions might be ideal, but there’s no excuse to skip safety procedures.

Before I get into every single detail, we have an easy to remember way of knowing what we should include each time. We use an acronym of LOSFRA. Here’s what it stands for.

  • Life Jackets
  • Overboard
  • Stopping the Boat
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Radio Use
  • Attracting Attention

Let’s get into each part in detail and remember; this is aimed at kids and not necessarily adults.

#1: Life Jackets

It’s not just a case of your kids knowing where the PFDs and life jackets are kept, but also that before they even step on a boat they should be wearing theirs at all times. 

At dock or the marina get them into their life jacket and ensure that they fit properly, and your child knows what the elements all do.

That could include whistles and straps. Show them how to use a whistle in an emergency and how to tighten the straps up securely if they are starting to come loose.

important safety features in a life jacket or PFD

These are the most important features you should look for in a baby or child life jacket or PFD.

You should also show them where the extra PFDs are, such as life rings and seat cushions. Always keep them located in the same place on your boat, and show the child how to either throw them overboard, or how to catch them or get to them if they are in the water.

If your child ends up overboard then a PFD might not necessarily keep them face up, so having back-ups such as throwables is very important. It could keep them more buoyant in the water.

#2: Overboard

Explain to your children what the plan is should they fall overboard, and also what to do if someone else does.

Man overboard is the most common of boating emergencies, and needs an instant response not just from the skipper but also other passengers on the boat.

It’s imperative that your child is a good swimmer (invest in lessons now!) and they should be told to stay calm and paddle to stay upright until rescued by an adult.

If you or an adult should fall overboard, and it’s just the kids left on the boat, then they should be taught how shout “man overboard, and how to stop the boat. This will let the adult swim back to the vessel – I will come onto that in the next section though.

If the boat is stationary and anchored, your children should be taught how to throw a life ring and other floatable PFDs into the water.

#3: Stopping the Boat

When your child gets to the right age they should be taught how to stop your boat. What age that is really depends on the aptitude and maturity of your child, so I leave that up to you to decide.

However, it is very useful for them to know given the worst-case scenario of adults falling overboard.

If it’s a sail boat, teach how to release the mainsheet and jib sheet so they can spill the wind and bring the boat to a halt.

If it’s a motor boat, then teach them how to turn the engine off.

As your child gets older, you can teach them about piloting and running the boat, but at the most basic of levels they should be taught how to stop it in case of an emergency.

#4: Fire Extinguishers

Show your children where the fire extinguishers are located and how they are operated.

In the event of a fire breaking out on a boat, the skipper might be too busy taking other actions in order to get the extinguishers in time.

Place them in easy reach of your children and show them how they are released from the mounts and brackets in case they need to fetch them.

Whilst a child might be able to run from a burning building that’s not the case on a boat, so having this skill is very important.

#5: Radio Use

What would happen if all adults on the boat were incapacitated?

It doesn’t bear thinking about, but you should have a plan in place in case the worst happens.

That’s why we’ve always taught our kids how to use the VHF radio on our pontoon boat, as despite having smartphones on board, the signal could be out of range.

The US and Canadian Coast Guards can pick up distress signals from virtually anywhere in US and Canadian waters. Other boats who are monitoring channel 16 will also be able to pick up any calls for help.

Teach your child the basics on how to make a distress call over your VHS radio as you never know when they might need to use it.

#6: Attracting Attention

This last aspects to our child boat safety briefing encapsulates a lot of what has already been spoken about, but if anything it is probably the most important.

They need to be drilled on how to attract attention in a variety of different scenarios.

That could include aspects like using the VHF radio as already discussed, how to use a distress flag, how to wave from the water, and possibly even how to use distress flares if they are of an appropriate age.

Our Final Thoughts

Sailing and boating is like being ashore in many respects, as there will be good times, bad times, and risks.

Just like we impress on our kids how to cross a road safely, or what to do should they be approached by a stranger, boating should be no different.

In fact, dangers at sea or on a lake are so much more magnified.

You as an adult might also take your eye off the ball at a critical moment, no matter how much sailing or boating experience you have.

By teaching your child a basis safety briefing, plan, and routine for what to do in an emergency you are giving them a skill for life, and something that could potentially save their life too.

Handy Hint: Don’t be ill prepared when taking babies and toddlers on your boat. Here’s a list of must-have accessories to consider for your next trip for safe and fun baby boating.