Last summer my brother and sister-in-law came to visit us. They had recently had their first child, so it was going to be a great opportunity to meet their newborn baby for the first time.
As with all family visits, it was going to be a perfect opportunity to take our pontoon boat out, but I’d never taken a baby onboard before.
Before doing so I decided to do a little research into what I should know about taking a newborn on a boat, so I could be completely prepared, safe, and legal.
Nothing quite prepared me for the reality of taking my new baby nephew on my pontoon boat though!
Here’s what I learned both beforehand and whilst we were out on the water.
#1: You Need the Right Type of PFD
Before our trip I wasn’t actually aware that the US Coast Guard have recommendations on taking newborns on boats. Their stance on it is this:
US Coast Guard Advice: An infant should not travel on a boat until they weigh at least 18 pounds and can wear a personal floatation device (PFD).
Now luckily my brother’s newborn was 6 months old at was weighed 18 pounds so it seemed ok to take him on the pontoon boat as long as we were safe and had the adequate PFD for an infant.
It needs to be a US Coast Guard approved PFD and not one of those puddle jumper things. In fact, a buddy of mine was stopped by the cops recently on the lake because his youngster was wearing a non-USCG approved puddle jumper and made him change it out right away.
Children up to two years old need the neck support in their life jackets because they haven’t developed enough strength to keep their head up should they go in the water.
Handy Hint: You can find a suitable recommendation for a Coast Guard approved life jacket depending on what weight your infant is in my toddler and baby boating guide.
#2: Shade is an Absolute Necessity
If you don’t have a Bimini on your pontoon boat, or adequate shade and cover then don’t even think about taking a baby or newborn on board.
Infants under 6 months should always be kept of direct sunlight because their skin is particularly susceptible to be burned due to them not having as much melanin as older children.
When taking a baby on your pontoon boat they should also be dressed in loose fitting lightweight clothing that covers up their arms and legs properly… as well as a hat.
Handy Hint: You can read more sun safety tips for infants and babies on the SkinCancer.org website.
#3: Newborn Babies Should Not Have Sunscreen On
It was my brother who told me this, and I never knew it, but you should not put sunscreen on baby skin because it is too sensitive.
This is due to them having very thin skin. It absorbs the chemicals from the sunscreen and can actually harm them.
Instead just keep them under the shade at all times as described in point 2.
#4: Keep Them Well Hydrated with Breast or Formula Milk
Babies can’t tell us when they’re thirsty, other than crying of course.
A hot day on a boat, be it a pontoon or any other type of vessel can quickly lead to dehydration so make sure that the baby is well topped up with fluids.
It’s likely that they will need more than they usually do when exposed to hot sun which is going to happen when you’re on a pontoon boat no matter how many precautions you take.
#5: You Should Never Buckle a Baby into a Seat on a Boat
When it comes to your newborn on a pontoon boat, or any boat for that matter, you should hold them at all times.
They should be in their PFD whilst you also support their neck in case of a wake or wave hitting the side of the boat.
What you should never to do is bring the portable car seat on board and keep them strapped into it, and there’s a very important reason why.
If the seat was to fall overboard then it’s very heavy and could simply sink, with the baby strapped in. That doesn’t even bear thinking about.
Handy Hint: To see some recommended baby boat seats and other essential accessories, read the Baby Boat Gear section.
#6: Newborn Babies Sleep Well on Boats
I guess it’s just the motion of the water, but my brother’s baby slept so well. They also don’t tend to get as seasick as us adults do.
I didn’t go at any high speeds at all and went at a leisurely pace until we found a good point to anchor up.
My newborn nephew was out like a light and my brother and his wife said it was some of the best sleep he had had in months!
Until he woke up, but more about that in a moment!
#7: Be on the Lookout for Large Wakes and Waves
However, I was vigilant 100% of the time to look out for any waves or wakes that I felt could have a larger impact on the pontoon.
Babies aren’t used to travelling on boats, so I didn’t want to take any chances that he would be scared if the boat got buffeted at any point.
I made sure to stay close to the beach and marina and was very aware of other boats out on the water.
#8: Plan According to the Weather
Following on from the last point, I would always recommend that you only take a newborn out on your pontoon boat on a calm day.
Check the weather forecasts for wind and most definitely don’t even consider taking your baby out if there’s a chance of a storm.
Any sudden jolt on a boat can not only scare the infant, but could injure them, particulary in the neck area.
#9: Take it in Shifts to Hold the Baby
As the recommendation is to not use baby seats on board your boat, but instead hold the infant at all times, your arms will get tired out.
During our trip we had 30-minute shifts for holding the baby which was pretty simple in the end as we had 4 adults on board my pontoon boat.
#10: Be Prepared to End Your Boat Trip Earlier than Expected
Whilst I did say earlier that my newborn nephew slept really well, that only lasted a couple of hours.
When he did wake up, all hell broke loose and he really did scream the boat down.
My sister-in-law tried to comfort him and get him relaxed but he was having none of it.
A screaming baby on a boat isn’t pleasant, so after 20 minutes of trying to relax him back down we decided that it was probably time to call it a day.
#11: Don’t Forget to Take Plenty of Photos
Despite how the day ended, we took loads of photos.
I don’t know the next time I am going to be seeing my brother and might never get to take his baby son on our pontoon boat at such a young age.
It was important to preserve those memories!
Taking a newborn baby onto a pontoon boat needn’t be stressful.
As long as you exercise common sense and are as safe as you can possibly be then it’s going to be an amazing experience you will all remember for years to come.
As that baby grows up into a toddler, kid, then teenager, having started early will mean they have a great grounding in boat safety that will serve him or her for years to come.
Handy Hint: You might also want to read my guide to taking toddlers on boats and what safety precautions you need to take.