Jul 06 2021 All Articles

How to childproof your boat

How to childproof your boat

Baby overboard! The words nobody wants to hear… ever.  Now that we have your attention, let’s talk about boating with children, or more specifically, ensuring you know how to baby or childproof your boat.

The good news is that because of the nature of boat design, most boats have a lot of “childproofing” mechanisms already built-in. There are few outlets to cover (and most are not at floor level) and most cabinets have locking closures. However, every boat is different and it’s important to assess your boat’s safety for the age of your children and make adjustments as they grow. Depending on your boat style, you may need to take extra childproofing and safety precautions – like putting netting along railings or across the bottom of steps to prevent the young ones from climbing.

Obviously, a chunk of what needs to be done will be common sense, but there are sources out there specifically geared at ensuring your boat is as safe as it can be. Check out the Boater Kids website, for example, which includes tips and resources to enhance a boating lifestyle that involves children.

The website offers the following advice:

  • Always be within arms’ reach on deck. Be ready at all times and remember your developing child will grow new capabilities!
  • Never leave keys in the ignition
  • Secure cockpit doors. Make sure your cockpit door is secure (a lock on the exterior and a strap that snaps over the sliding lock to keep it fastened). If necessary, make adjustments so that it stays securely closed, preventing the young ones from wandering out onto the swim platform
  • Always lock cabin doors. You can’t really put up a childproof gate on boat cabin doors, so just close and lock the door – even when you are in the cabin with your child as you don’t want them going up on deck if no adult is there
  • Cover the helm. There are lots of enticing little buttons in this area. If possible, snap on a cover to enclose the controls
  • Cover outlets in the cabin. Plastic outlet plugs, potentially in reach, should be covered
  • Clear gear from the cockpit. Keep the cockpit clear of any gear that could cause trouble or harm to your children – such as cleaners, boat lines, air horns, or fishing gear
  • Choose your boat type carefully. An express-style boat may be better than a sport bridge-style boat, for example, as there are few stairs. A boat with a cabin is considered a good idea, and an open cockpit works as a great play area. If you have camper canvas, you can enclose the sides of the boat around the seats to keep it extra safe and enclosed
  • Keep cleaners out of reach. If you don’t have a secure locking storage locker for dangerous items, then keep them out of reach in the stern storage locker or off your boat in a dock box. 

The Discover Boating website also has sound advice on safe boating with children, geared around being prepared, and preparing them, should your boating excursion not go to plan.

Their top five tips are:

  1. Expect the unexpected. A general rule of thumb is, for a day boating, pack as you might for an overnight ashore, including important medication.
  2. Always be prepared for call for help - use your cell phone or VHF radio.
  3. Spend time teaching your children swimming skills… and when they are old enough, teach them to drive the boat.
  4. Ensure your children always wear a life jacket, for swimming (if needed), watersports and cruising.  Practice fitting life jackets and fetching fire extinguishers, as well as sitting in a safe spot during adverse weather, in a grounding or when docking is difficult.
  5. Establish rules upfront and always practice safe boating habits onboard and in the water.

For even more wisdom, have a read of the San Diego Family site. Here, boating writer Janet Groene advises parents to observe the same, sane rules used at home, but with important differences… being on the water has its own dangers.

“Look away for only a moment and a child could fall overboard and perhaps be injured from the fall. A good family rule is to put on children’s personal flotation devices as they leave the car and leave them on until the boating day is over and everyone is back in the car again,” she says.

Adding guard rail netting, ensuring you have courtesy lights and carbon dioxide alarms at strategic spots around the boat, are some of her other suggestions.

In addition, Debra Smiley Holtzman, author of “The Panic-Proof Parent: Creating a Safe Lifestyle for Your Family,” says it’s important adults communicate clearly.

“When you and your spouse communicate any important message, give or receive an answer. Know who is in charge of the child so you won’t suffer one of those “But I thought she was with you” tragedies”.

Further advice includes:

  • Install latches and locks for drawers and cabinets. And keep all cords, ropes, or strings out of children’s reach
  • Use a spill-resistant mug for hot beverages. Don’t hold or carry a child while holding hot foods or beverages. Use back burners on the stove and turn pot handles toward the back of the stove. Keep appliance cords from hanging down
  • Install toilet locks. A young child’s weight is concentrated in the top half of the body. Leaning into a toilet or a bucket a child could lose its balance, fall forward and drown in as little as one inch of water.

And finally, if you’re still not sure you’ve got all safety bases covered, then get down on all fours, pretend you’re a child and see what looks tempting. Checking for hazards from a child’s perspective may sound funny, but it’s worthwhile.

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