Putting Kids At Ease On The Water

May 15, 2013

As the skipper of your boat, you’re responsible for the safety of everyone on board. And, if you’ve got children on deck, it’s easy to come across as intimidating when you’re really just trying to make sure they’re not in harm's way. If that’s the case, consider using these tips to encourage their love of the water and make sure they want to be out on the boat as much as you do.

While most kids are naturally drawn to the water, sometimes it’s a tough leap for them to go from the shore to the ship. The best way to ease those concerns? Just like with anything else they may be apprehensive about, the key is to get them involved in every part of the day—from the planning to hands-on crew responsibilities. Let them help you and learn from you, and you will likely have a crewmember for life.

Whether it’s your own children (and their friends), grandkids, nieces and nephews, or neighbors, remember that any tasks you assign will need to be appropriate to their age. Expecting too much too fast will tend to have the opposite result. And be prepared to add new responsibilities when they’ve honed their skills. Being able to contribute as a member of the crew will build confidence and teamwork while making them more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment.

Pre-Launch Checklist

Get the kids involved in creating a pre-launch checklist. If they have a hand in putting it together, they will be especially vigilant about checking for the appropriate number of life jackets, checking the battery charge, and always verifying a properly secured drain plug. This perfect for anything you tend to overlook every trip.

Everything In Its Place

Teach children the right way to tend the fenders and dock lines and how to stow them the proper way. Make sure they see you communicating with the dock hands at a marina or gas pump station so they understand how the system works. Once they master the hand signals and nuanced gestures, they will get in the proper position to help before you have to say a word.

Talk The Talk

Make sure the kids are familiar with the basic boating terminology. You wouldn’t take them to a foreign country without coaching them on basic communication skills, would you? Take the time to clarify fore and aft, port and starboard, lee and windward, etc. It will help them feel like they’re one of the “insiders,” especially if they can help educate others on the next trip.

Teachable Moments

Always look for an opportunity to reinforce the “why.” Children are learners. And, you may have noticed they don’t respond well to “because I said so.” Why not explain how the safety equipment works? Or show them how the trim affects the ride of the boat. They thrive on “behind the scenes” knowledge.

Mind Their Manners

Show older kids how to operate the VHF radio to communicate with other vessels, the dock master or the local boating law enforcement. It’s important they know the proper etiquette, plus they will love the chance to communicate with others via an “official” microphone.

Keep A Record

Kids will love their own “log book,” to keep an unofficial record of their adventures on the water. Encourage them to record destinations, time of departure, passengers, and to draw pictures to remember their trips. Later, they can add photos from the day to remind them of the highlights.

As the captain of your boat, it’s only natural for you to want to handle all (or nearly all) the duties yourself. But remember that children thrive when given a task to complete that helps make the outing a success. As long as you clearly explain what needs to happen, and resist the urge to constantly “advise” the kids, you’ll have a dedicated crew for life.