Boat Safety for Kids

With warmer temperatures on the way, it’s only a matter of time before the kids are begging to be back out on the water. Being on and around boats and exhibiting proper boat safety is a big responsibility for kids, especially younger ones. As children age, what’s expected of them on and around the boat will change. You can give them additional responsibilities, including docking and water safety measures, and task them with ensuring their own life-vests are snug and secure. Children are incredibly curious; they will probably be excited to learn boating terminology, how to tie proper knots, and how to be a “good” little pirate.

We’ll cover a lot of these topics in this guide, so buckle up, lean into the wind, and get ready to learn proper boat safety!


Family on sailboat



Life vests — important standards and what size to have

When you own a boat, your world expands. There’s new vocabulary to learn, new equipment to use, and finer details that can’t be overlooked. One of this big additions to your new world is that in most cases life vest are actually referred to as PFDs — personal floatation devices. PFDs include life preservers, “mae wests,” and buoyancy aids. PFDs are split into five different types, of which you should have at least one of each on your boat.





Wind chill — what it means and why it’s dangerous

“Wind chill” is not actually a real temperature reading. What we call “wind chill” is actually a measurement of the amount of heat loss by our bodies when they’re exposed to cold winds. The wind blows off the protective layer of body heat we radiate at all times, making us more susceptible to more dangerous situations, such as hypothermia or frostbite. Young children are especially vulnerable to these conditions. 

On the high winds of the sea — or lake — wind chill is a very serious factor to consider when making preparations for an afternoon outside. The safest decision when the weather calls for wind chill is simply to stay indoors. However, if you must go out into colder weather, consider these tips to stay as warm and as safe as possible.

  • Wear clothes that cover as much bare skin as possible. 
  • Avoid 100 percent cotton garments, as they are most effective at drawing heat away from the body.
  • Start with thin layers of polypropylene close to the skin. Add fabrics that retain heat even when wet, such as wool or synthetic fleece.
  • A good approximation of the wind-chill temperature can be found by multiplying the wind speed by 0.7 and then subtracting that value from the air temperature.


Easy to learn knots — necessary when docking or sailing

There are hundreds of important boating knots to learn and their uses are just as important. We will cover five common knots known for their strength, durability, and utility.

The Bowline: Recognized as the king of knots for its capacity to hold a large load, the bowline makes for a fixed loop at the end of a rope. This is very useful for tying boats or PFDs to the shore and because of its necessity, the bowline has been used for hundreds of years by sailors.

The Clove hitch: With the advantage of being very quick to tie and untie, it unfortunately doesn’t hold nearly as well as the bowline. On sailboats, one of its most common uses is hanging the fenders over the side as you come in to dock.

The Cleat Hitch: the cleat hitch is one of the most widely utilized knots boaters use to tie their boat to a dock on the shore or a floating dock. 

The Anchor Bend: Commonly used to tie rope to an anchor, it is typical for boaters to add a backup knot at the other end of the rope to order to not lose your anchor.

The Reef Knot: is used to bind a rope around an object by tying two ends of the rope together. As a general rule of thumb, don’t use this knot with two different types of rope. If used with ropes of different thicknesses, the knot may slip out.


Basic boat terminology

On a smaller boat, it’s easy to just point to the direction or side to which you’re referring when discussing the boat. However, for emergencies, knowing the proper language for your boat can save crucial seconds if someone has fallen overboard. 

There is also a quick quiz at the bottom of this section to help familiarize you and your family with this easy-to-learn vocabulary.




Aft: at, near, or toward the stern of a ship or tail of a watercraft.

Bow: The forward end of any boat, away from motor. ex.) John went up to the bow to lower the anchor.

Bulkhead: A structural component in a boat that often supports a deck. The bulkhead separates the hull from the engine room.

Cleat: A metal or plastic fitting used to securely attach a line. Dock the boat using a line from the cleat to the dock’s handle.

Helm: The area of a boat where the steering and engine controls are located. ex.) Betsy steered the boat from the helm.

Rigging: The lines and wires that support and help control a mast. ex.) Joe’s knowledge of nautical knots helped him set up the rigging.

Stern: The aft-most section of a boat’s hull.

Port: The left side of a boat when facing forward. 

Starboard: The right side of a boat when facing forward. 


Hypothermia — how to recognize the symptoms and what to do

One of the biggest threats to a good time on the water is the possibility of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce and officially begins once the body heat drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Remaining in cold water or high wind chill can cause hypothermia to set in.  

There are three distinct stages to hypothermia, the last of which ends in death.

Hypothermia levels update

  1. Stage one: You will begin to experience shivering and your blood circulation will slow.
  2. State two: You will feel sluggish, confused, or sleepy. Your breathing will slow, as will your pulse.
  3. State three: At this stage, you will most likely pass out and stop breathing, which will lead to death.

By stage two, you can begin to lose extremities — toes, fingers, even your nose. Depending on the level of windchill, it can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes for stage three hypothermia to set in. 

While out boating, weather can change in an instant. There are a couple of ways you can prevent hypothermia and reduce the symptoms once they start. Here are some of these ways:

  • Have children wear one more layer than the amount of layers an adult is wearing.
  • If you or your children start shivering, it’s come to come inside.
  • Remove all wet clothes.
  • Layer as many warm clothing or blankets over someone who is shivering, giving special attention to their extremities. 
  • Give the affected person warm liquids to drink, but avoid coffee and alcohol. 
  • If someone has gone unconscious due to hypothermia, check for a pulse. If one is not found, begin to administer CPR.


What causes seasickness and how to prevent it

Seasickness can ruin anyone’s day out on the water. While not as dangerous as hypothermia, nausea, headaches, and drowsiness are common symptoms of motion sickness and are brought about when the brain receives conflicting motor signals from the eyes and ears. Your brain registers uneven motion and this dissonance is difficult for the brain to process. As seasickness is extremely common, there are several tricks to combating and preventing motion sickness.

  • Stare at a fixed point or the horizon. This will align the signals from both your eyes and ears to your brain.
  • Eat a tab of ginger. Ginger is naturally beneficial in stopping nausea. 
  • Chew gum. This trick cannot explained through exact science, but people report it helps all the same. 
  • Drink fizzy or carbonated drinks to settle an upset stomach.

To prevent seasickness:

  • Consider taking over the counter drugs like Scopolamine or Promethazine. But be aware that both of these drugs may cause drowsiness.
  • Speak with your doctor before you go out onto the water if you are prone to seasickness and prior medication hasn’t helped the symptoms. 

If someone on your boat has fallen over and is at risk of hypothermia, be sure to take extra precautions:

  • Pull back on the throttle so the boat slows down, and how to take it out of gear so it stops.
  • Find the required floatable (PFD) cushion, that should be readily accessible, and throw it to someone in the water
  • Find the required sound signaling device and use it to signal for help.
  • Use the VHF radio to summon help in case of an emergency.


Float plans: how to build an effective plan and the equipment to do so.

Life on the high seas — or the lake — can be unpredictable, with sudden weather changes or other unforeseen events. A float plan is essentially a plan for what to do in unexpected and to ensure safety for everyone onboard the watercraft.

In short, a float plan includes a description of your boat, who is on board at the time of docking, a description of the safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to be, and when you expect to be there. The plan will generally be left on shore with the dockmaster. If for any reason any of these factors change, let the person who is responsible for your float plan know immediately. 

A float plan is meant to be a guide for the Coast Guard to know how many people to look for and where to look, in the event that you and your party do not return back when the float plan indicates. While there is no standard, Coast-Guard issued float plan, many boating supply stores sell them so be sure to ask when picking up the necessary safety equipment. 

 Some other important equipment to purchase might include:

  • Wind generators
  • Solar panels
  • Harken sail handling equipment
  • A four-stroke outboard
  • A rigid-bottom inflatable dinghy
  • Automatic identification system receiver + transponder


Spending the summer out on a boat can provide some of the best childhood memories. And with proper preparation and careful planning, you and your family can enjoy a worry free vacation. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

To further challenge your knowledge of water safety, we encourage you to take the complimentary Colin's Hope Water Safety Quiz.

Taylor Covington
Taylor CovingtonContent Researcher

An in-house qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collects, organizes, and analyzes data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and beyond. Taylor's data studies have been cited by Yahoo Finance, The Atlantic, MSN, PolicyAdvice, Fox Business, The Simple Dollar, Hippo Insurance, and Bloomberg.

In her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Price Books or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.