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Kids and Boating:

An opportunity to instill Recreational Boating Safety values that will last a lifetime

By Wayne Spivak; National Press Corps United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

It is often said that a young mind is an impressionable one. There is great truth to this saying, as countless academic studies have proven that a young mind is like a sponge; it will just keep soaking up knowledge.

While it's important for these young minds to soak up knowledge about the 3R's (reading, writing and arithmetic), for those who enjoy the water, or whose parents enjoy the water, there is no better time than to instill recreational boating safety values into those little adorable sponges.


Some of my earliest memories about boating consist of my father and uncle's on small rowboats. We'd go out fishing on small lakes throughout upstate New York; a couple of oars, fishing rods, bait, tackle box, but I really don't remember any life jackets. I do remember mostly having a single worn out cushion. Whether it floated, or was a floatation device, I couldn't say.

Today, even if there wasn't a Federal Law in place, we as adults should be inculcating our children on the need to wear Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's). For those of us who do a lot of boating, think about spending a few extra bucks and getting a PFD which is as comfortable, and bulk less as possible.

Don't forget snazzy! Children are style conscious. If you ever walk around docks where there are kids, you're bound to hear complaining about wearing their PFD's. The old style horseshoe Type II jackets just don't cut it with today's aspiring child stars. However, a sporty Type II or Type III jacket with psychedelic colors or hearts on them will get the kids excited!

Nautical Terminology

Here again, is an easy way to increase your child's educational quotient, while at the same time instilling information that can serve to increase the safety of all, while aboard yours or someone else's boat. Starboard, Port, forward, aft - these simple terms are extremely important when describing an action in relation to a given boat.

Using proper terminology can be life saving for both the child and adult, because it eliminates confusion.

Radio Procedures

As a kid, we never had a radio in our boats. They were just too expensive. We also didn't have Ebay! But today, Ebay aside, VHF radios of all kinds, sizes, and dollar ranges abound.

That being said, ever listen to the marine radio on a fine summer weekend? No, I'm not talking about the rude adults, or those who need some radio manners and education; I'm talking about the unsupervised children who get on the radio, because it's a cool toy!

Educating our children on the "who, what, where and why's" of radio procedures can benefit recreational boating safety in several ways. First, it gets the kids off the radio. Second, should your child ever need to really use the radio, they will know how, and both the Coast Guard and others who listen to Channel 16 will hear a difference in tone - and quality of information.

Proper use of nautical terminology helps in this area. Using proper terminology and radio procedure can be crucial in "trusting" the information the child is giving.

Lastly, teaching your child how to use the radio will help them in school. Public speaking, whether in front of a small class or on the radio, is a learned trait. This unfortunately isn't taught until college, so you're actually preparing the child early.

Basic Navigation

Nothing could be worse than providing all the aforementioned training, and leaving out basic navigation. All children (obviously age dependent) can be taught to read a chart, and by using landmarks, give an approximation of their current location.

By making it a game, you can instill more safety values, as well as again, assist your child advance in terrestrial life (school) by giving them real-life experience in skills that they may not learn for several years, or only learn in "book" form.

Safety Equipment

Lastly, and certainly not least, we should teach our children about the safety equipment we carry on our boats. The fire extinguisher, flares, whistles, mirrors, the radio are all items that should not be foreign to them. Remember, even though they are a child, they are a member of the crew, and while again, this is age dependent, they can be crucial to observing, and avoiding dangerous situations.

Teach your child and a fire extinguisher works. Teach them the ABC's of fire fighting. Have them practice with an extinguisher. You may never know when this experience can come in handy, whether on the boat or in the kitchen.

Teach them about flares, the dangers and the benefits of using them properly. Teach them how to use them, when to use them, and most of all, that they are NOT A TOY. Side stepping this issue is dangerous. Ask any police officer about how they've taught their children about (not) handling their firearms, and that they are anything but a toy.

Teach our children about whistles and mirrors, which should be attached to their PFD's. Tell them, show them, and practice with them, not only using these pieces of safety equipment, but man overboard drills.

Our children are never too young to learn. It is just how we go about teaching them recreational boating safety that is the difference. Make a game of each lesson. Make it enjoyable. As they get older, add more and more information, so by the time our children become teenagers, they are not only able to take the boat out (local law permitting), but are fully knowledgeable about the operation of both vessel and recreational boating safety.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary can assist in this process. We have several programs available for children, such as Boating Fun (4 – 9 year olds), and Waypoints (10 – 12 year olds). Many of the older children (9 years old and up) take Boating Safely with their parents.

For more information, please contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla. You can find them by contacting your local Coast Guard unit or on the web at www.uscgaux.org.

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