Summer is here and that means many of my patients are taking off to the beach or the lake to escape the heat and enjoy some water activities. I recently saw a patient who told me that had just gotten a new boat and were looking forward to getting the kids out on the water. This brought up the subject of life vests.
When taking your children on a boat it is important that you have life vests for everyone. It is a law that all children under 13 years of age wear a “coast guard approved” life vest when on a boat that is being operated. This designation is very important, as many of the “life vests” that parents buy are not approved for boating…this includes “water wings” and some of the “cute” wearable t-shirts with life preservers sewn into them.
Once you have found “coast guard approved” life jackets you might let your child help pick out the one they like the best and that is comfortable. This is important as it will ensure that they are both safe and comfortable. Children’s life jackets are sized by weight, so you might always have a few extras in case a friend or two comes along at the last minute.
Infants life jackets are are a bit different and have a strap that runs between their legs and extra flotation behind the head which guarantees that the baby floats face up at all times. I can attest to this important safety feature as my husband took our son on a little boat one summer day at a friends lake house. The lake was small enough that I could actually see them from the house as they rowed out to try to catch a fish. It was two men and a toddler on the boat…and I watched in horror as our 14 month old (now 32 year old) son leaned over the side of the boat to look at the fish and fell right into the dark murky Texas lake!! Fortunately, we had followed the boating RULES and he was wearing his bright orange coast guard certified life jacket and bobbed right up to the surface…with a huge scared look on his face! We have many pictures of our boys in the life jackets every time they set foot on a boat...including this one!
Lastly, get in the habit of applying sunscreen before you even set off for the dock and then have the children put on their life jackets. Kids can just as easily fall off the dock into the water as you prepare to get on the boat. I would also encourage them to wear a hat for additional sun protection.
A day of boating is a great family activity and there is a lot a child can learn on board as well…how to navigate with a boating chart or GPS coordinates, how to watch for buoys or other water markings and all of the boating jargon.