Learning the Ropes: How to Introduce Kids to Boating

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Some people might say kids and boats are a dangerous combination, but with the proper training there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take your kids on a boat and teach them the ropes according to their ability. We discuss when you should be introducing your kids to boating and look at the age they can take control of the wheel.
Boat safety is a number one priority for kids of any age. And as they grow and gain agility, balance and strength, they’ll be more capable of taking on greater responsibility and tasks.
Make It Age-appropriate
Start by having your pre-schooler learn to do simple, light tasks, such as coiling ropes or stowing cushions and light equipment. They will also delight in picking up new words, such as port, starboard, stern or bilge.
As your kids get a bit older, you can teach them about stability, loading the boat, and how to get in and out of dinghies and small boats. Around school age, have them learn to row a boat or paddle a canoe. Sailing, kayaking, board riding or windsurfing will also give them confidence, improve balance and control, and help them understand the water.
Whenever they’re on board your boat, teach your kids to recognise tides, sandbars, reefs or shallows, and drill into them the rules on:

  • keeping a lookout,
  • avoiding collisions,
  • reducing wash,
  • obeying signs, buoys, poles, lights and markers.

Safety Lessons For Life
Children are never too young to start learning about water safety. If they’re old enough to be on your boat, they can be taught to:

  • Wear proper-fitting lifejackets at all times, especially when they’re on deck, where it is possible to fall overboard.
  • Use sunscreen and wear protective clothing.
  • Swim – this is essential if they spend any time around boats, and they can start as early as six months of age.
  • Keep well inside the boat when it is underway and understand that it is against the law to have any part of the body out of the boat when it’s moving.

As they get older, teach them more specific emergency procedures, such as:

  • Where all the emergency items are located and how to use them.
  • What to do in different emergency situations.
  • To stay with a capsized boat or an easily seen floating object, so they will be easier for rescuers to spot in the water.
  • Positions like ‘Huddle’ and ‘HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Position) that reduce the danger of hypothermia if someone goes overboard.
  • How to use equipment such as radios, EPIRBs and flares. Remember to stress the importance of not using this equipment unless they are in real danger, together with the penalties that exist for misuse.

Kids love using smart phones and tablets, so download some boating apps and have your budding sailor learn how to use them.
Stay Within The Law
It can be tempting to hand the wheel over to another family member, especially a keen-as-mustard youngster, but it’s even more important to stick to the rules.

  • You must have a current boat operator’s licence to operate a recreational vessel fitted with an engine. This applies regardless of the size of the vessel or its engine, or whether the engine is being used at the time.
  • In most states you must be at least 16 years of age to apply for a boat operator’s licence.
  • Children aged between 12 and 16 years of age, however, may apply for a special permit to operate a recreational vessel.
  • Children under the age of 18 years must not be aboard any vessel travelling at 60 knots or more, unless approved under an aquatic licence.

Join A Club
A great way to have your children learn the ropes is to join a trailer boat club that is family-friendly and offers junior boating. The kids will learn some invaluable lessons in water safety, rules and boat handling with a group of their peers, but at the same time you will get a chance to participate and see what your child is being taught. Alternatively, enrol them in a local junior sailing school or kayaking club.
The best lessons you can pass on to your children are The Rules, and the reasons behind them. It’s a lot easier to learn to do something when you understand that someone’s life could be in danger if you don’t do it the right way.
Pass on the knowledge you’ve garnered over the years and your kids are more likely to become responsible, confident and safe boaters.
Retrieving the boat is another lesson: brush up on your skills with our how-to guide.


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