Hey Parents! Have boat, have baby…will travel! We bought our first pontoon boat as a married couple when our son was two! If you’re a boater and you have a toddler, and you just aren’t sure how you’re going to get on the water this season with a little one, keep reading. You got this.
In our family, we are at home on the water. When my son was just shy of two, I had him in his life jacket and in my lap on our 14 ft. tandem kayak, paddling our favorite river in Tallahassee, the Wacissa. (And I did my research before I took him out…I was nervous, but I knew we’d be okay, being experienced kayakers.) My husband and I are both strong swimmers, observe safety on the water, and understand rivers and currents. However comfortable you are on the water, you always should know and observe the rules of the waterways, whether boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, skiing, swimming. There are safety measures to observe.
That being said, with boating season upon us, I thought I’d encourage boaters with babies or toddlers that you can have a great time on the water with the little one. With all of my experience on the water, I was a first time boat owner, and I had a lot to learn.
I tried to be as prepared as I could be when we first took our son out on our boat, and I have learned a few things along the way. This information is strictly from my own, personal experience.
Life Jacket: The most important instruction I can give is get a properly sized life jacket for your child. You absolutely must have a true life jacket that fits your baby or toddler, and you must have it on your child the moment he or she is on the boat, before you take off. We have our son in his right when he gets on the boat, before we untie from the dock. Also, those “swimmies” for arms, or the ones that have a floatation device across the chest in combination with the swimmies, are not life vests. You have to have the baby or child in the life vest while the boat is under motor or in motion. If you are anchored up or beached someplace, it’s okay to take the child out of the life vest, but use caution! Currents are swift and weather is unpredictable. You can’t be too safe with the life of your child.
Boat Safety/Communication: Have an adult who is hands-on with your child and can tend to the child if you’re needed to help with the boat. Also, communicate to your little one (if he or she is old enough to comprehend, listen, and follow directions). Establish basic, simple rules he or she can follow. Maintain those rules. If the child doesn’t follow the rules, implement a “time-out” or some consequence they are familiar with, so they understand the importance of following rules on the boat. Boating is fun, but it can be dangerous. Keep a balance with communicating that to your child.
I recommend having the following while boating with a toddler:
Potty: If you don’t have a built in bathroom on your boat, for the potty-trained child (congratulations!), have a toddler training potty and sanitation baggies if your child is potty trained, as our son was. (By the way, I had great success with the 3-day method and you can read about the prep for it here and the results here if you’re considering it.) Kiddo not quite potty trained, yet? Have your diapers, wipes, and Ziploc/sanitation bags (for stinky diapers to eliminate oders prior to putting in boat trash bag).
Clothing/Gear: Good water/boat shoes. I recommend Crocs or a similar brand that covers the toes (for you) and for your youngster. Have an extra bathing suit and a change of dry clothes. Purchase child sunglasses and a good sun hat with a wide brim all around to protect face, ears, back of neck. Sunblock…of course!
Entertainment: Have a bag of plastic toys, more than beach toys. If you drop anchor someplace where there isn’t a beach for your child to play on, beach toys can be boring. Bring along some old toys that are plastic. If the toy gets lost or (hopefully not!) swept away, the child won’t be too upset. Don’t bring anything metal. It’ll rust, and boats are too unsteady for toys with sharp corners.
Comfort: If you don’t have a carpeted floor, an outdoor runner is perfect for the floor that isn’t protected by the bimini. (Not my idea, but friends did this on their boat, and on very hot days, it saves your feet while walking on the boat. Also, we have outdoor throw pillows that are nice for everyone, and our son enjoys them when he’s tired and ready for a nap! Just be sure to stow them while driving.
Cleaning: wipes, wipes, wipes! You have the ocean to rinse in, but that’s salt water. Wipes, hand sanitizer, and even a water jug of fresh water really comes in handy.
Food: favorite snacks and juice boxes – sanity for the ‘rents and nutrition for the kiddo (Cheetos are considered nutritious, yes? lol. Kidding.) Favorite healthy snacks and yummy not-so-healthy treats are great for a boating day.
Playpen for Baby: On a pontoon boat, a collapsible playpen can be handy. Once the boat is beached or anchored, a playpen can easily be set up and used for a child to play or sleep in. My son was too old for a playpen when we got our boat, but I’ve seen how it helps with smaller children on others’ boats. Be sure you don’t have too many people on the boat, however, for space purposes.
Don’t lose your spirit of adventure! Have a “can-do” attitude and do your research. You can have a family fun-filled day with the right preparation and realistic expectations!