Boating with a Baby or Toddler: Rules, How to & Safety Tips

Part of the joy of owning a boat is that you get to go cruising with the family whenever you feel like it. And that includes every member of the brood - even the young and small! But before you pack up and head out to the water, it’s important to remember that toddlers and babies call for special care and consideration if you’re going to keep them safe on board.

Small kids and babies aren’t like adults that can sense danger and steer clear of accidents on their own. And because the risk of injury is significantly increased on a boat, it’s going to be your job to make sure those little passengers are kept safe all throughout - without watering down the fun. So how exactly should you go about boating with a baby or toddler? Here’s what you need to know.

Rules and Regulations from the Coast Guard for Boating with an Infant or Toddler

Before anything else, it’s important to know that there are actually laws, rules, and regulations that oversee the practice of taking an infant or baby on a boat with you. So to make sure you’re not breaking any rules, you might want to check with federal and state boating safety regulations that aim to keep your baby safe.

For starters, the U.S. Coast Guard states that babies can only travel on a boat if they weigh at least 18 pounds and can wear a personal flotation device. Now, newborn babies grow at varying rates depending on a number of factors. But you can expect a 4 or 11 month old baby to weigh at least 18 pounds .

Sure, that might seem like a total downer if you’ve got a baby that’s a little too small for the standard. But the wording might help you out a little here. The Coast Guard regulation says that a baby can’t travel on a boat unless they’re a certain weight. It didn’t really say you couldn't take a baby on a boat that's docked.

When it comes to toddlers and boating, the rules tend to vary from state to state. So you might want to check in with your local authorities to find out the specific regulations in your area.

For instance, some places like Delaware require children under 13 years of age to wear proper life jackets or a PFD at all times when on the boat, whether or not it’s underway. Then there are places like Idaho that only require proper PFD’s to be worn on boats greater than 19 feet when they’re underway.

On top of that, certain locations will only allow a specific type of life jacket or personal flotation device PFD for children. Most often, state boating safety regulations will only accept a type II life jacket as their minimum standard. But there are others that allow type III life jacket for kids. Just make sure you check.

And then of course, you will also have to check in with the marina. Some marinas have specific rules and regulations when it comes to bringing an infant or kids to the dock. There are a few that might penalize guests if children are left unattended whether or not they're near the water.

10 Tips for Boating with an Infant

If it’s your first time boating with your baby, infant, or toddler, then you might feel a little overwhelmed at all the stuff you need to prepare for both comfort and safety. So to help streamline the preparations and cover all the bases for your child and your boat, consider these baby boat gears and handy tips:

1. Have an Appropriate Life Jacket

life jacket for infant babies

This can’t be stressed enough. Life jackets or a persona flotation device PFD is an important piece of safety gear that can potentially save your baby’s life, especially in the unfortunate event that they fall into the water. Since that would be any parent’s nightmare, preparing for the worst can give you at least a little more peace of mind knowing that your baby has a better chance of being retrieved.

Keep in mind though that not any life jacket will do. There are life jackets and PFDs that are specifically designed for children and babies, and that’s precisely what you’d want to purchase. Size makes a big difference in how a life vest works, and wearing something too big could easily slip off and leave your baby fighting for himself if he falls into the water.

The Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest is a Coast Guard approved type II PFD that was designed specifically for babies under 30lbs. It’s gained popularity for its oversized collar for improved head support which aims to keep your infant or baby’s head upright if they’re in the water for added safety.

The Stohlquist Infant PFD Life-Jacket is another Coast Guard approved choice that’s pretty popular for its bright colors and durable design. Ideal for an infant as small as 8lbs, this life jacket can provide safety for the smallest members of the family.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Baby At All Times

boating with babies

It’s easy to lose track of things when you’re having fun. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for you to leave your infant or baby unattended especially when the boat is underway. Even on a docked boat, there are serious threats and dangers that could potentially hurt your baby. So see to it that there are eyes on your little passenger at all times.

Better yet, try not to let them go while you're on the boat. While this can be a little demanding on your arms, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Fortunately, you could always just get a baby carrier to take the load off of your arms. But because your baby is going to be wearing a PFD, then you might not be able to strap them into a conventional carrier.

A hip seat carrier works wonders to support your the weight of your infant or baby while you use even just a single hand to make sure they’re secure. Wearing it can also make it easier for you to get things done around the boat without having to let go of your VIP. And while they're not made for use on a boat, a baby car seat might help keep your little guy more comfortable and easier to supervise during the ride.

We really like the Baby Hip Seat Carrier by Sunnors.

3. Check the Weather

You’d probably check the weather resources anyway even without an infant or baby on your boat. But it becomes doubly important to check the forecast when there's a baby on your boat. That’s because bad weather and choppy waters can make babies and toddlers feel unsafe and scared, leading to a crying fit that might make matters all the more stressful.

See to it that you check weather conditions before you leave the dock. Avoid taking a trip into the water even at the slightest signs of potential disturbance. And aside from that, avoid areas where waves might be too frequent. Steer clear of crowded parts of water where the wake of bigger boats might cause lots of uneasy movement and stick to a cruising speed in case your child gets seasick easily.

4. Slather on the Sunscreen

sunscreen for babies

No one’s skin is as sensitive as newborn babies. Harsh sunlight and UV rays that shine down on your boat can cause your baby to develop redness and burns, leading to a stinging pain that might ruin the entire trip for everyone. And because shade is scarce on a boat, make sure you’ve got sunscreen at the ready.

While any sunscreen might do, you might be better off choosing a formulation that’s intended for a baby. The ThinkBaby Sunscreen uses natural ingredients so it’s extra easy on baby’s delicate skin. The blend also incorporates SPF 50+ to provide broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. To double up the protection, you could also get them a rashguard and a sun hat to offer extra shade against harsh sun while on your boat.

5. And the Bug Spray While You're At It

bug spray

There's another danger that risks assailing your baby aside from the lack of shade on a boat. Mosquitoes abound where there’s warmth and humidity -- both of which are present in most boating locations. Unfortunately, mosquito bites are more than just unpleasant, they can also come hand in hand with disease. So aside from the sunscreen, you might also want to give your baby a layer of protective power against bug bites.

If you were looking for a mild formula for babies with extra delicate skin, you could try the Babyganics DEET-Free Bug Spray that uses plant-derived ingredients. But if you were hoping to use something a little more robust for all types of bugs, the OFF! Family Care Bug Spray might be more up your alley.

6. Organize Your Boat

storage tubs

You probably usually keep all sorts of stuff on your boat -- from a dirty anchor and rode, to fishing lures and tackle and other fishing and boating gear. Before you take your baby on the boat, see to it that all of that dirty stuff is properly stowed and hidden away in your boat storage. That’s especially important if you’re welcoming a rambunctious little toddler on your boat.

If you don’t want to take them off of your boat for the lack of a place to keep them elsewhere at home, you could always just cop a few storage bins to keep on board your boat. While you’re at it, try to conceal exposed equipment like batteries, fuel caddies, and other potentially hazardous items on the boat.

We find these IRIS USA Plastic Storage Organizing Containers are great!

7. Give Them Lessons

toddler

If your toddler is a little more aware of himself and his surroundings, you might be able to give them instructions on what to do in case of an emergency while on the boat. Of course, it’s still ideal to hold on to little boat guests at all times. But just in case, it would be a major help for them to know what they should do in certain situations.

Some parents go as far as enrolling their toddler in swimming pool lessons before they take them on a boat. In fact, advice and resources from the American Association of Pediatrics claims that even 12 month old infants can start to take swimming lessons. This can be a good idea to significantly increase the chances of rescue and minimize the risk of drowning in case the child falls overboard.

Whenever teaching a baby to swim, it's important that you have the right gear. Use a swimming vest to help your baby acclimate faster to the waves.

We recommend the MoKo Life Jackets for Kids.

8. Pack As If For A Road Trip

It doesn’t matter how new and exciting the sights and sounds on a boat might be. Babies and toddlers can get bored fast. And once they’ve reached their limit, they might end up all fussy and in a crying mood all while you try to enjoy the boat ride.

To curb the tantrums, see to it that you pack all of the things that keep them entertained. We’re talking coloring books, crayons, toys, and even a tablet or phone packed with all of their favorite films and TV shows. Just strap them into their car seat and offer a few activities to keep the tantrums at bay.

But more than just the toys, you might also want to consider packing along some (or a lot) of snacks. Kids tend to enjoy munching more than adults, so it’s important that you bring along non-messy treats like cereal, chips, sliced fruit and veggies, juice packets, and whatever else your kids might enjoy.

Another thing to note is that babies sleep more than the rest of us, especially if you've got a newborn child. But because there probably won't be a place on the boat for them to sleep comfortably (unless you're bringing your car seat), you might want to consider buying a portable sleeper to give them a more comfortable space to rest onboard. There are also infant or newborn seat designs that recline to give your child more comfort in case they want to snooze.

9. Never Go Alone with a Baby on a Boat

Maybe you’re hoping to spend some quality time with your little one, or you just need to get away from it all but just can’t find a baby sitter. Whatever the case, do not go boating alone with your baby. There needs to be at least one other person on board to operate the boat or to hold your little one when you’re the one at the wheel, whether he's an infant or a toddler.

A lot can happen if you turn away from your baby or infant for even just one second, even if it's a newborn that's just a few months old. And because there’s way too much happening on boats, it’s impossible to keep your eyes on your baby on the vessel at all times. If there’s no other family member or friend who can go with you on your boating trip, postpone it and schedule for another time.

10. Include Them in Your Float Plan

It’s not entirely clear why some people feel like the presence of infants and pets on board of a boat is implied. When you prepare your float plan, make sure to list down the names of all the people on board, regardless of how old or young they might be. This can be crucial for a search and rescue operation should it have to reach that point.

As you prepare your float plan and detail the course of your boat trip, make sure that all of the details are in order. List down everyone who’s on board and don't forget the littlest members of the guest list just. As one of the most important safety precautions, this one might just save their life.

Baby's Day Out

Boating with a baby, whether a newborn infant or toddler is no simple feat, but it can be loads of fun if you make the right preparations. There are loads of dangers that float around in the water, so boating with babies will require extra care and caution if you want to keep things safe for everyone. Follow our advice and tips, and cop the right gear to curb the risk of accidents and injury. Do all of that, and you could inspire a love of boats and water as you introduce your baby to life on a boat.