Make family boating grand.

With Grandpa atthe tiller and proper safety gear at hand, there’s no better place for kids than Florida waterways.

“Pa, can we go in the boat?”

The words were music to my ears. Jax, my grandson, at not yet two years old, had already developed a fondness for the outdoors, especially time we share together on the water.

Before going boating with kids, I always adjust my expectations:

>>Spend less time on the water than when fishing alone or with adults. I have to remind myself that catching fish is probably more important to me than it is to Jax or his friends. I might want them to each catch a fish or two, but they just want to have fun. My pleasure comes not from the number or size fish they might catch but from ensuring that they enjoy their time on the water. In fact, not catching fish affords a reason to go back soon and try again.

>>Carry the correct lifejackets, and ensure kids wear them. Note that lifejackets are classified by the weight of the person to be supported and not their age. A child may need an “infant” life jacket, not because he is less than two years old but because he weighs less than 30 pounds. This jacket has a collar flap that will turn the wearer face up if he ends up in the water. The jacket also has waist and crotch straps to insure it will not slip off, as well as a handle on the collar that an adult can securely grab if a little one should go for an unintended swim. We often take an older friend of Jax who wears a “child” life jacket because he weighs between 30 and 50 pounds. Both jackets are plainly visible in the water, one being bright orange and the other bright yellow.

>>Bring drinks and nutritious snacks appropriate for children. Juices such as apple and grape always seem to be well-received and hopefully, you already know what the kids like to eat (if not, be sure to ask a parent). Don’t forget the sippy cups to put the juice in. Glass containers are never a good idea on a boat and especially if kids are on board and might break them.

>>Pack a waterproof bag with an extra change of clothes, a poncho or small tarp in the event of rain. Include in it hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray and a couple of plastic bags. If the kids get wet, the boat ride back to the ramp in wet clothes can be chilling. Put on dry clothing when it’s time to go. In addition, I don’t want the seat of the tow vehicle getting wet if I can avoid it. One poncho, as opposed to several sets of kid’s raingear, works well should there be a cloud burst. I’ve found that kids actually enjoy huddling together underneath the poncho. Hats and sunglasses are always a hit because the adults are wearing them and they offer vital protection from the sun. Sunscreen needs to be applied before leaving the dock and after each time the kids get wet. Don’t miss a spot (like the tops of the ears or the top of the feet) because they will get burned and you will hear about it later. Lastly, the plastic bags work well to put wet clothes into and keep them away from dry things. Also, kids seem to generate more garbage with their frequent little snacks than most adults do and a plastic bag provides a place to collect it. The bags also provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of not littering our waterways.

 

Essentials for your other "tackle bag."

 

>>Plan some form of entertainment. You might consider bringing plastic, waterproof toys that won’t get ruined if they become wet. Books or crayons and paper to draw on are always a favorite. Put the books and coloring materials in plastic bags to keep them dry before and after use. You might plan a casting competition, or have a crew member who swims go overboard and have the kids practice throwing a flotation device to them. Challenge the kids to point out birds or marine mammals. A child’s attention level can be short and you need to have something planned that they will think of as being different and fun. Then again, if you provide the right ingredients, often they’ll invent with their own fun. A livewell full of bait shrimp or mud minnows comes to mind.

>>Plan for nap time. Depending upon how long you will be on the water, this might be quite helpful for everyone on board. A small blanket, several towels or a bean bag placed out of the sun will likely be enough. For a small infant, a car seat or bouncy chair can be placed in a safe, comfortable place and will give you a bit of rest from having to hold them. However, do not strap an infant into the seat as you would in a car. If the seat should go overboard with the infant strapped in, the life jacket will not function as it was intended.

>>If you’re going to let the kids use their own fishing equipment, get them a reliable but inexpensive rod and reel that is simple to use. If they are having problems with malfunctioning equipment, fixing them is all you will have time for. If the fishing tackle can be broken, it likely will be. And if it is too complicated for them to use, they will easily become frustrated.

>>Remember that kids have to be taught safety and that they may have never been exposed to many of the hazards associated with boating. Hooks, knives and gaffs should not be left lying around. Even coils of rope and loose fishing line present opportunities for a child to become entangled. Motors, engine throttles, control panels, flares and spears all can be dangerous for a child who does not know how to safely use them. Remind kids that when your boat is approaching a dock or another boat, to keep all of their body parts inside the boat to prevent getting fingers or feet crushed.

>>Demonstrate and teach boating ethics. Obey posted speed limitations, pick up your trash and that of others you observe in the water, yield the right of way to smaller boats, slow down when your wake will likely interfere with another boat, don’t run too close to someone who has stopped and is fishing, be respectful of wildlife you observe, and do all that you can to be a steward of the waterways. Trust me on this one; the kids are watching.- FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Aug. 2010

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