Kids + Boats :: Safety Requirements and Precautions


Throughout my life my family has spent many summer weekends going to the lake and boat riding, and now my boys (ages 5 and 2) are doing the same. The water can be so much fun, but it can also be dangerous if you are inexperienced or lack knowledge about laws and safety measures. Here are some things this super safety-conscious Mom thinks you should know!

Life Vests. Children 12 years of age and younger are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD) on the open deck of a recreational boat when the boat is underway. The floating swimsuits that you buy at Target are typically not U.S. Coast Guard approved. My boys’ favorite life jackets (and I have bought several to try) have been HO brand that I have found at Costco. They are U.S. Coast Guard approved and seem softer and more comfortable than other brands we have tried. Only when used properly can life vests do what they are designed to do, so tighten them up and pay attention to the weight restrictions.

My boys and their cousin love these life vests

The Boat Engine. The engine can be dangerous when it is on, and my family has a few rules.

  • First, turn off the engine if anyone is swimming around the boat. The engine is gasoline-powered, which means it produces carbon monoxide. Therefore, you do not want anyone swimming around a motor that is on for that reason alone. Plus, it can get really hot.
  • Second, the engine has a propeller, and it will cut you (cue Bon Qui Qui’s “I will cut you.”). Therefore, do not ever (EVER) back up the boat when someone is in the water. Again, another reason to keep the boat turned off with swimmers.
  • Third, when the boat is stopped and young children are on board, remove the key from the ignition store it out of their reach. We typically have at least four boys ages 1-5 on the boat between my two boys and their cousins, and we do not want them to be playing around with the key and turn on the motor while swimmers are in the water. And, we sure do not want them to throw it in the water either. Just put it away!

Skiing/Tubing/Knee-boarding. I started skiing when I was 5, and it is so much fun. However, here are some tips for keeping anyone behind the boat safe.

  • The most experienced driver should be at the wheel of the boat, and there should always be someone else on the boat to watch the skier (or tuber, etc.) so that the driver can keep their eyes out for other boats and obstructions.
  • Once a skier falls into the water, they should hold up one ski straight up to make sure boats can see them until they can be retrieved. The driver of the boat should immediately turn around to pick up the skier.
  • The driver of the boat should keep the person in the water on the drivers’ side of the boat when driving to pick them up so that the person in the water is visible at all times to the driver.
  • The skier, driver, and boat passengers should have some agreed upon hand signals to help make sure everyone is on the same page. Thumbs up = speed up; Thumbs down= slow down; Hand up = stop. It does not have to be complicated.

Boating Safety/Registration Requirements. If you have ever been stopped by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) on the water, you know that they will check for several things before letting you move along. First, your boat has to have current registration paperwork with corresponding sticker on the outside of the boat. Second, your boat has to have enough life vests on board for all passengers (only those 12 and under have to be wearing them). Finally, you have to have a fire extinguisher and a paddle on board. The TWRA does not need a reason to check for these things, and they can stop you at any time. Think about it as a car roadblock designed to keep everyone safe.

Alcohol on the Water. We all know that if you drive a car under the influence of alcohol (or drugs), you are putting your life and others in danger and also risk being charged with a DUI. The same rules apply on the water in the form of a BUI- or Boating Under the Influence. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher is illegal in Tennessee, and research has shown that boaters often feel the effects of alcohol sooner because of glaring sun, engine vibration, and wave motion. So, designate a driver!

Keeping these safety tips in mind and using common sense can make for a more fun, relaxing summer on the water. Don’t forget the sunscreen and the snacks- being on the water makes kiddos (and adults) very hungry!





  1. My dad always made sure we kept away from the engine at all times, no matter what. Even though I was in my late teens at the time, he was still uncomfortable with me being around it. I can see why though, there’s a lot of potential risks involved with them. Thanks for sharing the tips.

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