For some families, boating is a favorite pastime and one that parents are eager to enjoy with their children. But taking an infant on board a boat requires certain precautions to ensure the safety of such a vulnerable passenger. The water, the movement and the sun all pose risks to babies, so be sure you know how to adequately protect your infant before you plan a boat outing.
Choosing a Life Jacket
Although not all states require that infants wear life jackets, a personal flotation device, or PFD, is absolutely essential for protecting your baby on board a boat. Choose a Type II PFD that matches your child’s weight range and has a crotch strap to keep the jacket from riding up. Look for a label that reads "Approved for use on recreational boats and uninspected commercial vessels not carrying passengers for hire, by persons weighing __ lbs.," or something similar. Never use water wings, armbands or inflatable water toys in place of a properly-fitting PFD.
Testing Life Jackets
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recommends testing the fit of your infant’s PFD by lifting your baby up with the shoulders of the vest. His ears and chin should not slip through the neck hole. Before you board the boat, test the PFD in the water by securing your child in the jacket and getting into the water with her. The PFD should keep her face-up when she’s floating alone.
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends against taking infants under 18 lbs. on a boat. PFDs for babies that small may not fit properly or perform as they’re supposed to in the water. If you must take a small infant on board, be certain to test her life jacket both in and out of the water ahead of time to make sure she won’t slip through the neck hole and that her head will remain above water when she's floating freely.
Infants are especially vulnerable to sunburn on the open water, so keep your baby as protected as possible by using a wide-brimmed hat with a chin strap and UV protective clothing. Use sunblock on babies 6 months or older, suggests the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's best to keep younger babies out of the sun. If your boat has a canopy, keep your baby under its shade as much as possible or use an umbrella. Your baby can easily become dehydrated by the sun and heat, so bring plenty of fluids on board, and offer them to her frequently.
Babies should be under constant adult supervision on the boat and the dock, and adults should wear properly fitting life jackets; your baby needs you to be safe in order to protect her. Anyone watching the baby or driving the boat should refrain from drinking alcohol. Never leave your baby inside his car seat on the boat, since it would quickly sink in the event of an accident. Always hold your baby tightly when the boat is moving. If you’re in a power boat, remind the driver to take waves slowly to keep the ride smooth; the sudden jolt of taking bumpy water quickly can snap a baby’s head around.