With summer fast approaching, many of us can’t wait to get out on the water with our families. These trips are even more enjoyable when kids are active participants more than passengers. Here are eight age-appropriate boating techniques to teach your children, no matter how young they are.
1. Identifying channel markers by shapes and colors. While preschoolers may not be able to read or write, they definitely can tell a red triangle from a green square. They also can tell green buoys from red ones. Have them point out these navigation aids while you’re cruising, and explain what they mean.
2. Knot tying. As soon as your kids can tie their shoes, they can learn to tie a bowline. Make it even more fun by using the memory-aiding story of a rabbit coming out of its hole, going around a tree, and then heading back into its hole. (Google it, and you’ll find dozens of online videos.) Also see our article “5 Basic Boating Knots for Beginners.”
3. Checking fluids. Kids of all ages are capable of keeping an eye on the gas tank, oil levels, and more. They can help check and change the oil in your engine, too, holding the funnel in place or simply unscrewing the container’s cap.
4. Watching the weather. Before you go, task your school-aged children with looking up NOAA forecasts for your area on weather.gov, the National Weather Service website. Out on the water, regardless of age, kids can identify signs of bad weather approaching. These include puffy, vertical clouds getting higher, and dark, ominous clouds, especially to the west or southwest.
5. Checking safety equipment. Put your youngest in charge of ensuring everyone’s life jacket is free of signs of wear, plus buckles properly. Have them count the life jackets and the passengers, too, to double check you have enough for everyone onboard.
6. Cleaning. We know what you’re thinking: Kids hate cleaning their rooms, so how do we get them to clean the boat? Try turning it into a game, where they make soapy shapes on deck, for example. Or, try age-old incentives. The first one to properly chamois their side of the boat gets to choose the restaurant for dinner. With older kids, offer to teach them how to drive, or let them invite a few friends the next time you head out.
7. Plotting courses. Thanks to the map apps on every mobile phone, tweens (9- to 12-year-olds) shouldn’t have difficulty learning to enter waypoints on a touchscreen chartplotter. By summer’s end, they’ll be plotting and capable of reading entire routes like pros.
8. Boat handling. Even though tweens and young teens may not be old enough for a boating license, they can learn the basics of steering. It’s especially smart to teach them in case you or another person at the helm has an emergency. If you’ve already taught them the age-appropriate boating techniques just mentioned, it’s another step toward being a confident boater.