Skip to navigation menu Skip to content


Happy little girl on a boat ride.

Boat Safety: Prepare for Unpredictable Dangers

By Dr. Peter C. Grosso, Nansemond Pediatrics

Boating is an exciting activity for families everywhere. No matter what type of body of water you are boating on, make sure to take the necessary precautions for you and your family.

  • Check the weather before heading out. Even the warmest and sunniest of days can end with an unpredicted storm. Gusting winds can create choppy water that can result in your boat capsizing. Make sure you have a plan in the event your boat capsizes.
  • Wear a life jacket. All passengers should be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that is selected for their weight and water activity while on the boat. That way, even if they end up in the water, they will remain above water until they can be rescued.
  • Never swim in a marina or near docks with electrical power. A marina houses hundreds of boats coming in and out. Never swim in a marina where a boat could run you over. Also, never swim near a dock with electrical power to avoid the risk of electrocution.
  • Have a spotter while enjoying towed water sports. Make sure there is an adult, besides the driver, acting as a spotter in case a child falls in water during activities like tubing, kneeboarding, or wakeboarding. It is also important to avoid high traffic areas while participating in these sports.
  • Teach children where it is safe to ride. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, no passenger should ride on the bow, gunwale (the upper edge of the side of a boat), transom (the flat surface forming the stern), seatbacks, or other locations where they could fall overboard and under the boat.
  • Turn the engine off when people are near the boat. Even when coming back on the boat after enjoying towed water sports, it’s important to turn the engine off to avoid a propeller strike. You should also make everyone aware of where propellers are located and the dangers of them.
  • Have the proper safety equipment. Make sure you have a ladder so children can safely get back on the boat from the water and a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life preserver that can be thrown to a child in the water if needed. In the event of an emergency, and you don’t have cell service, a VHF radio will allow you to call for help. Find more equipment regulations from the Virginia DWR.

For all water situations

  • Go over the rules before entering any water situation. Lay down strict rules and go over each one before entering any situation with a body of water.
  • Teach your child to ask permission. Your child should know to ask permission before getting into or even approaching the water.
  • Provide “touch supervision” for non-swimmers. For infants, toddlers, and any children who are not swimmers, an adult should be in the pool providing “touch supervision,” meaning they are within arm’s reach of the child.
  • Never leave a child unattended. Even if a lifeguard is present, it’s important that you, or a designated person, is always supervising your child. With older kids, you can establish a buddy system with another child so they are never alone, but you should still keep watch.
  • Teach your child to never pretend to drown. If your child pretends to be drowning, and the lifeguard or another adult takes them seriously, their display could prevent someone else’s life from being saved.
  • Teach your child how to swim. Swimming skills are as important as safety strategies in keeping children safe.
  • Enter the water feet first. The safest way to enter the water is feet first to avoid head injuries. If your experienced swimmer wants to dive, make sure they know the appropriate depth for diving and never to dive into the shallow end or any body of water with an unknown depth.
  • Teach kids to get out of the water before they become tired. Swimming can drain your child’s energy, especially when you factor in the hot sun. Set a time limit for swimming and stick to it.
  • Wear a life vest. Life vests can help your inexperienced swimmer stay above water if they fall in or wander out on their own. Inflatable “floaties” are not a substitute for life jackets/vests.
  • No swimming during thunder and lightning.
  • Don’t allow horseplay. Dunking can seem playful until a child doesn’t realize their peer is struggling. Don’t allow horseplay and never dunk your child, even playfully.
  • Teach your children about the dangers of the water. Your child doesn’t want to get hurt just as much as you. Make them aware of the dangers of playing in water so they will take care in any situation.
  • Keep a phone nearby in case of emergency. Be prepared to call for help if needed by keeping a phone nearby at all times. Make sure it is charged and easy to locate.
  • Know CPR.All parents should learn infant and child CPR. Proper training in this first-aid technique can make a lifesaving difference until emergency help arrives. Check with your pediatrician or the American Red Cross for information about an approved CPR course in your area.

Like this post?

Sign up to receive our once monthly email with more kids' health tips from the region's most trusted name in pediatric health care.

About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.