Summer will soon be upon us and for many families summer means boating – pack a lunch, grab the kids, and enjoy a fun-filled day of sun and cool breezes on the nation’s many coastal and inland waterways. If you’re one of those families, be sure to make it a fun and safe outing for everyone on board, especially those littlest boaters.
Nearly 13 million recreational boats are registered in the United States, making some marinas as noisy and crowded as a freeway at rush hour. Federal law requires that children under 13 years of age must wear a life jacket whenever a boat is underway, unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. On some state waters this requirement may vary by the age of the child and the length of the boat, so you should check with your state boating agency or visit the website of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators www.NASBLA.org for information on state requirements.
But consider taking an extra measure of safety. The Coast Guard recommends that boaters wear a life jacket at all times on the water, regardless of age. Children, especially very young children, often don’t understand danger. Know that a life jacket can help protect your child on the water, as well as in hazardous areas around piers.
Children’s life jackets now have lots of eye appeal too. Marine manufacturers have incorporated new designs and technologies into children’s safety equipment, coming up with life jackets and life jacket-type swimwear in bright colors and cartoon prints. Children’s jackets are also constructed to provide extra protection. Many models for infants and toddlers have built-in head support that will the turn the wearer face-up in the water, and most are built with extra buoyancy or other safety features just for children.
Height and weight can vary widely within age groups, so taking your child along for a life jacket fitting is very important. Remember that swim aids and water wings are toys and do not meet safety requirements.
Look for the U.S. Coast Guard approval label on the inside of the life jacket. This tells you the jacket has passed stringent tests for safety and durability. Check the label and match your child’s weight to the range listed. Note that although some children in the 30-50 pound weight range who can swim may like the extra freedom of movement that a Type III life vest or belt pack provides, most children in this weight range, especially those who can’t swim, should wear a Type II life jacket. The label will tell you which type it is.
Getting a good fit is important. Unlike shoes, a child’s life jacket should fit snugly from day one. Don’t make the mistake of buying a life jacket that a child will “grow into.”
To check for a good fit, put the life jacket on your child and then lift him or her up by the shoulders of the jacket. If the jacket fits correctly, it will not ride up and the child’s chin and ears will not slip through. A properly sized life jacket will stay in place even when a child is lifted into the air.