With a 13-month old baby son in her one arm and the steering wheel in the other, I watched as a new mum, Whitney, helmed their 18-foot Bayliner Element XL. Her wife, Tiffany, untied the lines, pushed us off the dock, then quickly hopped onboard and settled into a seat. Whitney passed her Brent (or “Baby B” as everyone calls him) as we slowly made our way out of the marina.
Thinking back now, this was a situation where I probably should have volunteered to lend a hand - but to be honest, my body was frozen in respect and admiration. How were these two new mums doing so well not only handling a baby, but a boat too? I know from personal experience that handling a boat can sometimes be quite a challenge, and then to think about factoring in caring for a baby or toddler on top of that! I was in awe, and I would continue to be in awe for the rest of the afternoon as Baby B and his parents showed me just how seamless and fun boating with babies and toddlers can be.
If you love boating, then you probably have just as much love for sharing the experience with the people closest to you—whether that’s a significant other, friends, or even the newest little member of your family. While boating with a baby doesn’t come without its challenges, once you see that smile light up on your little one’s face you’ll realise that the rewards are well worth it.
Take a look at our top 10 tips for safe, stress-free boating with your baby:
1. Designate a secure, protected baby-friendly area on your boat
There are times when, you need all hands on deck — whether it’s when you’re docking, dropping anchor, or even in the rare case of an emergency. In these situations and in cases where you only have one or two additional people onboard, sometimes it won’t be possible to have one person holding and caring for the baby while the other(s) performs the necessary actions for the circumstances. By designating a safe area on your boat where you can sit the baby down without the risk of them falling or moving around, you’ll reduce your own stress and you’ll have a proactive solution when these types of situations arise.
2. Be prepared for naps
You should always bring along a portable rocker, carry cot or bouncer with you onboard. Not only will this assist with creating a safe area on your boat as suggested in our first tip, but it will also give you a great place to put down your baby when you need to be hands-free. And as soon as naptime rolls around, you’ll be happy you brought it. Your baby will be sleeping soundly to the gentle rocking of the boat. A soft carrier or sling is also very useful, this is when baby wearing comes into its own.
3. Create some shade
When you’re floating out in the middle of the water, the sun can start to feel like a heat lamp hanging right above your head. The last thing you want is for your little one to feel overheated or sick when you’re miles—by supplying some shade you can help prevent that. A bimini top works perfect to block the sun and keep a large portion of your boat cool. It’s also not a bad idea to bring along a sun hat and an extra beach umbrella to give your baby another layer of protection, especially for use off the boat when the bimini top can’t provide coverage. And of course, don’t forget to bring plenty of sunscreen.
4. Choose your timing carefully
All waterways have primetime boating hours. Generally most boaters will head out around mid to late morning and then stay out on the water until late afternoon or early evening. Pick midweek days if possible as they are generally quieter. To avoid the rush, it’s a smart idea to start your day as early as possible or wait until most boaters have made their way back to their docks later in the afternoon. Not only will this cut down on the increase in boat traffic, but normally early mornings and evenings provide cooler temperatures and smoother waters—both of which are ideal conditions when boating with an infant.
5. Pack plenty of supplies
Make sure your nappy bag is waterproof and stock up on the essentials: formula if you're not breastfeeding, food, water and snacks for older babies, swimming nappies, spare clothes, towels, sunscreen and whatever else you think you might need for the day. It’s a good rule of thumb to pack more than you think you’ll need.
6. Don’t forget your baby’s lifejacket and appropriate clothing
Just like every other person onboard, your baby must have their own personal lifejacket (sometimes referred to as personal floatation device, or PFD) that fits them properly. You’ll notice that all infant lifejackets have an additional head cushion that provides extra protection. Ensure your baby is appropriately clothed, sun suits and sun hats are ideal for sunny days, but remember it can get cold very quickly too. Pack some warmer things as well and an extra change of clothes.
7. Your baby's safest seat is right in your arms
Unlike cars, boats do not have car seats, which can sometimes raise the question: where should my little one sit while the boat is in motion? The answer to that is right on your lap. It’s also important to note that your baby should always wear his or her infant lifejacket at all times while the boat is moving. With the baby safe in your arms when cruising, this assures that they will not fall or injury themselves on any part of the boat.
8. Plan for fun in the water
When it’s time to drop anchor or pull up on a beach, that’s when the fun really starts. You’ll love seeing your baby’s eyes light up as they splash around in the water or crawl around in the sand. Don’t forget to bring along a baby water float, which you can actually tie up to the boat so the float stays in place. Sand and bath toys are also good options to help your baby have fun in the sun.
9. Plan for fun on the boat
To keep your baby happy and occupied while onboard, bring along plenty of their favorite toys from home. Just one suggestion: even though they’ll be playing with these toys while onboard, it’s a good idea to stick to the waterproof toys or toys that don't mind getting wet.
10. Recruit an army of ready and willing babysitters
Every parent needs some back-up every once in a while, so be sure to invite plenty of friends and family members out on your boat. With little to no persuasion, these volunteer babysitters will be more than willing to take the little cutie off your hands. Not only will this make handling the boat a lot easier, but it might also give you some extra time to relax ensuring your experience of boating with babies is a positive one.
Although boating with a baby can be difficult at first, it won’t take long to create a routine that will make the whole experience easier and easier as time goes on. Before you know it, your little one will love boating just as much as you do.
There are plenty of ways to help ease their first steps and help to ensure that they really get the bug. Playing boaty games with them and role play can help to ensure they ware excited and keen and not scared of a boat. This is also a great way to get them familiar with any new types of clothing or equipment, especially lifejackets and other essential items. Try reading a few of our 25 best boating books for children and also check out our feature Get your family boating in 6 steps, which includes some more great advice.