Keeping Kids Safe on the Water

 You’re enjoying an afternoon on the water with your child, and then suddenly you lose sight of him. He falls off the boat or gets pulled underwater by a current. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. What should a parent do to keep a child safe during such terrifying situations?

kid safety

“The most important thing you can do, without a doubt, is make sure everyone wears an appropriate personal flotation device,” shares Sgt. Brian Staton, supervisor for James City County Police Department’s Marine Patrol Unit.

I can’t stress that enough. A personal flotation device will protect them and give them a chance at survival until they are found.”

Life jackets come in all shapes and sizes for all ages, even as young as toddlers. Make sure your child wears one with the right fit. The vest should be snug and not be loose enough where it will ride up in the back and fall off when your child is in the water.

Whether you are in a boat on the river or at the beach, it is important to keep as close a watch on your family members as possible.

“Maintaining contact at all times is critical,” Staton says. “You also want to read all posted warning signs about swimming and adhere to that. That is not something to be taken lightly. Rip currents are something to be careful about. Look at the water conditions. A lot of times you can see dangerous, swift currents. Be observant and pay attention to your environment and move somewhere else if you think it is too dangerous.”

Prior to boarding a boat, make sure the boat is safe and secure, and that it includes the proper safety equipment in the event of an emergency, as well as enough life jackets for every person on board. In Virginia, all motorboat and personal water craft operators (such as jet skis) are also required to take a boating safety education course.

“The driver needs to know how to safely operate the boat,” Staton says. “That’s important.”

Teach children to never run on the dock. Before you board the boat, make sure you bring only what is necessary and pay attention to the maximum number of people permitted on board; you don’t want to overload the boat.

“Make sure kids remain seated on the boat,” Staton advises. “Don’t ever stand up or hang over the edge of the boat while the boat is underway.”Look out for other watercraft in the area and avoid driving too fast or too close to another vehicle. Also avoid alcohol use while on a boat.

“You don’t want to put anyone else in jeopardy,” Staton says. “We want people to have the opportunity to enjoy our natural resources here. We want people to have a good time, but we also want them to be safe.”

For more information on Virginia’s boat safety education requirements, visit

About the author

Brandy Centolanza

Brandy Centolanza is a freelance writer who has contributed regularly to The Health Journal since 2005. She covers health, travel, parenting, education and community issues for several publications in Hampton Roads and Richmond. Brandy lives in James City County with her husband, two children and two cats.

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