Boating Safety

August 22, 2011

MILWAUKEE - Boating is meant to be fun for the whole family. In 2009, however, 18 children younger than 13 lost their lives to boating, and half of these children died from drowning. Simple steps, especially wearing life jackets and actively supervising your kids, can prevent harm.

Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin Coalition recommends that parents "look" over their children without distraction and "learn" about how to properly use life jackets. Children younger than 14 should wear life jackets not only on boats, but also near open bodies of water or when participating in water sports.

Safe Kids urges parents and caregivers to wear life jackets on boats or other watercraft as well. "Your children will pick up and embrace your safety habits," said Lisa Klindt Simpson, Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin coordinator. According to a study by Safe Kids Worldwide, children are much more likely to practice safe habits when they see similar behavior by parents and caregivers.

"On a boat, everyone should wear a life jacket at all times," said Klindt Simpson. "Look for a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Water wings and other inflatable swimming aids such as inner tubes do not prevent drowning."

Safe Kids also reminds parents and caregivers:

  • Make sure life jackets fit snugly. Have the child make a "touchdown" signal — if the life jacket hits the child's chin or ears, the life jacket may be too big or the straps are too loose. 
  • Enroll your kids in swimming lessons taught by a certified instructor. 
  • Do not let kids operate or ride on personal watercraft such as jet skis.
  • Never drink alcoholic beverages while boating. Many boating accidents each year involve alcohol consumption by both boat operators and passengers. 
  • Nobody should swim near a dock or marina with electrical hookups or lighting — swimmers can be electrocuted in the water and drown. 
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector on your motorboat to alert you to dangerous levels of exhaust fumes. 
  • Learn infant and child CPR. In less than two hours, you can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child who has fallen into water and become unconscious. Local hospitals, fire departments and recreation departments offer CPR training.

"These precautions are important, but they are no substitute for constant and active adult supervision," said Klindt Simpson.

A member of Safe Kids Worldwide, Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin works to prevent accidental injuries, the leading cause of death among children age 14 and younger. The four-county (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha) coalition combines the expertise of community agencies and individuals to prevent childhood injuries through collaboration, education, policy and advocacy initiatives. Children's Health Education Center, a member of Children's Hospital and Health System, is its lead agency. For more information, call (866) 228-5670.

Children's Health Education Center and e-learning programs offer resources and programs for children, teachers, parents and caregivers to help keep kids healthy and safe. These health education programs are delivered online, at our center or in the classroom. For more information, visit