If you live by a recreational body of water (such as a lake, river or even a big puddle), you know the morbid expression, "Use life jackets because kids don't float." As much as I hate the imagery that comes to mind, I agree, kids don't float. However, there are so many factors in keeping your kids (and yourself) safe that it's always good to refresh some basics.

Always wear a life jacket

No matter what the situation is, make sure your kids are covered. The type of PFD (personal flotation device) is really a preference. There are the self-righting types, which help keep someone's head above water in rough seas, and many others. A good site to help you determine what you need for your lil' boaters and for where you're going is Boatsafe.com.

Consider a safety harness

The purpose of a safety harness is to keep a person on board by attaching the child to a strong part of the boat. It's like those leashes you see parents use at theme parks, but without all the stigma. I mean, who's gonna blame you if you leash your kid on a boat? Make sure the harness is short enough to actually keep the kids out of the water while moving. Dragging the kids behind you while motoring is not a pretty thought. 

Keep an eye on the kids at ALL times

This one seems like a no-brainer, but if you have little ones, make certain you have enough people crewing the boat that one person's sole job is to watch the kids. To make things easier, keep them below the cockpit (if you have one) while the boat is moving. We have a Catalina 22 sailboat, and one of the things my husband did was fix the lines so he could single-hand the thing so I can stay below deck and keep an eye on the wee ones when things get rough.

Do NOT drink and boat

Again, this is a no-brainer, but it has to be stated. The focus of a boater and a parent is significantly diminished when alcohol is involved. Save the wine, brews, whatever, for a safe harbor where you can anchor and the kids are sleeping safely. The point is to be on alert for all sorts of danger at all times while on the water. And yes, sailing does still sound like a vacation to me.

The most frustrating thing about boater safety is, it's just unpredictable. After speaking with a member of the Coast Guard for facts and safety rules, I realized there were no predictable rules. Every situation is different. Some situations require a self-righting life vest; some would be better without it. How old are the kids involved and how well can they swim? A life line is excellent while at anchor, but not so great under way (while the boat is moving). Are you boating in cold waters off the Atlantic or pleasure crafting in Lake Havasu?

Thinking about boat safety is like thinking about car safety. There are so many different scenarios that can go wrong, it's impossible to plan for all of them. But you always want to have your seat belt on, and in boats, a life jacket is your seat belt.

The most important tips I got were to be vigilant with my teeny tiny's (a four-year-old and an almost-two-year-old), to put them in life jackets, and to keep one eye on them and one on the river. (We live on the Columbia, one of the most dangerous waterways in the nation.)

Oh, yeah, the Coast Guardsman reminds me — don't forget to have fun.

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