How to Safely Have Baby on a Boat



When my husband finally looked at me and said, “we should take her on the boat!” My immediate response was to cringe. THE BOAT?!?! But she’s so little and she can’t swim. What would I do if something happened? I mean, realistically it’s every mama’s fear; having their little one near water. Even her first bath had me completely panic stricken, until I got the hang of it. It’s understandable, and it’s good to be cautious! But the reality is, we’re a boating family. It’s what we do every summer. We start planning in the late winter and spring what we will need, what the boat will need, and when we should go get it out of storage to start getting it ready for the water. Like anything in life, preparation and practice will lead to success. So if you and your family are itching to get on the water with your tiniest addition, here are a few questions to first ask yourself:

Is our boat big enough?

Do I know the laws about boating with infants in my state?

Does my boat have all the appropriate up-to-date safety equipment? (I.e. Life jackets, fire extinguishers, ect.)

Is the boat in excellent working condition?

Am I a going to be able to give the baby my full attention while aboard?

Am I an excellent swimmer?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then you’re probably ready to learn some tricks and tips to make sure your baby is happy and enjoys his or her first boat ride. If you answered no even to one of these questions, please address it and satisfy it before you consider taking your baby out on the water.

I currently live in Ohio, so we adhere to Ohio’s boating laws and safety regulations. Please note that the precautions and tips I’m going to go over are going to be in ADDITION to following all boating and safety laws in your state (For Ohio’s safety laws and regulations please Click Here).

Next, a good rule of thumb is to get the okay from your pediatrician. Mine okay’d it. I say this because your pediatrician knows your babies health best (aside from you mama), so they will be best to give you the “all clear” to be on the water. Who knows, maybe they’ll have some tips too!

Okay so let’s talk about size of your boat… In my state children on boats less than 18ft are required to wear lifejackets. The smaller the boat, the less that boat will absorb the impacts of waves and wakes from the water and other boaters. Why is this important? Well a smaller boat is going to be a much bouncier ride! If you have your baby on a small boat it may make it harder to hold on to them if you accidentally hit a big wave or wake. Yes I know, your worst nightmare. Aside from that, a bouncier boat could make your child sea sick. The more bouncier boat and constant rocking could upset your little ones stomach.
All in all, my opinion on this is, if the boat is under 18ft long best to not bring your little one aboard. If you must, keep baby in the lifejacket at all times, that included boarding and disembarking off the boat. Make sure you get that babe in his/her lifejacket before your feet hit the dock! Also, make sure you are taking your little one out on the water on a calm day when there are very little to no waves at all (this is hard to do in an ocean but fine on a lake). This will help keep the motion sickness at bay.

So let’s talk about 19+ft boats and what a typical day would look like for getting out on the water. The first thing I look at is always the temperature, as you might have guessed. If it is 85 degrees or hotter I try my best to limit prime time hours; between 10-4pm when the sun is its hottest. This may mean taking a boat ride in the early morning (great for fishing) or later at night. Under 85 degrees, we just make sure the little one will have constant access to shade.
I recommend if your boat has a Bimini cover, now is the time to put it on and keep it on. If you don’t have one, and you can afford it, it’s a nice option to have on your boat. Your child will probably need access to shade for the next 10 years or so, and this will allow you and your family to stay out on the water longer. You can find covers anywhere from $100 to about $400 dollars, depending on your boat. Think: Short term pain, long term gain.


Okay, so it’s a nice 84 degree day and you have your Bimini top on your boat ready to go. Now what?

Key to enjoying the water is all about preparation. You’ll want to make sure you have everything you and your baby will need to be happy on the open seas. First check your diaper bag, and make sure you have a light weight cotton change of clothes for your little one. Make you sure have plenty of baby wipes and diapers. Also, make sure you have a portable mat so you can do diaper changes on the boat if need be. Basically make sure your diaper bag is stocked and ready to go! Nothing is worse than getting the boat out on the water, and then realizing you have left their favorite pacifier at home!

Now here are the must have items that you may not have thought of:

A good sunscreen– now if your baby is under 6 months you should always consult with your pediatrician before using it. My pediatrician told us that if we were going to be on the water on a really hot day with no shade, putting a little sunscreen lightly on arms neck and legs would be fine. Now of course, we have a Bimini top on our boat, so my daughter always has access to shade. But I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it! Here’s the two I love and have used so far:

Click Images to PurchaseCalifornia babyAveeno

Now, if your baby is over 6 months make sure your baby has adequate sunscreen on their body!

SPF Bathing Suit– most baby stores will sell infant bathing suits that have SPF in them. I have two right now. One that covers more surface area, and one that covers less. The hotter it is outside, the less layers and clothes we put on baby; always a good rule of thumb.

Sun Hat– I have two on hand. Why? Because any good boater would know this will most likely be the first thing to fly away, and it’s nice to have a backup. Now if your baby was born with a full head of hair, their scalp will be less likely to burn in the sun, and this isn’t AS important. However, if you have a bald baby, make sure you keep this on your baby at all times!
Click here to buy

Fluids– now I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, I’m just going to assume you’ll know most of this. But please, please, PLEASE, don’t skimp on fluids! Have a little cooler for your baby with plenty of formula or pumped breastmilk. And if you’re a breastfeeding mom like me, make sure you, mama, have tons and tons of water! Keep yourself SUPER hydrated so you can keep your baby hydrated. The sun will take the water out of you and your little one fast, and if you are dehydrated you’ll notice an immediate drop in your milk supply. NOT GOOD when your little one is in the heat. Dehydration can lead to heat stroke quickly, so please, keep everyone stocked with plenty of liquids.

Baby Wash Clothes–  my hubby had this great idea on one of our boating trips and we no longer go on boat rides without it. If your baby get’s a little warm, or you just want to keep their temperature in check. Periodically, take the baby wash cloth and dip it in the cooler of ice, pour bottled water, or dip in fresh lake water (don’t in salty sea water) and get that wash cloth wet with nice cold water. Ring it out so its not dripping wet and apply on baby! I usually get my babes hair all wet and gently press it on her forehead, cheeks, chest, feet, and legs. This will help cool off baby quickly. My little one always loves it when I do!

Click here to buy

Baby Wipes–  now this was a trick my sister (a firefighter paramedic) told me; I’m personally not sure the science behind it, but I trust her! She told me once, that when she would have patients in the ambulance suffering from heat stroke, they would wipe the person down with baby wipes. Apparently the chemicals contained in baby wipes help draw out heat, and will help reduce body temperature. So I recommend, even you cloth wiping mamas, have a travel pack of these on you! I periodically wipe my baby down preventively, to make sure she never gets to that point; we’ve never had problem with over heating.

Portable Fan–  okay this is so great, even to attach to your stroller while going for a walk! We take this on the boat, and I have been known to clip it on to her lifejacket which is just a nice added feature to have to keep your little one cool. Make sure to buy a baby safe one, so if they touch it on accident it won’t hurt them. Click here to buy!

dreambaby fan

Baby Sunglasses- these are nice to have, especially if your little one has light eyes since they are more sensitive to sunlight. My little one does not like them and cries when I put them on her, so I don’t. But, I always have them handy just in case.

Age and Weight Appropriate LifeJacket– now this should be a given, especially since you are already following boating laws in your state. But make sure your baby has an age appropriate lifejacket, and make sure they weigh enough to wear it! Test the lifejacket in a bathtub to make sure it is not defective prior to use. Then test the lifejacket with baby in it, in a bathtub prior to use; NEVER LET GO OF BABY IN THE LIFEJACKET. Always keep hands on your child and ensure you are supporting their neck and head, keeping it above water. Things to look for when checking your lifejacket:

Is the whole jacket floating?
Is my child secure?
Does the jacket keep baby’s head above water?
Does my baby head and chin stay above the lifejacket?
Will your baby slip out the side or bottom or the lifejacket?

If you answered no to any of these questions, the lifejacket does not fit properly and your baby either needs a new lifejacket or is not ready for the water.

Quick Recap:

Have Bimini Cover on the boat
Make sure the boat is proper length for comfortable ride for baby (19ft+)
84 degrees and under is good weather
85 degrees and above stay out of prime time heat
Check that water will be calm and safe
Check that you have all essentials in diaper bag including
SPF bathing suit
Baby Wash Cloth
Good sunscreen

Okay now a couple things to keep in mind while on the boat:

The safest place for your baby is in your arms! I have heard so many, in my opinion, horror stories of women leaving their babies in pack-n-plays, bouncy seats, or play mats while on boats (if your horrified, I was to). I would think this goes without saying, but please always keep hands on your baby while on the boat. If you can’t hold on to baby, please have someone you TRUST holding your baby. Things shift and move while on the water, and can easily be thrown over board by wind, wake, or water. So be safe and never get too comfortable while on open water. Always make sure baby is well attended to.
Make sure to never strap your baby into anything other than his/her lifejacket. It’s easy to think, “well I’ll just keep them in their carseat, they’ll be comfy and shaded!” NO! Even the lightest car seat is heavy, and they do not float. Worse case scenario if your babies car seat goes over board with little one strapped in, it will sink directly to the bottom. Not to be graphic here and give you nightmares, but these things have happened to women all over the world, and this is why we know this is not safe. Also, aside from the safety aspects, the plastic on carseats heats up quickly, and your babies car seat will quickly get warm while outside. It’s best to just leave the seat in the car so your not tempted. Once again, baby is safest in your arms.

Now my little one loves the water, and loves being on the boat; the light rocking usually puts her to sleep. But it is important to be watching for signs of overheating. If babies cheeks become light pink, baby is getting warm. It may be a good time to pour some water over their body or use the baby wash cloth or a baby wipe to cool the little one off. If baby becomes abnormally lethargic or hard to wake, you need to get off the water immediately!

Click Here for signs of Heat Stroke in Babies!

Now most of the signs will be hard to tell if your little one can’t talk yet, so here’s what I think you should pay attention to in addition to the previous signs:

Red Cheeks
Unusually Sleepy
Cranky or Crying uncontrollably for no reason
Red spotted rash developing
Rapid Heart rate

If you notice any or all of these signs on your baby, start the cool down procedure immediately (i.e. use baby wipes, pour cold water on babies body, baby wash cloth on forehead and hair ect), and get off the water as fast as you can. If baby is not waking or goes unconscious, always call 911!

Now let me reiterate, that I am not a medical professional in any capacity, these are tips and tricks to boating that have worked for my family. We have never had any issue with heat stroke, dehydration, or any problems that I listed above. But I want to make you aware, to the best of my knowledge, so you can prepare for worst case scenario. If you are periodically taking steps to cool your little one down, making sure they stay hydrated during the trip, and keep them in the shade; you will most likely never have to worry about any of these problems. But knowledge is power.

As I said earlier I breastfeed, and I will be honest it can be very hard to do in those bulky lifejackets. When I need to feed my baby while on the water, I do take her out of her lifejacket. When she is older, and it does not cover her whole body, this will not be the case. The neck support on the lifejacket, while functional for safety, is not so functional for feeding. I make sure the boat is off, and the engine is off, and we are anchored before I remove the lifejacket. Sit somewhere shaded and out of boat traffic (maybe a cove or lagoon), this will help avoid wakes. Then proceed to feed your little one as much as they need. Remember, that while they are in the sun they may need to eat for longer stretches or may eat more frequently. Be sure you are also paying attention to where you are sitting on the boat. Often times, you can still get sunburnt from the glare beaming off the water upwards toward you. So keep your little one nice and shaded from any sunlight. It may be nicer to sit on the floor while you feed. When they are finished eating, immediately put the lifejacket back on. I do the same for diaper changes. Now, if you baby is older and in a less bulky lifejacket, or you do not have problems feeding while baby is in the lifejacket; always try feeding with them in the lifejacket first! Keep in mind, your particular state may require your baby to ALWAYS have a lifejacket on, if that is the case you may want to consider bringing pumped milk with you.

It’s also best to do slow exposure to heat, sun, and boating with your little one. Instead of your first trip out being all day in hot weather, why not go for a short cruise after dinner to test the waters and your limits. This will help you identify things you may want to have on hand, or maybe don’t need to bring. It will also let you know if your baby responds well to the noise and rocking, or not. Rather than planning a big day out, and having to turn around for a cranky baby. I usually drive separately to the dock most boating days, so if the baby gets fussy, my husband can take us back to the dock and we can get off the water quickly. Plus, then he can stay out longer once we’re off. Most days, we are able to stay out for a long time and have a blast! But test it out with your family first! Then gradually, increase the length of time you spend on the water. This will get your baby used to the sights and sounds slowly, and will also get you more accustomed to being on the open seas with your little one. Keep in mind, you will most likely be losing your mind on your first time, and that’s also normal. You will get used to it, so will your baby, and soon you will be sailing off with ease, enjoying the waves and your boat just like you did pre-baby!

Comment below with some of your tips and tricks, and please let me know how this worked or didn’t work for you and your family!

Happy Boating!





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