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#MomLife: Boating with baby: Six tips to leave a lasting experience

Boating with a baby, though fun, comes with a whole list of challenges
Enjoying a first paddle on Charlie Lake: Boating takes a little more time than a quick jaunt to the park, so timing is key, writes A.M. Cullen.

Both being canoe instructors in our teens, my partner and I were thrilled with the purchase of a Clipper canoe this year. We’ve been patiently waiting for the ice to melt and summer weather to arrive for our inaugural launch. I quickly realized that boating with a baby, though fun, comes with a whole list of challenges. 

We’re canoers in our household, but these tips could easily apply to motor boat outings as well. Here are a few tips we learned from our first excursion out in Charlie Lake.

Wait until baby packs on the pounds

It helped that with our winters we had to wait a while until there was physical water for us to float on, but we also needed to wait for baby to grow a bit bigger. The U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety recommends that babies weigh at least 18 pounds before boating. This usually means you want to wait until your baby is four to 11 months old. The infant life jackets (there are lots at Canadian Tire!) start at 18 pounds and have a lot of choices on fit.

Make sure everyone is wearing a PFD — baby too

For all you experienced boaters out there, hopefully this is a no brainer. Yes, PFDs aren’t the most flattering and can be awkward (holding a squirming baby when you’re both wearing a lifejacket proves to a be a hold new level of challenge!), but they do save lives. According to the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, drowning is a leading cause of death in children and, on average, B.C. has 76 drowning deaths per year.

What we found helpful in our house was having baby practice wearing her PFD around the house multiple times before we attempted our first trip. When she gets fidgety, take a break and try again another day.

Time your outing

After waiting for baby to grow a bit bigger, and with lots of practice wearing her PFD, we planned our first day. Boating takes a little more time than a quick jaunt to the park, so timing was key. Use your baby’s nap schedules to plan when to go out. If your baby is picky about her nap routines like ours, you don’t want to be out on the water when she’s hungry or needs a nap. For us, we planned to be right out the door after her first nap and packed a portable lunch with us.

Prepare the supplies

Like any outing, make sure the diaper bag is stocked. When you’re out on the water, there are a few extra things you might need. A squirming baby can make any new parent nervous when you’re out on the water, so packing some distraction toys and a few portable snacks can be helpful. The sun is especially reflective out there, so make sure you and baby have your sun gear: a good hat and sunscreen. 

Depending on the area you’re paddling – especially in shallow water – you’ll also want to throw in a bottle of bug spray into your diaper bag.

Stay close to shore

Heading out on Charlie Lake from the boat launch, we paddled along the shoreline. There are two good reasons to stay close to the shore. First, it tends to be less windy, which makes it easier to control your boat. Second, in the event your boat flips, you want to be close enough to swim to shore.

Quit while it’s fun

I received this golden piece of advice when I was 16 when I started working Summer Day Camps and have used it hundreds of times since – both as a teacher and as a mom. If you want to be able to do an activity again in the future, make sure to throw in the towel while everyone is still having a good time. When you’re boating with a baby, be prepared that this may only be 10 minutes — that’s how long we lasted! But, if you can make that 10 minutes a positive experience, baby will be more likely to want to try again the next time you go out. 

Happy boating!

A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John.

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