One of the best ways to have fun as a family outdoors in the summertime is to spend the day out boating on the lake. Not only will your children discover new ways to entertain themselves beyond TV and video games, but they also can learn valuable lessons about nature and navigation. To ensure everyone has a great time on board, however, it’s important to make a list in advance of items to take with you. Here are some suggestions of what to pack for a day on the lake with the kids.
- Life jackets. When you are planning a boating adventure, “safety first” is a great place to start. Make sure to pack enough life jackets for everyone who is coming along. You will need a life jacket that is the proper size to fit each child and/or infant who will be on board, including any of your kids’ friends who may be invited. Don’t assume the friends will bring their own life jackets. You are responsible for their safety while they are on your boat. View this handy guide to proper life jacket use for children before heading out. Here’s another guide that can help with life jacket use for infants.
- Sun protection and first-aid kit. Pack sunscreen that is formulated for children as well as one for adults. Hats and rash guards also can help to protect you and the kids from harmful UV rays. Here are some more sun-safety tips to observe while spending the day on the water. If you don’t already have a first-aid kit on board your boat, bring along a basic one. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but it may come in handy if a little one should scrape a knee or elbow during your outing.
- Hydration. When it’s sunny and hot out on the lake, it’s essential to keep drinking fluids. But children often are having so much fun they forget to drink enough water. Be sure to not only pack plenty of water for everyone on board, but also fruit or other flavored drinks that your kids enjoy. (Soda is not recommended because it can be dehydrating.) Sucking on watermelon cubes is another fun way everyone can stay hydrated. If your boat does not have a built-in cooler or fridge, consider investing in a quality portable cooler rated to stay cold all day. Make sure it has the capacity to hold enough drinks and snacks for your whole crew.
- Snacks. Enjoying life on the water in the fresh air tends to stimulate the appetite, especially for children. While you often can find “dock ’n’ dine” restaurants on the shores of popular boating lakes, packing boat snacks is a way to ensure everyone has enough food to fuel the fun throughout the day. Pack easy-to-handle snacks such as sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and skip messy treats like chocolate pudding. You’ll be glad you did at the end of the day when you clean the boat!
- Swimming gear. Swimming and boating go hand in hand in the summertime. If your kids know how to swim, all you have to do is drop anchor in a quiet cove and settle in for hours of fun. Lake water is often murkier than sea water, so pack snorkel masks to help the kids see more clearly and feel more comfortable. Before they jump off the swim platform for the first time, be sure they know to steer clear of the boat’s props and drives and how to use the swim ladder. Pool noodles, floating mats and other swim floats also aid children’s buoyancy and can help them to stay in the water longer. Many of today’s boats have seats that parents can swivel around for a clear view of the boat’s transom, the swim platform and the water behind it. At least one adult should have eyes on the children at all times they are in the water. Don’t forget to pack beach towels and a dry change of clothes as well.
- Watersports gear and toys. A throwing disc or ball for a game of catch, squirt guns and other waterproof toys can help you entertain the kids while you’re on the water. Just make sure to bring along toys that float. If your boat is capable of towing riders and your kids are old enough to enjoy this popular pastime, water skis, a wakeboard, inflatable tube or other towable toys can add a whole new level of excitement to your day on the water. Make sure you pack the appropriate life jackets for each sport. Here is a guide. Before you start towing your children around the lake, however, be sure those life jackets are securely fastened and your towing route is free of other boat traffic.
- Music. Most of today’s boats have radios, and some are equipped with high-performance sound systems that allow owners to “crank the tunes” to their heart’s content. Many of these systems feature wireless technology that lets you play your own songs from your smartphone or other device. Make a playlist of your favorites in advance to provide the soundtrack for your day on the lake. Mercury Marine also put together Summer Boating Playlists of classic rock, country music and a variety mix for you to enjoy.
- Books and blankets. Every day on the lake should include some downtime when the children recharge their batteries and give the parents a chance to catch their breath. Encourage older kids to bring along a book to read while anchored in a quiet spot, or have them simply sit quietly listening to music and watching the water around the boat. For toddlers, this is the ideal time to take a nap with their favorite blanket.
- Waterproof camera. Boating on the lake is one of the best ways to let your kids spend quality time in nature. Pack a waterproof camera so they can take photos of scenic sights you pass by in your boat. (If you or your children have waterproof cellphones and they are careful, they can use a phone’s built-in camera instead.) They also will want to capture fun moments like the biggest cannonballs their siblings or friends make off the swim platform. Later, these photos will let them relive the memories you made on the lake again and again.
- Boat bag. Finally, it’s important to have the right bag or bags to pack your gear and snacks inside. Consider acquiring an extra-large canvas bag with a zipper top and long shoulder straps that will allow you to carry it comfortably. Pockets on the side will give you handy spots to store smaller items such as a lens wipe and lip balm. For an extra special touch, have your boat’s name embroidered on the front of the bag.
With careful advance planning and strategic packing, you can bring everything you need along with you to have a wonderful day boating on the lake with the kids.