Safe boating with children


Get them involved

There is loads of hands-on stuff kids can do to help in and around the boat, even the youngest ones; from crew work, helping with lines when mooring, leaving or manoeuvring to being the bowman and guiding the helm.

As long as they are accompanied by a responsible adult they love being treated like a grown up, the responsibility of helping and feeling like they are doing an important job. They can even help steer if they are secure in front of the helm, and start to understand about pivot points and how the boat moves and turns in the water.

At eight, children can do the RYA Inland Waterways Crew Course with their family, where they can have fun learning all about personal safety, communication on board, throwing a mooring line, basic boat handling, helping at locks, being a good look out, what to do in an emergency and looking after the environment.If a youngster is involved, they are less likely to be bored and mess about.

Teach them how to move around the boat

Lifejackets aren’t compulsory on the Britain’s inland waterways, but would you let your child on the sea or a lake without wearing one? If you want kids to wear a lifejacket follow the ‘one-on-all-on’ rule, where if you want a child to have one on everyone must. They are more likely to do it if they see adults wearing them too.

There should always be three points of contact between a person and the boat and children should be taught to step - not jump – on to and off the boat with nothing in their hands. Keep everything nice and calm and they will follow your lead.

I spy incredible wildlife

Whether you are on a city canal or out in the rolling hills seeing wildlife is magical and you can be so close to it.

The RSPB do some really good birdwatching packs for youngsters and some hire companies even provide activity packs that include wildlife you should look out for on the canal you are cruising on.

Before you leave home, do a bit of research with the kids about what to look out for. The Canal and River Trust ( is a good place to start. You never tire of seeing wild kingfishers or otters if you are lucky enough to spot one.

Take it slow

Parts of the canal, most notably locks, can be a bit daunting and provide more hazards even to adults, especially when there is lots of traffic on the canals in the busy summer months. But you are in no rush so take time to prepare.

For example, if you are approaching a lock for the first time, moor up before it, take the windlasses, walk down the towpath and check it out in an unpressurised, safe environment. Show the kids how the lock works, where the dangers are and what everyone needs to shout and do if something does go wrong.

Locks are the most exciting part of the canal so help children become inquisitive about what they are, why we need them and how they work to remove any worry.

Start as you mean to go on

No one wants to see kids in the cabin on their iPads while the adults are on deck getting the boat ready or packing up for the day.

Anything you can do with youngsters on the boat is an introduction to boat life so let them walk through the pre-start checks with you and involve them in tidying the ropes away when you’ve moored up for the night. Then the next day see if they can remember what you did the day before.

There’s so much more to narrowboating than simply driving the boat; it is a complete experience that can spark the imaginations in children, let you enjoy time out together as a family and give you all a fun, hands-on and safe holiday at home.