Cruising with children should be about family fun – not stress and anxiety. Simply put – you and your family will all feel a lot happier if everyone is safe and comfortable. Consider the fact that if children are on deck seeing what’s going on, and you know that they are safe, then they will learn. As they grow older (and bigger!) they will be able to help and get involved – and as second nature, will know how to do things safely. So here are a few things we think you might find useful – but ultimately it is your responsibility to make the right choices about taking children afloat.
Here at Nipper Skipper, we believe that the first point to consider when taking children on board is safety. If your little ones aren’t safe then you are not going to relax, and they too will feel uneasy as a result. Most importantly, you will need to consider life jackets and buoyancy aids. Remember, life jackets will turn an unconscious child face up and support them should they be unable to swim. Due to the cost of life jackets, there can be a temptation to buy a life jacket that your child will ‘grow into’. Don’t be tempted – the jacket will only work if fitted correctly. Life jackets are fitted according to weight, rather than size. At Nipper Skipper we only stock life jackets that have crotch straps and built in safety harnesses. The crotch straps will ensure that your child doesn’t ‘slip’ through the jacket, and that it will keep it in place on the body during a rescue. Additionally, we choose to stock life jackets that incorporate a ‘D’ ring attachment for lifting or securing on board. Only lifejackets are intended to support the wearer on their back, with their face clear of the water. For a useful and informative guide from the RNLI go to the link on our website – http://nipperskipper.co.uk/useful-information-2/. These days, life jackets are much lighter than people might remember them and as such are comfortable enough to wear all day! They even come in a crib format for babies – so you can get even the smallest on board safely.
Life jackets and buoyancy aids are sold by their buoyancy rating, measured in Newtons (N). 150N devices are suitable for most situations, including off shore, although 100N are also available and only suitable for inshore sailing. Children’s life jackets are either made of a light, static soft foam (sometimes plus a manual air inflation system) or automatically inflate using a water activated CO2 gas cylinder. Naturally, if you think that your child is going to bob in and out of an inflatable, or go paddling about the water’s edge you really need to go for the foam (or foam and air) version. The automatically inflating jackets are smaller versions of what you, yourself will be wearing and will be activated to inflate when they come in to contact with water. Please note that you must check and replace the cylinder as date marked, visually check regularly and systematically service. We should point out that re-arming kits are quite costly so should your child be anticipating jumping in and out of the water for fun, an automatic life jacket might not be the best option! Having said that, many parents report that once their off spring have experienced the ‘explosive’ nature of an inflatable life jacket gas cylinder going off , they generally begin to respect it’s important safety features! In a nut shell – automatic life jackets generally best suit older children, whilst foam life jackets are perfect for smaller children and toddlers who may wish to play in the water as well as on it.
Buoyancy aids are exactly as they say – an aid to help keep a child afloat. Buoyancy aids are only suitable for competent swimmers and are designed to be used in sheltered waters where help is close at hand. They should only be used on children who can swim, and preferably when under full adult supervision. Buoyancy aids are often used in canoeing and fast water sports. It is not advised to try and take a short cut by buying buoyancy aids instead of life jackets – they are two very different items of safety kit.
We consider that life jackets should be worn at all times when sailing and up on deck. It is also advisable for children to wear life jackets or buoyancy aids when aboard in the marina and a must when transferring between boats – for example when aboard a tender, moving to and from a moored boat. You might also wish to consider your child wearing a life jacket or buoyancy aid if they are playing on the pontoons. It is all too easy to slip or trip, plus it can help them get used to wearing them regularly.
Plan ahead and remember – a life jacket will only work when worn!
The techie stuff –  A Newton is a metric measurement of force. To support a 1Kg weight you need a force of 9.8 Newtons. 1 Newton is equal to 0.225lbf. A 150N lifejacket will therefore support someone with an in water weight of 15.3Kg or 33.7lbs.