Open Water & Boating

  • It is estimated that in the United States, there are 50,867,840 acres of lakes; 633,109 miles of rivers; and 88,633 miles of coastal shoreline (including bays and inlets).  Chances are you will spend time near the water.

  • Click to view Recreational Boating Statistics 2016. From the report... "Where cause of death was known, 80% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of the drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 83% were not wearing life jackets." 

  • In the uncontrolled environments of rivers, ponds, oceans, and lakes, safety issues can unexpectedly arise.  Safety education and preparation is particularly important because children are very drawn to the water and often have difficulties perceiving its dangers.

  • It may sound ridiculous to say this far into the presentation, but I can't stress enough that you should not go into open water if you don't know how to swim well.

Just for fun... How much of your state do you think is water covered? You can find out here: 



Always, always, always comply with all posted warnings and rule signs at open water locations.

At the beach, if your children are going to body surf, surf, or skimboard, they must be able to maintain a strong crawl stroke for at least 300 yards and be able to swim on their backs for at least fifteen minutes.

The most subtle safety issue is the surf zone.  Children are drawn to the breaking waves, and can be knocked off their feet and/or carried away in even the calmest seas.

Always swim in areas protected by lifeguards, but consider what we have discussed about the realities of lifeguarding.

Do not allow swimming near boats and/or fishermen.

Usually rivers, lakes, and farm ponds are not guarded and are not equipped with safety gear. Be prepared and bring your own safety lines and first aid equipment.

Children should only swim during designated SWIM TIMES.  They should not be allowed to drift in and out of the water. Make sure that an adult is actively supervising the swimmers, and take plenty of breaks for water, resting, and warming up.

A non-water related issue for open water swimming is sun protection. Please keep your children safe by using adequate sunscreen and reapplying often.  Use the shadow rule.  Don't play out in the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are.

Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as fishponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, watering cans, pet watering vessels, and even the bucket you use when you wash the car. Children are drawn to these places and things and need constant supervision stay safe.


I am not qualified to tell you how to operate your boat safely.  I recommend taking a boating safety course.  Safety courses are required for 14-16 year-olds to operate boats here in Nebraska.

I can tell you that life jackets prevent people from drowning when they unexpectedly enter the water.   

Children learn best by example.  Keep your child safer by wearing your life jacket when boating - every minute of every trip.

Here in Nebraska, everyone 12 and under is required to wear a life jacket while on a boat.  All Personal Watercraft (PWC) operators are required to wear life jackets.


Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as  ponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, watering cans, pet dishes, and even the bucket you use when you wash the car.  Children are drawn to these things and places and need constant supervision to stay safe.

Some common sense open water safety practices include bringing your own safety equipment when open water swimming, wearing life jackets when boating, and swimming only during designated __________   __________.

Review the information on this page if you have trouble filling in the blanks. Continue by clicking the NEXT PAGE link only when you are confident that you understand the material.


Everyone should wear a Coast Guard approved flotation device when boating.  Wearing a Coast Guard approved flotation device is a good idea for children playing near the water. (I'm even ok with tying children to the picnic table if necessary to keep them safely out of the water.  Prevent unsupervised access to open water!)

However, non-swimmers should not be allowed to enter the water to swim for recreation wearing a flotation device. 

Floatation devices greatly increase the amount of time it takes to learn how to swim and effectively remove any incentive to learn how to swim. Non-swimmers should not be allowed to swim in water of any kind unless they are within TOUCH SUPERVISION of an adult who can swim. If you have calm, shallow water where a swimming lesson can be safely conducted, by all means, practice swimming skills sans-flotation-device with touch supervision. If conditions are not safe for a swimming lesson, non-swimmers should stay out of the water. They may play in open water after they have learned how to swim. Skilled swimmers should wear Coast Guard Approved flotation devices when swimming for fun in open water. Think of life jackets being sort of like bike helmets to protect skilled bikers on their adventures. Life jackets are never to be considered training wheels to allow non-swimmers to participate in something for which they are not ready.


Tammy Turner from Live Oak, Florida took this course in March, 2012, and offered the following:

I would like to share a repeated experience with you, in hopes that you will incorporate this info into your program. My family lives near the Suwannee River in North Florida. We operate a childcare out of our home, so we must teach the children water safety, and use coast guard approved devices when necessary - at the river or in a boat or at the springs.  It is important that we test the flotation devices on the small children in the water, because Coast Guard approved ring behind the head and chest type flotation devices hold children's heads underwater. I believe the Coast Guard uses mathematical equations to develop the devices, and do not test them on the on the children. Small children do not have enough body underwater to compensate for the flotation.

Follow Up:  I visited the U.S. Coast Guard website to check it out.  They recommend that wearers of all ages test their life jackets in shallow water.  Another recommendation on their site is to never alter a life jacket.  It yours does not fit, get one that does.  An altered jacket may not perform as designed. 

This information makes good sense.  It is a valuable contribution to the content of this course. Thank you, Tammy.