Boating with Babies {Tips for Smooth Sailing on the Water}


Growing up, one of my favorite summer pastimes was going down to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky a couple of times every year. There was just something about being out on the boat in the open water and enjoying the beautiful scenery without a care in the world (and of course, working on my tan for the upcoming school year). I was grateful that when my husband and I started dating 10+ years ago, he loved going down to the lake just as much as I did (and was willing to put up with my crazy family in such close quarters, too).

Now that we’re parents, our lake trips look a little different than they used to… ok, a lot different. We can’t ride the tube or jet off on one of the Sea-Doos or even just jump into the lake for a refreshing dip whenever we want. And those glorious boat naps? Well, thankfully that’s the one thing we’re still able to fully partake in while boating because our littles still nap themselves… for now.


Boating with babies requires a lot of teamwork, supplies and patience. We’re on high-alert the entire time we’re on the boat, reacting to their every need. Not that we aren’t at other times, too (that’s the definition of parenthood, right?), but there’s just something about being confined to a boat in the middle of the water that can make it 100x more stressful.

That being said, we LOVE boating with our babies.

We want this to be something we can do as a family for many summers to come. And so while it may be more stressful in these early years, we wouldn’t trade any of these lake memories – the good, the bad and the life-jacket-screaming-fits – for anything.

This is our fourth summer boating with babies, so we’ve learned a thing or two about surviving (literally and figuratively) with our littles on the lake. Here’s a list of things we bring with us anytime we’re going out on the boat in addition to your typical summer swimming gear:

Life jacket – Let’s start with the obvious. All of your littles need a USCG approved life jacket and should wear it at all times on the boat and even on the dock. We’ve found really good deals on all of our kids’ life jackets at the end of the summer season, which is a plus because they grow out of them so fast. And fair warning, if you’re boating with a baby baby (less than 30 lbs), they’ll need to be in an infant life jacket and will likely scream their little head off at first because these jackets are super restricting. Give it a few minutes after you’re out of the no-wake zone and hopefully the motion of the boat and the wind in their hair will help them drift off to sleep for a nice boat nap.

Alllll the snacks and drinks – There’s just something about boating that makes babies super hungry. Especially when you anchor in your favorite cove for a swim break. I like to pack snacks that are easy and mess-free (because Dorito crumbs on a boat with a white interior are a big no-no, speaking from experience…), such as Uncrustables, fruit snacks, cheese sticks, applesauce pouches, chips and, of course, a sweet treat or two. If you think you’ve packed enough, pack more! You’ll be surprised at how much littles (and parents!) like to munch while on the boat. And don’t forget lots of fluids (bottles of water, sports drinks, apple juice boxes, etc.) and an insulated cup for each kiddo to keep everyone hydrated.

Spray fan – Something like this will not only keep your littles cool but also entertained. Make sure every kid on the boat has one. Trust me, it’s worth the extra $10 to avoid a major meltdown about sharing. And keep some extra batteries on-hand in case the fan dies while you’re out boating. Again, to avoid a major meltdown.

Umbrella stroller – Most of the few times we’ve ever used our umbrella stroller have been at the lake. I like these for littles in that 6-24 months age range, when you’re more than likely going to be carrying them when walking on the dock or at the marina. It’s so much more convenient, freeing up your arms to carry something else on your shoulder if needed, and it gives me a peace of mind that they’re strapped in and secure, and not able to lunge out of your arms at a moment’s notice. And since these strollers are small and compact, they typically fit in the floorboard storage compartment of the boat, if you do plan on traveling to another marina one day.

Waterproof pouch for phone – Because if you don’t take a bazillion pictures, it didn’t really happen, right? So you definitely need your phone with you while boating to capture those special memories. But if your littles are anything like mine, they probably like to steal your phone, take pictures themselves, play games on it, etc. While on the boat, I like to put my phone in a pouch like this (think of it as a life jacket for your phone!) so that worst case scenario, if it gets dropped into the lake, it’ll be protected until one of us can jump in to grab it. I’ve never had this happen before and praying I never do, but I want to be better safe than sorry. 

Floating water pad – Definitely more of a want than a need and a big investment, but oh so worth it! We’ve seen boaters with these floating pads out on the lake for a couple of years now and kept thinking one of these would be great to have for the littles. When we were planning our annual lake trip with our best friends this year, we decided to bite the bullet and buy one together, and we were so glad we did! The kids (4.5 years, 3.5 years, 20 months and 19 months) all had a blast using it and us parents did, too. I was worried that the kids wouldn’t be able to pull themselves up onto it from the water, but it was super easy to do and the bigger littles had no problem doing so. It was great for lounging on, jumping off of, etc., and I liked that there was a place for us to land while swimming without having to climb back up into the boat. 

I’m sure other mamas out there have their own must-haves for boating with babies. What’s on your lake list?

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Hi, mamas! I’m Emily, born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, and now raising my family in the Champion City. I’m married to my college sweetheart (he’s from Springfield, too, and we knew each other in high school, but we didn’t make it Facebook official until our freshman year at Ohio State). We’re proud parents of a precious yet oh-so-rotten baby boy, MJ (b. November 2016), and a fur baby named Bentley. Needless to say, I am the queen of our household! I work full-time as a PR pro for a marketing-communication agency and am always striving to find the perfect work-life balance. I’m a Joanna Gaines wannaba, lover of all things rose gold and a self-diagnosed Target addict… But c’mon, what mama isn’t?!


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