For more, see part 1, Part 2, or Part 3... also note that any quote in bold italics is from the Amer.ican Re.d C.ross Whal.es Ta.les program.
Boating is such a fun activity, but it has to be done safety. Make sure that the person you are riding with knows how to drive and understands boating rules. Look around the boat... are their keys on a small floating keychain, do they have plenty of lifevests, extra towels, flashlights, and first aid kits? If so, this person is experienced and knows what to do. If they seem to be hazardous, jumping other boats' wakes, driving while consuming alcohol, or going way to fast (you can tell because the boat tips and makes weird noises), you shouldn't ride with them anymore. We've had a few drinks out boating, which is perfectly legal, but no one who plans to drive the boat (or the car going home) should ever drink, and you should always check local laws, since some places outlaw alcohol entirely while boating. So, "Learn about boating, before you go floating!"
My favorite safety rule is "Don't just pack it, wear your jacket!" Obviously this means that when you're boating, everyone should be wearing life vests or personal floatation devices (PFDs). I know that not everyone does it, but try to make it priority, especially when boating at high speed, and ALWAYS when water skiing, tubing, and wake boarding. It's important that there are enough life vests for every person on board, and they must be coast guard approved. These ugly orange ones (type 2) are great for general boating. When water skiing, tubing, or wake boarding, a type 3 life jacket is better, since it is streamlined for quick speeds and covers your whole torso to prevent burns from hitting the water too hard. Here's a chart of all the types of PFDs or life vests. Children not only ALWAYS need a life vest, but a really specific type is important for them. Make sure it's Coast Guard Approved and has both a high collar around the neck (to turn the child on their back so they can breath until they're rescued) and a strap to go through the legs (to keep the life vest on in case of a violent crash). See an example here. This one is plain, but they actually usually come in lots of fun colors or have cartoons on them, which is a great incentive to get kids to wear them.
If you do have an accident while boating, the most important thing is to stay calm. If the water is warm, huddle together, in a cirlce, facing each other, arms around your neighbors shoulders. The water around the group will get warm and the collective body heat will mean that each person has to generate less. This is the key. If you are alone, huddle in a ball with your knees up to your chest, for the same reason of keeping body heat in as small an area as possible. Don't talk too much or use energy, save it to get the attention of boaters who pass you closely. If you aren't wearing your life vest, take off something thick, like jeans, and blow air into them and tie the ends to make a floatation device. Also float on your stomach and back alternately, and tread water until you are rescued.
When it comes to beaches, just make sure you keep an eye on your children and have them wear life vests if you can't supervise them every second. As children get older and swim more on their own, explain the tide and currents, an teach them to always look for landmarks on the beack to make sure they don't swim too far out or get carried away. You'll easily be able to feel the currents, so if you get stuck far out, swim with the current and aim toward the shore. Explain rip currents by standing in a wave and feeling the pull at your feet after the wave crashes. Really strong rip tides can carry you very far out. It's important to respect these and observe posted warnings and lifeguard instructions. If there are no lifeguards on duty, only attempt to swim once you see how conditions are and always go with a group in case you need help.
My last safety rule is a big one... "Reach or Throw, Don't Go". If anyone you know, especially an adult, is drowning, reach a long sturdy object out to them or throw a floatation devide. Make sure you keep a firm hold on the other end of the pole or rope, stand away from the edge of the water, and lean back. Obviously rescuing them as fast as possible is important, but don't go so fast that you don't think, and put yourself in danger.
The great thing about all the safety skills I mentioned above? You and your children can learn them all, plus even more, from the Amer.ican Re.d Cr.oss, and other certified swim lessons. I remember teaching a class about life vests (PFDs) and seeing a group of 8 to 10 year olds huddled in their life vests. They were laughing about having to touch each other and about being so close. I smiled, but all I was thinking about was how if they ever need this skill, I hope the silliness of that day and all the laughter will burn in their brains. If it's memorable, maybe they will remember this and use it.
If all of this is foreign to you, take a class yourself, or enroll your kids, and pay attention. You'll never regret it!