Child Safety Aboard Boats | Boating Safety

Child Safety Aboard Boats

Using the engine cutoff safety lanyard could have prevented this near disaster.

Boating Safely With Kids

A child’s exuberance and a boater’s error almost lead to catastrophe.

Tim Bower

It was a warm sunny day, just perfect for taking my daughter Lauren, my son-in-law Alex, and my 2-year-old grandson Teddy out for a ride aboard my Cobia 296. Our goal was to see the dolphins that feed in the area of my second home, near Marco Island, Florida, and just enjoy an hour or so on the water.

As I carefully pulled up to the dock at the Caxambas Park public ramp, I could see Teddy waving to me, anxious to get on board “Puppa’s” boat. The dock was on the same side as my steering wheel, so rather than tying up, I simply straddled the gunwale with one foot in the boat and the other on the dock. I left the boat idling.

Alex lifted Teddy and handed him to me, and I gently set him down in the boat. Teddy immediately went exploring the boat, asking, “What’s this?” multiple times as Alex followed him around. I then asked Alex to focus on getting the Bluetooth on my stereo connected to my iPhone. He got right on it.

Seconds later, as I was helping Lauren into the boat, I heard a load roar from my engines and saw to my horror that both engines were pulling the boat in reverse while I was trying to hold our position, still in my straddle. I thought I was going swimming and the kids would be left alone in a boat powering in reverse.

I realized Teddy was at the helm and had reached up and pulled both throttles back as far as he could (as any 2-year-old would do). Fortunately, Alex was right there beside him and quickly returned the throttles to the neutral position.

It freaked me out! Captain’s error all the way! If Teddy had pushed the throttles instead of pulled them, there was no way I could hold the boat in my straddle position, and it would have crashed into the sea wall 5 feet off the bow. Disaster averted.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. From now on, I tie up at the dock before anyone comes aboard, and I turn off the engines when any ­children are aboard and I leave the controls unattended.

Michael Carollo Goodland, Michigan

Wearing the kill-switch safety lanyard can prevent similar incidents by disabling the engines whenever the skipper leaves the helm for any reason. —Ed.


The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit uscgboating.org.