15 Ideas to Make Boating More Fun for Kids
So, you want to bring kids out on the water.
And you want to make sure they have a great experience—one that will last a lifetime.
That’s a tall order. A fun day of boating can turn sour if you’re not prepared to feed, entertain and care for the littlest people board your pontoon.
If you’re bringing kids on board, then here are the fun, favorite items that I’d recommend you bring along with you.
1. Bring Playdough
Our our pontoon boat we have a small table by one of the L loungers under the shade of the bimini. It’s a perfect spot for little kids to play with toys or playdough while the adults have their fun. Having a little jar of playdough in your boat can save a parent who will otherwise spend the day trying to console their bored baby/young child who isn’t interested in getting in the water.
2. Get a Big Tube
Kids love tubes. That’s no secret, but what I’ve found is that kids are a lot more excited about getting out on the tube if you have a big tube that can accommodate 4 or 5 kids. The tubes that only hold one or two are usually a bit scarier to little kids who have to go alone.
3. Stock Up with These Fun Snack Ideas
You gotta have your boat loaded with snacks for the kids to enjoy the trip. It’s even better if you have some snacks that the kids don’t usually eat. Here are a few ideas that work well in the boat because they won’t get the boat messy while they eat, and they stay good in the heat of the sun.
- Homemade granola bars with their favorite fixings (nuts, raisins, craisins, M&Ms, etc)
- Pretzels and mini marshmallows in a ziploc bag
- Sweet Potato French Fries in a bag (Sweet potato french fries that are baked are delicious, healthy, and easy for kids to grab)
- Dried fruit
- Bread balls (my kids won’t eat bread unless I tear it into pieces and smash it into little balls. Suddenly they love it!)
4. Movie Time!
If your boat has a power supply or cigarette lighter that you can use an adapter on, one way to REALLY convince them they like boating is to watch a big movie on the boat with a projector. Hang a white sheet down from the bimini and set the projector at the bow. It’s the perfect way to end a day on the water.
5. Order Pizza to the Dock
My five year-old goes WILD when we do this! Just call your local pizza place and give them directions to the dock. Pick up some pizzas and shove off again for more boating. The kids laugh and laugh when you call and order.
6. Get a Slide
Pontoon boats are perfect for fun accessories like a slide. They can be a bit pricey but for kids it’s tough to beat. Older kids may love wakeboarding and playing on the tube, but younger kids can be intimidated by the tube and prefer something right on the boat. The Rave Pontoon boat slide looks awesome!
7. Invite Their Friends
Kids suddenly get a lot braver when they feel like they are in charge. Have each of your kids bring two friends on the boat for a day and suddenly they’ll be very popular, and your kids will love going on the boat because they’ll have other people they can tell the rules to and show how things go.
8. A Long Downed Skier Flag
My 3 year old loves going on the boat even though he rarely dares to get in the cold water. That doesn’t stop him from having fun, though. He is the “downed skier sheriff” and is responsible for waving the orange flag wildly the instant someone hits the water.
If you get a longer downed skier flag, the kids have a lot more fun with it and won’t mind a few hours in the boat.
You can put your other kids on “biff cam” duty, to video record everyone being towed behind and get good video of them falling, biffing, and otherwise splashing.
9. Bring a Rod
Kids love fishing, and it’s a fun activity to break up the day. Start or end the day fishing when the fishing is good and you’ll usually hook your kids into boating.
One thing I like to do is to watch the fishing boats during the day and see where they are. Then, when it’s sunset time and perfect for fishing, head over to those hot spots and catch a few. This way you don’t have to spend the whole day trying to locate the fish, but can still get the kids interest in fishing because the fishing’s hot!
10. Get them a Wet Suit
One of the major things that turns my kids away from boating is when the water is cold in the Idaho lakes. Get your kids a nice wet suit so they can enjoy the trip. Remember that kids get cold very easily, so be sure to keep them warm!
11. Head to the Beach for a Picnic
If you haven’t noticed a trend yet, this list is really about finding ways to break up the day. If you just get on the boat and ski all day long, it means a lot of boredom for the kids. Spend some time planning different activities you’ll be doing at different times of the day so that there is always something for the kids to be looking forward to.
At lunch time, I think it’s nice to get off the boat for the while. The kids can run around at the park or marina for a while and you can take a break from rocking up and down, go to the bathroom, and get anything else you need from the car.
12. Explain the Rules FIRST!
One mistake I made when we starting bringing the kids out on the boat was that I didn’t sit them down and explain the safety rules at the beginning. The reason this was a mistake is that I spent the first entire trip telling the kids what they were not allowed to do–not very fun for them!
I took the kids out to the boat while it was still trailered on the side of the house and we all climbed up to the boat. I then explained they needed to wear a life jacket from the second they get onto the dock until we’re back in the car–even when we’re just walking around the beach. I showed them danger zones on the boat like the bow, how they need to sit down while we’re moving but can run around while we’re stopped. When they can get in the water, and if they take off their shoes when they get in the boat then it’s okay with me if they climb all over the furniture.
Once the kids had the rules explained all at once when I had time to sit down and explain everything, they became very good at following the rules and I never have to say “no” on the boat because they already know what they can and can’t do. Much more fun.
13. Teach the Kids to Drive
I’ll admit–this one is sketchy. In my state, there is no law about age to drive a boat and I talked to the sheriff specifically and asked if it’s okay if the kids drive when they’re sitting on my lap.
My pontoon boat is powered with a 115hp engine which is no toy, but can take a full hard turn of the wheel even at top speed and we aren’t anywhere near tipping. What I do is let the kids sit on my lap and they can control the steering wheel and I control the throttle. I am in charge of lookout and can grab the wheel at any instant if there is danger, another boat in the vicinity, etc. I also never go above 15 miles per hour.
The kids love it, and with the restrictions I put on it, I don’t see any danger at all since I’m able to take over at any second.
14. Peppermint to the Rescue
Some kids get motion sickness on the boat when there’s a good chop on the water. Bring a peppermint stick for seasickness and it can rescue an otherwise unpleasant trip. Dramamine and other drugs are not okay for kids, so this is a great alternative.
I really don’t put much faith behind the homeopathic/home remedy stuff. I really don’t. But peppermint works! I was very skeptical but it did wonders for my wife when she used it for car sickness and the Amazon reviews are nearly all positive.
Get a Quease Ease and just stick it in the glove box of your boat. When you or someone you invite on your boat starts to feel nauseous, you’ll be very glad you gave it a try. The stuff works!
15. Deputize a DJ
Need another “job” on the boat to keep the kids entertained? One of my boys loves being the DJ. We have a Bluetooth stereo in the boat (you can put one in for just $100, by the way) so you can play the music remotely from a phone. I hand my phone to my son and he controls the volume and the song. When there isn’t one he likes, he is in charge and nobody is allowed to stop him from changing the song. It’s a small thing, but he loves it.
by Jim Harmer
- Amy Cabanas