Part I: Boating with Kids
  |  First Published: February 2009

So many times my husband Dave and I have heard the story of a couple having to sell their beloved tinnie because they’ve having a baby or have small children, and “just can’t justify having a boat anymore”. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way! I’m here to clear these fallacies up and hopefully inspire you to get out there and enjoy a spot of fishing – as a family.

So what makes me such an authority in these matters? Joe (5yrs) and Luke (3yrs) are our little mariners and have been joining us on the water since they were only 8 weeks old. So it can be done, and here’s how.


I’ll admit, it can be a daunting experience taking your child or children out in the boat for the first time, or anytime for that matter. Being responsible for little people seems to make you so much more safety conscious – and rightly so.

When you have children, you not only have the added responsibility of ensuring their safety, but you have an obligation to take better care of yourself. The bottom line is, that if you know you have all safety measures in place, you’re over the first hurdle and can journey out with confidence in your set-up.

Here are some things to think about:

Have confidence in your boat. If you haven’t used the boat in a while, or have just bought one, you really need to get it checked out to ensure it is structurally sound. A day out in a boat made of rust is guaranteed to add stress to your trip, and that’s not what it’s supposed to be about.

Be sure your outboard is properly serviced and maintained. Don’t risk getting stuck on the water. I’ve seen grown men have a toddler tantrum when they’ve broken down at sea – you can only imagine the meltdown when you add a real 3 year old to the situation!

Ensure you have all the necessary safety gear. Lifejackets are compulsory under Queensland law, it states that any person under the age of 12 travelling in a boat up to 4.8m, must wear a lifejacket. In addition, everyone in a boat of this size must wear a lifejacket when crossing a bar.

The type of lifejacket you will require will depend on the water zone you are planning to enter – smooth, partially smooth or open waters. I suggest having PFD type 1 jackets onboard, as they meet requirements for all three zones.

Be sure to take the kids with you and fit them properly before buying. Undersize certainly won’t do the job, and oversize jackets make it awkward to move about and can ride up and smother the child’s face.

In addition to lifejackets, there are other compulsory safety items you will need to have on board, such as EPIRBs, signalling equipment and so on. The requirements may vary depending on the size of your boat, so check further information from Guide to Recreational Boating and Fishing in Queensland published by Maritime Safety Qld. You can get a copy from your nearest Department of Transport.

Get a licence! Don’t rely on just one person in the boat to have a licence. If you are the regular passenger then getting your licence will help build your confidence on the water and also assist in understanding and trouble shooting in the boat.

It is a full day course, followed by a practical exam. The course is taught in modules and covers topics from navigation to outboard troubleshooting. For more information and a list of BoatSafe approved training providers go to www.msq.qld.gov.au.


For your first few trips, take it slow. Fishing all night for fingermark, or doing a 3ft leapfrog impersonation over a bar crossing, will only guarantee an empty boat on the next trip. If your child’s first impression of boating is that it’s boring or frightening, it will be hard to undo, and the suggestion of future boat trips will only be met with protests and tears.

Stick to the relatively calm waters of rivers, estuaries and dams, and don’t plan to be out for too long.

We started with a basic rule that wherever we went, we could make it home in a fairly short trip if all went pear-shaped. Only go as far as you feel comfortable, and if that means 100m from the boat ramp, so be it. The whole idea is to ease everyone (including grown-ups) into the activity. Stay within your comfort zone!


Fishing and boating are by far our family’s favourite pastimes. We have so much fun together, and as a parent it’s a proud moment when your 3 yr old is the first one to pull a barra into a boat full of old fishos, and it’s a buzz when your 5 yr old pops his head up from snorkelling to tell you he can see remoras cleaning a parrot fish.

I hope I can encourage you to venture out with your kids. At the risk of being cliché, the family that plays together, stays together!– Barb Powell

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