How to Keep Your Kid Safe on the Water: 9 River Float Tips

Today I welcome Dave from Camping Stove Cookout to the blog. He has been leading river trips for years and I am excited to be able to share his tips for keeping your kids safe on floating trips. Please head over and check out his blog, he has a ton of good information about camping and outdoor adventures. He is also offering my readers a free copy of his camping guide for beginners, more information at the bottom of the post. 

If you plan on camping near water or going on a whitewater rafting trip, here are a few tips to help make it safe.  When will your child be ready for a rafting trip?  I was 5 years old when I went on my first river camping trip, and have pretty much been addicted to the river ever since.
9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on River Trips

So, I get how special it is to get kids out there at a young age and the beauty of them
developing a love for being on the river.  

Water safety is especially important to me because I have 2 little girls who are 4 months and 2 ½ years old.  If you have kids of your own and are interested in taking them down the river, you should be asking yourself some of the questions I have listed below.

I want you to get out with your family on the water because it’s awesome.  But I also want you to stay safe along the way and I provide a foundation here to make sure you are ready for the River.

9 River Float Preparation Tips (Questions)

1. Are my kids good swimmers?

I’m not a great swimmer to this day.  I was taught by my grandmother, bless her heart, but never learned any really good swimming skills.  My skills are good enough now that I feel comfortable and safe, and can react directly if needed.  I guest posted on this site describing a dangerous river experience where I had to react quickly.

My kids are completing a serious swimming course before they are in a situation like the one I describe in the link above.  Getting your kids into a swimming course early will help you feel more comfortable to get out on the water.  This site has some information to get you started and links to other online swimming resources.

2. Do I have the best gear?

A good life jacket, throw ropes, and extra flotation on the boat is a requirement.  A high quality life jacket will float your child even if they become unconscious so make sure you have a good PFD.  I have always purchased my water gear from NRS, and have always been super satisfied with their service.  

Some of their gear may cost a little more but you will love it because of the quality.   Take a look at this link for a few good life jacket examples for kids.  If you need a full gear list for your next trip this is the one I use.
9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on River Trips

3. Have I started them out on an “Easy Section”?

Try getting out on some flat water for your first trip to get a feel for the boat and to allow your kids to adjust.  We took our oldest daughter out in the boat when she was four months old. But, we were on a lake where I felt much more comfortable.  

Make sure all of your gear fits well and you have your safety equipment ready before you put in for your river trip.  Test out the throw rope to make sure you know how to use if before you get in that situation.  If you are planning a canoe trip this site has a good essential gear list.

4. Do I know this section like a Pro?

Find a great river book for your water body of choice.  We have a great book where I live called Soggy Sneakers that covers the different routes down many of the major rivers in the state.  If you are unsure where to find a good guide book just Google it.   Type [your state] + “river trips” and it should give you some good resources.  If not, send me an email at dave@campingstovecookout.com and I will help you find a good resource.

Start on your home water in a section that you could do blindfolded.  If you don’t have a home river, find a river guide or friend to lead the float.  Make sure the boat is lighter with less gear than normal and you are at 100% physically.  One thing I have learned over the years is that it doesn't take much to make that little mistake that really puts you in a bad spot.
9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on River Trips

5. Have I prepared for the worst scenario?

Along with the previous topic on being totally knowledgeable, be prepared for the worst case scenario as well.  Think through all of the different failure points and have a plan B if it happens.  What happens if we swim on this one?  Are the ropes all tied in so nobody gets caught if we flip?  Do my kids have a helmet on if needed for this section?  Take a look at this article for additional general river trip tips.

6. Have we practiced body floating?

A good way to get your kids comfortable is to put on the life jackets and practice body floating through small rapids on the river.  Or just out in a lake or pool to get comfortable with the jacket.  This is a good chance to get your kid comfortable being in the water just in case they are forced to swim at some point down the line.

Kick your feet out in front, keep your butt down and relax.  Breathing and relaxing is a critical piece to be thinking about as you practice floating through small rapids.  The temperature of the water can be a shock and it’s important at this initial stage to try and relax.  

You should take breaths as you float to the top of the wave and hold your breath as you drop into the trough.  The first 2 minutes of this video demonstrate the proper swimming strategy if you find yourself in the river.

7. Do we have a second boat?

You should always build multiple layers of safety into your trips.   One extra safety layer is to follow a second boat down the river if that person is more experienced. You can also have them wait as a spotter near the rapid if help is needed.  Take a look at this video clip to see an extreme boating hazard situation.  I have actually been in a similar situation before and really discovered the power of the river.

This type of whitewater is way above where you would be taking a child, but is a good reminder of the power of the river environment.  If the rapid you are running looks to crazy, let the kids get out and walk around.  

8. Are we camping near water?

Once you are at camp, the danger isn't over.  If you are camping near a water body, you always need to be aware of where your kids are at.  It only takes a second to trip and fall face down in the shallow water.  This can be a little stressful but the key is to set-up camp so you can always see your child at all times.  

We have a favorite spot on our home river that is right on the rivers edge.  We have a rule: someone must always be within 5 feet (or grabbing  distance) from the kids.  We also put a life jacket on our 2 yr old when she plays at the waters edge.
9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on River Trips

9. What age is best?

To be honest, I can’t answer this one for you because all kids are different.  But, if you cover all of these 8 questions completely, then I think you are well on your way regardless of age.  I was first boating through whitewater at age 5, but think I might wait a little longer with my girls.  

Please comment below and let me know what age your kids first got on the river or when you plan to get them out, its nice to hear what other people feel on the subject.


Think about these tips, practice them and make sure your children are as safe as possible for your next big trip.  I would love to hear from you so if you have any feedback or questions send me an email at dave@campingstovecookout.com.

Also, I have a special opportunity that I want to provided for the  Mommy Loves Trees readers. Click on this link http://www.campingstovecookout.com/mommylovestrees and you will get a free copy of my Beginner’s Guide to Camping.  This eBook will help you plan and organize your next camping trip.


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