Rhonda Patt

Ask the Pediatrician: All children under age 13 should wear a life vest when boating

Q. We are visiting my sister in Florida this summer, and she has a boat. Is it safe to take a 1-year-old baby on a boat? How old does our baby need to be before he can wear a life vest?

A. When spending time around water such as rivers and lakes, all children should wear proper-fitting life vests. They should be U.S. Coast Guard-approved and appropriately sized based on the child’s weight. The vest should fit snugly and not hit the chin or ears when arms are lifted above the head.

In the United States, hundreds of people drown each year from boating accidents. About 9 of 10 people who drown from boating are not wearing a life jacket. In North Carolina, children under age 13 are required to wear life vests when boating.

An infant should not travel on a recreational boat until he is able to properly wear a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device. Typically this would be when an infant is about 18 pounds and can sit without support.

Infants should never be placed in an infant car seat or carrier while on board a boat because the car seat would sink in the event of an accident. Parents of small children should also wear life vests in order to tend quickly to their children in the event of an emergency.

Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic. Email living@charlotteobserver.com; put “pediatrician” in the subject line.