We've had our now three year old aboard since birth. We've got a couple rules regarding him that help prevent mishaps.
1) If he's inside the boat, we lock the door to the cockpit from the inside. As all kids prove very adept at unlocking doors we installed a latch pull type lock on the very top of the door that he can't reach. We keep him in our bed
at night but even still it's very easy for a kid to get up without you knowing and have a look around.
2) If he's inside the cockpit, we are out with him and have him in sight at all times.
3) If he leaves the cockpit, he wears a life jacket and we are within 10 ft of him. (until he was 2 we would typically wear him on deck
in a backpack).
4) bad weather
, he's inside or in the marina yard, not on deck or on dock
Regarding kiddie netting, your choice. Once he's bulked up by a life jacket he can't fall between the toe rail and the lower life line. Regarding life jackets we bought the full offshore
versions from west marine
and tested them with him in the marina pool by putting him in. I found the life line netting degrades pretty quickly so it provided sort of a false sense of security
. Really important to have the full turn-them-over type life jacket with the large front vest floatation and back of head
flap. By the way most kiddie life jackets also have a big strap loop coming from the head
flap of the life jacket that provides a very good handle when you need it. What ever you get pool test it.
Our cockpit is surrounded by swim platform or large wide side decks so he can't immediately go from there to the water
. If he could easily fall directly overboard
from the cockpit we would have had him wear a life jacket in the cockpit as well.
On docks he wears a life jacket at all times. When he was younger we would always wear him in a backpack style carrier when on the docks (we never used the stroller, always the pack, it's much more freeing!).
One thing we found useful (very) althought it's destinctively unmanly is a boarding ramp
with waist high rails. Often you are coming aboard with groceries, or things are slippery, and you really need to be able to walk onboard with your hands full and having your kid on your back without doing the leap of faith. It's that initial leap of faith that's resulted in every dockside unintended swim we've seen (including two of my own). I'd recommend that as our most important modification.
safety is such a big deal we have had him in swim lessons since he was 6 months. On his third birthday he could swim about 10-15 ft and loved diving
under the water.
On dingy rides when he was younger we would have him on our lap and be tethered to an adult while in his life jacket. Now he can sit on the front bowlocker, well within the dingy and look out on his own (which he and his friends really enjoy!) but he never sits up on the tubes.
Regarding the fancier electronic alarms, I've thought about it, but really I'd rather put more effort into ensuring that he can't be in an overboard
situation without one of us on top of him. If I was doing serious offshore work I would think about a MOB beacon as an extra layer of defense.