For many of us, the skill of driving a vehicle came before legal license age.

In most cases it was our father, grandfather or uncle who would let us take the wheel in an effort to begin teaching us proper vehicle operation. This instruction would take place in empty, wide-open parking lots. Although some may disagree, it benefitted us down the road.

Shouldn’t it be the same with a boat? As long as extreme safety precautions are taken when teaching children the skills of operating a vehicle or watercraft.

Many have operated their own boat for so long we sometimes thinks it’s water that flows through our veins. However, kids won’t naturally inherit our love of the water and the recreational opportunities it provides. Just as we have developed a lifelong passion and science of boating, we should pass on our knowledge through patient teaching and training. Then when their legal age does come they will already be well ahead of the game.

Brecken, my 12-year-old grandson, has shared many hours in my boat and each outing I show him the proper way to bring the gas motor to life, as well as how to use the tilt and trim. I also take the time to show him how the trolling motor operates and the proper way it should be used, what to do when he gets close to shore and how to deploy and stow it.

Then, several weeks ago while spending time on beautiful Dale Hollow, the big question came. Daylight had barely broken when I rolled from my bunk and headed to the galley for my first cup of coffee.

“Grandpa, can we go fishing?” he asked. “Can I wake up a bit first?” I replied.

“Well, is it OK if I take the boat?” he followed up with.

“Are you comfortable operating it?” I asked him.

“Heck yeah, you’ve showed me a dozen times,” he said confidently.

So giving him a feeling of responsibility and trust, I explained the rules.

“Trolling motor only and do not exceed 50% power,” I said sternly. “You also can not leave site of the houseboat and don’t even think about firing up the big motor,” I warned in a way that grandfathers can.

There was no doubt he felt a feeling of pride and confidence that I would actually let him take it. That pride was shared by me as well as I watched him ease the boat from shore and slowly move across the emerald green water of the large, secluded cove.

Boating is as much a lifestyle as an enjoyable and engaging hobby. By participating actively in that lifestyle children can learn skills that can benefit them elsewhere in life. Like team sports, boating can encourage leadership as well as team work while developing a sense of logic.

Boating teaches kids about concepts that can be difficult to understand in other contexts. In time they learn about directional sense, weather knowledge and water movements. Lets face it, unlike vehicles, boats have no brakes. Teaching a child boating operation is one of the surest ways to help them develop unshakeable self-confidence.

Teaching boat operation is not for children of all ages. I have read, and fully agree, children do not become proficient swimmers until age 5. My own advice is children should not be taught how to operate a boat until around the 10-12 age range. And then ONLY under the close supervision of a qualified adult.

Even before kids are old enough to be seaworthy you can start teaching them about safe boating rules, the importance of safety gear and the severe consequences of neglecting them.

Many younger kids find entertainment in simple on board duties and responsibilities. Children who have a job to do while on board will usually keep busier, and feel more connected to the activity. Some duties perfect for children include keeping the decks clear of fishing equipment, lures and tackle bags, watching for underwater obstructions and helping dock the boat.

Indiana law currently states that all motorboat or personal watercraft (PWC) operators must have a valid driver’s license to operate on public waters. However, kids age 15 can operate a motorboat only if they complete the IDNR boater education course and have an ID issued by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). No one under the age of 15 may legally operate a PWC or a boat sporting a motor greater than 10 horsepower. So technically kids can operate boats with motors 9.9 horsepower or less.

“They make some really nice fishing boats with console steering and motors less than 10 horsepower,” said John Neargardner and IDNR district conservation officer. “There have been occasions when I have seen children under the age of 15 operating them, but they were within the law.”

By the way, teaching my grandson how to safely operate a boat at an early age does come with a hidden agenda. When he turns 16, then hopefully, I can sit back and let him do all the work!


Clay Dyer, considered the world’s most inspirational fisherman, is scheduled to be in Kokomo for the 37th annual Jim “Moose” Carden Kids Fishing Clinic and his presentation is open to the public.

Dyer is a professional bass angler, taking part in 40 to 50 tournaments each year. What makes him so special is the fact he has no arms or legs. His presentation is titled: “If I can, you can!”

Dyer will take the stage this Thursday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Kokomo High School auditorium. Attendance is free.


• Members of the City of Firsts Bassmasters recently came off a club tournament, staged on West Boggs Lake, located near Loogootee. Harold Payne and Chris Bledsoe took first place with five largemouth totaling 13.05 pounds. Second place went to Dave Parkhurst and Calvin Fitch with five fish weighing 13.03 pounds. Third place and the tourney’s trophy for biggest bass went to Tom Payton and Rodney Herb with five bass weighing 12.09 pounds, with their largest tipping the scales at 3.08 pounds.

• The Kokomo Bass Anglers held a night tournament on Lake Webster. Chance Taskey swept the event winning first place with five bass totaling 12 pounds, 14 ounces. A 3-pound, 3-ounce largemouth also earned him the award for biggest bass. Dean Caldwell reeled in second place with five fish dropping the scales at 9 pounds, 11 ounces. Third place went to Dave Pross with four bass weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces.

John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at

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