Our family loves going for pontoon boat rides at the lake cabin. That's a pretty obvious statement, but I'll go a bit further in saying Andi and I'd boat all day long if our kids would allow it. You see, boating (and fishing / tubing / day drinking / etc.) is boatloads of fun - ha! - until you've got a screaming baby on board, or a preschooler who desperately needs to use the restroom.
We've learned some tips over the years to make trips around the lake more fun for everyone involved. Here's my best advice on boating with small children:
If you only remember one thing -- don't forget the snacks. Cookies, crackers, dry cereal, fruit snacks and Popsicles go along way in keeping little kids occupied on a boat. I fill a gallon-size Ziploc bag full of treats, then use the same bag to collect and keep the empty wrappers from blowing around in the wind once they're gone.
Along the same line of thought, I keep antibacterial hand wipes, diaper wipes, bug spray and sunscreen in a gallon-size Ziploc bag on the boat. Snacks = messy hands, plus it's always good to have extra sunscreen and bug spray along.
Sunset cruises are fun, but our family likes to take sunRISE cruises together. The kids are happier in the morning and let's be honest, we're awake in the early hours anyway. Many weekends, Andi and I will grab a few handheld breakfast foods (think: yogurt tubes, applesauce squeeze packs, fruit) and coffees to-go for us, and head straight to the boat in our pajamas. The best part is, we usually have the entire lake to ourselves and the water's so peaceful and serene.
In the warmer months when we're wearing swimming suits, I bring sand pails, shovels and watering cans for the kids to play with on the pontoon. I fill pails with water (usually about 1/3 full) and let the kids scoop and dump water between the toys. Of course water spills out, but we're on a boat - who cares! If the buckets run out of water, I reach over the side of the boat and scoop up some more from the lake. This activity keeps Tory and Aden occupied for a really long time.
Make sure it floats
A good rule of thumb with small kids -- if you bring it on the boat, make sure it floats. Aden is notorious for throwing things overboard; Andi's lost two minnow scoops already this year. I never bring my iPhone on the boat for this reason (Andi's much braver than I am!). Did you know Ziploc bags filled with snacks will float?! We learned that one the hard way a few weeks ago. Sand pails and water toys are usually safe bets, too.
We keep a potty chair on board for a certain three-year-old to use. One's first thought is that kids can relieve themselves in the lake or it's easy to stop on shore to use a restroom when needed, but the logistics of that aren't as simple. Sometimes we're on one side of the lake (the complete opposite side from our lake cabin) and Tory will proclaim she has to use the restroom IMMEDIATELY. It's faster to use the potty chair on the boat than speed across the lake in a panic. The other option -going to the bathroom in the lake - only makes sense when the water temperatures are warm enough to do so. That's typically only in July and August for us in Wisconsin. (Let's not go into the method of explaining to a preschooler HOW to go to the bathroom in the lake!)
For our kids, life jackets are mandatory whenever they're by the water or on a boat. It's a good habit to get the kids used to wearing them all the time. Tory and Aden practically live in life jackets all weekend long without any complaints. They don't know life at the lake differently.
Finally, it's a good idea to have a sense of humor and low expectations when boating with kids. Andi and I have circled the lake many, many times with a screaming kid on board, and I'm sure we've got a few more trips in our future. Sometimes, kids freak out and you're forced to end the boat ride unexpectedly. It's the nature of doing anything with little kids. And sometimes, like last weekend, Andi and I high-five at the small success of circling the lake TWO TIMES IN A ROW! Dreams really do come true.