These floating accessories can enhance the on-water experience for everyone on board.
When you head out on your boat for a day on the water with family and friends, bringing along a water toy or two can help make the experience even more fun. These small floating “vessels” can help keep you and your crew cool on hot days, provide thrills, spills by giving you another great reason to get in the water.
1. Floating mat. A mat made of dense foam or polyethylene – sometimes known as a “lily pad” due to the popularity of the Aqua Lily Pad® product line – is a must-have item to pack for a summer day on the water. Engineered to float on the surface and provide a safe and comfortable platform for kids, many of these mats are strong enough to support teens and adults as well. Some are even big enough to hold your whole crew at once.
Look for a mat that comes with straps or a bag to keep it rolled up so it will be easier to stow on board. These mats have become so popular with boat owners that some builders are now adding dedicated storage space for a rolled-up raft in their new models.
2. Inflatable float. A recent trend among water-toy manufacturers is to design a large inflatable float with more features than a simple floating mat can provide. Some of these inflatables are shaped like docks, complete with a faux teak color on top and handholds for swimmers along the sides. Other inflatables have a large cut-out area in the middle to form a “swimming pool” area. The most elaborate new inflatable floats are called “cabanas” and come with seating, drink holders and a sunshade overhead.
The beauty of inflatable floats is that when you’re done floating, you can easily deflate them for storage. If you do purchase one, make sure it is made of durable material and comes with an air pump that is quick and easy to use. Also look for a model with a tether attached so that you can tie it to your boat so that it doesn’t get away from you.
3. Inflatable slide. Like floating docks and cabanas, inflatable slides have even become popular with smaller boats. Once inflated, these slides can be mounted over the railing at the bow, stern or side of the boat and secured in place by straps. They are particularly well-suited for pontoon boats. The part of the slide inside the boat has footholds to help you climb to the top. Once again, be sure to choose a model that is easy to inflate and is constructed of heavy-duty material. If younger children will be using the slide, make sure they wear life jackets and ask an adult to stay in the water behind the slide to help them get back into the boat.
4. Towable. These popular water toys have evolved over the years from a simple one-person blow-up ring to inflatable tow-behinds that come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, some holding up to three adults. Instead of having a hole in the middle, doughnut-style, most of today’s towables are solid floats that riders sit on or kneel upon. Some even have a backrest for added comfort. Others are shaped like long tubes you ride like a horse. A towable is towed behind the boat like a waterskier or wakeboarder, but the learning curve far shorter. Once again, look for a towable made of heavy-duty materials.
The number and position of the hand grips is also important – some towables let you ride in more than one position. Unlike a floating mat, a towable requires boat owners to invest in a fair amount of equipment, including dedicated life jackets, a tow rope and a tow post if you boat does is not already equipped with one. For safety’s sake, be sure all riders wear life jackets that fit them and that they know which hand signals to use to let the driver know whether to speed up, slow down or stop altogether. Jus like towing a waterskier or wakeboarder, always post a lookout who will let the driver know if a rider falls off.
5. Stand-Up Paddleboard. In many bodies of water, bringing a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) along can allow you to explore waters too shallow to be accessed by your boat. Kayaks have long been used this way by boaters, but in recent years, SUPs have caught up to them in popularity. Paddling an SUP is a better workout for your entire body and the board can be much easier to store on board than a kayak.
If you have a walk-around style boat, you can transport a board on its side deck between the cabin and rail. You also can purchase an SUP rack, similar to a wakeboard rack, that attaches to the boat’s railing, keeping the board up and out of the way. Some SUPS are inflatable models you can deflate, fold up and stow in a locker in your boat. Life jackets are important safety gear for paddleboarding, along with a tether to tie the board to your ankle and keep it from getting away should you fall in the water.
Floating water toys are highly popular accessories for today’s boaters – particularly those who bring their families along. While some of the larger water toys cost more money, they can provide hours of fun for both kids and adults and add another wonderful way to enjoy the water.
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