Baby-proofing a cottage entails clearing up all the same potential threats you’d find in your cottage—such as exposed electrical sockets, and storing away knives and other sharp kitchen utensils, medicines, and cleaning supplies—plus a few extra hazards, including tricky staircases, open flames and, of course, the giant body of water just outside the back door.
Kids’ eye view
The best way to spot potential hazards for a toddler is to get down on your hands and knees and see the world from their perspective. You’re going to want to install baby-proof locks or latches on any lower-level drawers and cabinets that house the potentially lethal items mentioned above. Alternatively, move all of those items to the upper cabinets if storage space allows.
Electric outlets also happen to be right at toddler eye level. As a child I learned the hard way that you do get a painful jolt if you try shoving something like a fork into them. Remove that temptation by covering them with plastic plugs or by replacing the receptacle covers with childproof models with sliding covers.
Inspect any blinds that use cords to open and close. Sadly, children have choked to death on the loop formed by cords knotted at the bottom. Make sure the strands are separated, and either cut them short or install a hook you can loop the cord around out of a child’s reach.
For infants, a portable pack-and-play crib is a cottage essential. It provides a safe place for children to sleep and play while the adults are in the kitchen prepping meals, or lounging on the deck or dock. When using one outdoors, just remember to find a shady spot or mount an umbrella.
When there’s a large group at the cottage, make sure that one responsible adult (i.e. someone who isn’t imbibing) is designated to monitor the children. No one wants a tragedy to start with “I thought you were watching her…”
If your cottage has interior stairs, odds are they’re steeper and harder to navigate than the ones at home, so baby gates are essential. If you have a young child (or grandchild) who will regularly be visiting the cottage, consider installing screw-mounted gates and the top and/or bottom of any stairways has access to. If you’d rather not mark your walls with a permanent obstacle, there are pressure-mounted versions that can be put in place for temporary use.
Custom built—or DIY built—cottages often have atypical stairways that may have extra wide openings. There are a number of multi-panel gates on the market that can be linked together to cover a virtually unlimited width. Another option is to “gate off an area approaching the stairs, such as the hallway, which might be easier,” says Yehudah Franken, of Toronto-based Baby Proofers Inc.
Cottages have a number of potential burn risks, from woodstoves and fireplaces to the outdoor fire pit. Be extra vigilant in monitoring children when these items are in use. Again, a multi-panel gate to enclose the area might be the solution. Just make sure you don’t place any combustible materials too close to the heat source.
If you’ve got a pool at the cottage, you have to have a fence around it. But you don’t want to try to fence in your entire shoreline. One alternative for peace of mind is the Safety Turtle Pool Alarm. This system uses a watch-like wristband that’s wirelessly connected to a monitor. If the device gets wet, an alarm goes off. (There’s also a model for dogs.)
Make sure you have appropriately sized lifejackets for all the children visiting the cottage. In an emergency situation, and oversized PFD will slide up the wearer’s torso and will not keep their head out of the water.
And do not rely on water wings as a safety device. “They’re not only useless, they’re dangerous. I don’t know why they still sell them,” says Franken. As with an oversized PFD, water wings can actually raise a child’s arms over their head while their mouth and nose are below the surface of the water. “At the lake it’s really important that you have someone there whose job is to do one thing and one thing only: watch the kids,” advises Franken.