Tips for canoeing and kayaking with kids

Canoeing with kid

Canoeing and kayaking with kids requires a little extra planning, but can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re an experienced paddler, you can easily adapt your trips to be more kid friendly. If you’re less familiar with paddling, consider going on a couple of trips with an outfitter first, just to get your “lake legs” and build up skills and confidence.

Here are our tips for making your time on the water enjoyable and safe.

Get the right-sized PFD

Babies and kids require specific personal flotation devices (PFDs) sized to their weight. PFDs for infants and small children will have a strap that goes between the legs to keep the vest from sliding off, as well as a puffy collar to keep little heads out of the water should they go for an unplanned swim. Buy the PFD that fits your child now—buying a size up in the hopes of getting a couple of seasons out of it is dangerous. Most kids’ PFDs come with a handy loop on the back, which makes hauling them back into the boat that much easier. To get kids excited about wearing their PFDs, test them out at home (head to the beach or pool)—which will also help you practice getting them on and off the craft.

Seat them in the right spot

Small kids should be within arms’ reach of an adult. Infants can easily become “bow babies,” tucked in a carrier in the bow of the canoe. Once children get a little older, they can sit in the middle of a canoe or a recreational double kayak. When they get big enough, invest in some kid-sized paddles so they feel like they’re contributing to the journey—plastic paddles are a nice, lightweight option that won’t scrape your gunwales. Avoid panic and turnarounds by tying your kid’s paddle to the boat—just in case. (Don’t, however, tie your kid to the boat—this can be very dangerous if the canoe flips.)

Plan your route

Stay close to shore, not just for safety reasons but because demands for bathroom breaks can be unpredictable. If there are portages, plan in advance who’s going to carry the canoe and who’s going to watch the kid(s)—it’s hard to do both. And, when planning your route, count on being able to cover about a third of the distance you’d usually cover without kids. One last suggestion—go upriver first, when everyone’s happy and feeling energetic. Trying to paddle against the current with a tired, cranky kid at the end of a trip can be pretty miserable.

Dress and equip ‘em right

Assume that whatever your kid is wearing is going to get wet, so dress them in water-resistant, quick-drying fabrics (merino wool and synthetics are good choices—avoid cotton unless you’re going to be somewhere very warm) and pack good rain gear. A wide-brimmed hat, kiddie sunglasses (on a strap), and lots of sunscreen will also make little paddlers much more comfortable. Consider giving them an emergency whistle they can attach to their PFD.

Practice makes perfect

Practice getting in and out of the canoe or kayak in shallow, calm water, just so everyone gets used to the rocking motion. When kids get older and they graduate to their own boats, consider tying them to your dock with a long tether to practice paddling—that way, if they get stuck and can’t maneuver back to land, you can haul them back easily.

Ease up on your expectations

Camping with kids is going to have some amazing moments—and some that will have you wanting to hit yourself repeatedly with a paddle. Relax. You’re working on a long-term project: instilling a love of nature in your kids that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Sure, they might throw up in the canoe after eating too many handfuls of trail mix—but that’s life with children. Just think of all the great stories you’ll have to tell when you get back home.

What tips do you have for paddling with kids?

Featured photo credit: Shawn Goldberg/Shutterstock.com