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Kayaking with Kids

Bring the kids with you when you go kayaking. You can create a rewarding experience with some planning and organization. Just remember to start small and keep stress levels low by avoiding surprises—except those of discovery, of course.

Planning the Trip

Who Should Go

The range of people who are “appropriate” for paddling is as broad as the sea. But proceed with caution. Never take a child out on the water unless you are an experienced paddler or are accompanied by an experienced paddler. Plan on one adult for every child until all paddlers’ levels are determined and all members of the group are known and trusted. If there are enough adults, your child may bring a friend or two.

Where to Go

Unless you are very experienced and have the appropriate boats for the situation, you should look for calm water with little current. Begin with protected small lakes, bays, and slow rivers to help kids develop skills and reduce stress. Your options expand with each additional trip.

Destination tips:

  • Choose locations that offer a wide range of experiences.
  • Know what you’re getting yourself into. Prepare by researching tides, currents, and boat traffic with your children. When you encounter these conditions, your children are proud to call them out, and you all feel safer together.
  • Know where the bathroom breaks will be to the best of your ability. This is especially true for young children.
  • Talk to experienced paddlers or the paddling experts at your local REI to find a kid-friendly paddling destination. You could also try your local paddling association, state parks commission, or park service websites. For more tips and updates, follow My Kayaking Guide, a popular blog on kayak, pontoon boat, paddling accessories and lot more. 

Length of Trip

When deciding how long to stay out, be conservative. If you exceed your expectations, everyone wins. For all first trips, regardless of age, half an hour to an hour is sufficient. It may only be a few moments of sitting in the cockpit at the water’s edge for babies and toddlers.

One rule of thumb is to plan your trip in short loops that are one-third the distance you would normally travel with your adult counterparts. In general, the more time you can spend on the water, the older the child. Take into account the child’s:

  • Knowledge of water
  • Paddling and boating experience
  • Age or maturity level
  • Capability to swim
  • Physical stamina
  • Level of coordination

Build Skills Beforehand

Is your trip months away? Consider enrolling yourself and your children in swimming and kayaking lessons. Swimming lessons are frequently provided at community pools. You’d be surprised at how quickly kids learn to feel at ease scrambling in and out of a boat while practising a wet exit or roll. For some fundamentals, see the REI Expert Advice article Getting Started Kayaking.

Try fun workouts with your kids to add another layer of training. Go for some long runs (we call them “crossings” because we pretend to be paddling from one island to another). Lift weights or do pull-ups and push-ups together at home to improve the push and pull of your paddle stroke.

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