The Ultimate Guide to Kayaking With Kids And Toddlers
It can be common to wonder, ‘how young is too young?’ to take your kids on a kayaking trip. Luckily, double kayaks exist! A kayaking trip is an incredible bonding experience your whole family will cherish for years.
If you plan to introduce your little ones to kayaking but aren’t sure where to start, our comprehensive guide will help. We’ll cover all the must-know information to get your kids kayaking confidently and safely.
The skills that are developed during this formative time go far beyond kayaking. You can foster a sense of exploration, appreciation for nature, and love for fitness in your kids that will last a lifetime.
(Related: Can You Bring Your Baby On A Boat?)
Challenges To Kayaking With Kids
Kayaking with kids can be an enriching and fun experience, but you should understand some risks.
It’s essential to be aware that:
- Water safety is paramount
- Sun safety is a must
- Your children must have basic swimming skills
- All family members should be mindful of what to do in the event of an accident
- You will need necessary supplies (water, food, first-aid) for day trips
Some children are naturally nervous and hesitant around water. For tips on how best to manage this, read here.
Kids will likely take your lead if you are comfortable and confident! However, every family will have a different dynamic; only you know your children’s capabilities best.
(Related: Is Kayaking Dangerous?)
Planning The Ideal Kayaking Trip
Planning your trip will come down to a few key factors.
Most parents prefer to be over-prepared, and in this situation, we agree! We recommend researching the below points to plan your trip.
Will There Be Warm or Cold Water?
Whilst the water temperature doesn’t affect your ability to kayak, it’s an essential factor to note if your kayak tips over!
Kids have more difficulty regulating their body temperature and are more susceptible to hypothermia than adults. You should stick to kayaking in warmer months and avoid anywhere with snow or ice until they are teenagers.
Our tips are below:
- If your child were to fall out of the kayak, be aware that immersion in water below 18 degrees celsius can cause hyperventilation and, in rare cases, hypothermia.
- As a precaution, you should equip children with a wetsuit to insulate them in colder temperatures. Our recommendations are here.
- The time of day will affect water temperature; we recommend sticking to daylight hours only.
You can check the water temperature on your local weather app for your kayaking location.
Will You Kayak On Still Or Moving Water?
Kayaking is a versatile sport that changes depending on the conditions. To understand adequate safety risks and precautions, you should study the water before you embark.
Water can be:
- Moving: Rivers, sea
- Still: Natural lakes, ponds, manufactured swimming clubs, and lakes
If you have kids nervous about their first trip, a gentle day on the lake is a great way to ease their fears. We recommend taking a tandem kayak and familiarising your entire family with the surroundings before they can paddle with you or on their own. Stick to slow rivers.
It’s important to note that experts recommend no child under the age of 6 kayaks alone. Regardless of age, you should supervise all children at all times.
What Time of Day Will You Kayak?
Choosing the time and season to kayak is an essential detail.
The time of year can affect:
- Air temperature
- Favourable wind conditions
- How busy national parks and rivers are with other kayakers
- Budget of the trip (travelling during the summer or school holiday season can be costly)
As for the time of day (although it depends on the location), morning is ideal as it is quieter. Plus, kids also tend to have more energy in the morning!
How Long Will Your Kayak Trip Be?
Choosing the length of your trip will ultimately come down to your budget and the amount of time you can dedicate to travelling.
If you choose to go during the school holidays, it can be fun to make a camping trip. Alternatively, shorter day trips or a few hours on the water may be a big enough adventure for your family.
For longer trips, consider pairing up with other families so that children have friends to socialise with along the way. You can also look up popular kayaking spots in your area and visit them for a picnic lunch to see more before the big day.
Preparing Your Children To Kayak
Getting your kids ready for the trip can help you avoid any miscommunications or anxieties on the day.
For a few weeks before you embark, speak to your children about the upcoming trip and answer any questions or concerns they may have. Build excitement and fortify their confidence. We love these tips here.
Children are adaptive to your excitement as much as they are to stress. If you have your own kayaking stories, share them with your kids so they know it’s truly something to look forward to!
You should also consider the below tips.
Introduce Ultimate Water Sports Skills
Your children can learn a few exercises to improve their kayaking skills.
Having confident children and strong swimmers is excellent for everyone’s peace of mind. Knowing that your child can swim in the event of the kayak tipping also alleviates anxiety for them.
Our tip? Consider practising in the pool or let your child’s swim instructors know they have a kayak trip coming up to practise specific skills.
Paddling and Rowing
Depending on what kind of boat you choose, it’s helpful for kids to know how to use their kayak paddles before you begin kayaking.
Our tip? You can easily show them how it works with a stick or broom. A fun activity for young kids is turning a cardboard box into an imaginary ‘kayak’ and practising paddling in the comfort of your home.
You can also enrol them in kayaking lessons where they will learn as part of a kayaking group. Check out your local paddling association and clubs for more information.
Manage Safety Precautions And Expectations
It’s no secret that children perform better with clear boundaries and expectations, and a kayaking trip should be no different.
You should clearly outline your expectations for the day. Most importantly, have them repeat emergency plans, like how to use a line and float or where to go for help.
Other important safety rules you should outline:
- How to use a safety vest
- Why it’s important to remain seated and not lean out of the kayak
- When to communicate if they become tired or want to stop paddling
- That you will all remain close to the shore and on known waters
- That you will check the weather conditions beforehand and make sure it is safe
TOP TIP! Be sure to plan in regular bathroom breaks so as not to disrupt your trip.
Organising Your Equipment
If you don’t already own a kayak and paddles, you should consider hiring from the water park or lake you are visiting.
Once the family feels confident and excited about regular kayaking, you can invest in your gear. Also, consider second-hand options, as these can be quite expensive!
Kayak or Canoe?
One of the most common queries is choosing a kayak or a canoe. We see benefits to both.
- Kayaks are much smaller than canoes.
- They can be easier to learn with as they are less challenging to steer (lighter)
- Tandem kayaks allow two (sometimes three) people on board.
- Canoes are much larger and broader than kayaks
- They are more sturdy but challenging to manoeuvre (especially in moving water)
- You can fit multiple people in them, like a kayak
- They tend to be more comfortable for longer trips
Single or Double Kayak?
Generally, most kids will be ready to take on the water independently at around fourteen years old and with some practice. Any younger and your child will need to ride with you.
A canoe or double kayak is great for teenage kids to paddle together. Discover great options here. Remember, experienced paddlers should sit in the back, while beginner paddlers should sit in the front.
Sit-On-Top Kayaks Versus Sit-In Kayaks
A sit-on-top kayak is a type of kayak that’s designed for recreational or sports use, particularly in warmer climates. Unlike traditional kayaks where the paddler sits inside the kayak, in a sit-on-top kayak, the paddler sits on top of the kayak’s hull, with their legs exposed to the elements.
A sit-on-top kayak has an open design, with the paddler sitting on top of the kayak’s hull, while a sit-in kayak is enclosed, with the paddler sitting inside the kayak’s hull.
Sit-on-top kayaks are generally wider and more stable than sit-in kayaks. This makes them easier to balance and less likely to capsize. However, sit-in kayaks have a lower centre of gravity, which can also make them more stable.
Sit-on-top kayaks are generally more comfortable than sit-in kayaks, as the paddler’s legs are not confined inside the hull. They are also easier to get in and out of, making them more accessible for people with limited mobility. However, sit-in kayaks can be fitted with more comfortable seats and have a drier ride, as the paddler is protected from splashing water.
Sit-in kayaks are generally faster and more efficient than sit-on-top kayaks, as they have less wind resistance and are more streamlined. Sit-on-top kayaks are more manoeuvrable and can handle a wider range of conditions, including surf and whitewater.
In general, sit-on-top kayaks are better suited for recreational use, such as fishing or exploring calm waterways, while sit-in kayaks are better suited for touring, expedition paddling, and other performance-oriented activities.
Paddle or Duff
Duffing is where a child sits in the middle compartment of the kayak without paddling. Kids old enough to swim will likely enjoy the opportunity to help steer the boat, but duffing is still an exciting adventure for children that are too young.
Duffing can help a child understand how to balance their body in the kayak and the importance of water safety.
Safety Essentials To Pack
If you plan to be out for more than a few hours, we suggest you adequately prepare for all circumstances.
Here are a few essential items to pack for your journey:
- Life jackets for kids and toddlers
- Emergency whistles
- Drinking water
- High-energy snacks like fruit and dates
- First-aid kit
- Warm clothing or a change of clothes
- Waterproof containers for phones and maps
- Wetsuits or water shoes for cold conditions
- Physical maps of the location
Tips For Kayaking With Kids
Once you’ve planned your day and have all the equipment, you’re ready to get out on the water! This is the fun part.
To recap our tips:
- Move confidently: Don’t force your kids in the water if they feel uncomfortable or scared; cultivate excitement and encourage them.
- Practice water safety: Ensure everyone feels confident swimmingbefore you kayak.
- Outline expectations: Go over plans with your children before arriving at the location and answer any questions.
- Practice: Run through any safety devices before the trip (ideally in a pool).
- Make it fun: Hold a sing-along or play a game of I-Spy. Tell your children that you’re proud of them for trying something new!
Taking Kids Kayaking
Kayaking is a one-of-a-kind experience. Like so many other sports activities, inviting your kids along is a great way to create a family experience that allows you to bond, connect and learn from one another.
A kayaking excursion allows you to foster a child’s skills on the water, improve their confidence and encourage their appreciation for nature. With enough planning, a kayaking trip will provide you with magical memories for years to come.