Kayaking with Kids: The Beginners Guide for Safety and Fun

Looking for a great outdoor sport to enjoy with your kids? Or are you a kayaking enthusiast looking to introduce your kids to the adventurous world of kayaking? Regardless of your incentives, kayaking can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your family – as long as it’s well-planned.

According to Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” With these words from one of America’s Founding Fathers in mind, this beginner’s guide highlights important tips and tricks for maximum safety and fun while kayaking with kids.

Benefits of Kayaking with Kids

What do you stand to gain from taking your kids out for a kayaking excursion? Well, aside from seeing their excited little faces and creating lasting memories as a family? Here are a few reasons to kayak with kids.

  • Kayaking can improve your kids' problem-solving skills. They’ll have to re-evaluate emerging circumstances (Eg: An obstruction on their path) and come up with a solution on the spot.
  • Similar to hiking or camping, kayaking helps kids appreciate and learn to protect nature.
  • The kayaking experience helps develop physical awareness and body coordination – similar to field sports.
  • Kayaking helps improve your bond as a family. Think of it as a sort of team-building exercise that helps you connect with your kids at a deeper level.

How to Kayak with Kids – 6 Steps

Kayaking as an adult is confusing enough – now add kids into the equation and it gets more complicated. Which types of kayaks are safer for kids? What about the paddles? What should you pack? As a parent, you inherently want to ensure your kids are safe (first and foremost) and the kayaking experience is fun.

As with any new outdoor adventure, preparation is key! With some organization and forethought, kayaking with kids can be rewarding with minimal stress. Below are 6 steps to safeguard your kids and create lasting memories.

Step 1: Build Skills and Set the Rules

The same way athletes train before a competition, prep your kids for the upcoming kayaking trip. Consider teaching them important lessons such as performing a roll or a wet-exit if the kayak flips over.

Teach them some basic lessons on kayaking in a fun way – don’t make it seem like a classroom lesson. One trick is to bring them along when buying, buffing, or polishing the kayak and narrating interesting kayaking stories.

Step 2: Find a Location

Depending on the skill level, it’s highly advisable to find a location with calm water and an easy exit route such as a slow river, bay, or a small lake. Other location-related considerations include the issue of bathroom breaks, pollution, and scenery.

One way to find an ideal location for kayaking with kids is by consulting a local paddling association or kayaking experts. (PS: Always study the boat traffic and currents in a location ahead of time – and involve your kids too).

Step 3: Determine the Length of the Trip

The length of the kayaking trip depends on several factors, including the child’s physical strength, swimming ability, level of maturity, familiarity with water, coordination level, and the experience with paddling.

The general rule of thumb is to increase the distance of the trip as the kids get older. For example, 5-year old kids should only spend a few minutes in the water – while a 14-year old can be out for up to an hour.

Step 4: Choose the Right Equipment

When choosing the right equipment for your kids, it’s important to consider their skill level, age, physical abilities, and other qualities. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Kayaks: Single or tandem? Paddle or duff? If you have young kids (below 5 years), a great starting point is riding in the center compartment as onlookers (i.e., duffers). Older children (above 5 years) can ride in a tandem kayak as bow paddlers. If the kids are above the age of 10 and they’re skilled enough, they can ride a single kayak. Consider using a sit-on-top model if your child is worried about tipping over.
  • Paddles: Use kayak paddles that are designed for kids – i.e., have a narrow shaft and are around 150-200 cm in length.
  • Safety Gear: Personal floatation devices (PFDs) are crucial for safety! They are sized according to age groups and weight. It is also important to teach your children the necessary safety techniques for using lines and floats in emergencies. (PS: Hands-on safety drills are more effective).

Step 5: Pack Enough Supplies

When packing supplies, involve the kids and personalize the items to their interests. Carry easy-to-prepare food items such as nutritious cookies, dried vegetables, dried nuts, fruits, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, and an excess supply of water.

For your clothing and accessories, consider breathable and water-resistant fiber (e.g. polyester, merino wool or rash guards), waterproof boots, waterproof dry bags, sun protection (sunscreen lotions, UPF-rated clothing, and sunglasses), bathroom necessities, emergency whistles, a VHF radio, binoculars, tow rope, an umbrella, notepads, towels, flashlights, first-aid kit, extra dry clothes, songbooks, a camera to capture the fun moments.

Step 6: Take Care When in the Water

  • Start by providing clear and simple rules for a safe kayaking experience – e.g., not leaning, no standing, etc.
  • Let the kids venture out and explore the great outdoors – but prioritize their safety.
  • For beginners consider taking it slow and keeping the group close
  • Teach the young kayakers some important navigation techniques or facts while in action.
  • Empower the kids and give them opportunities to gain practice and feel useful.
  • Enjoy the scenery, take breaks, and just enjoy the moment.