With a little thought and planning, kayaking with children is a great way to foster a love of nature and help them develop hand-eye coordination. With kids, it’s usually a good idea to choose a kid-friendly destination without a lot of boat traffic or strong currents. You may want to begin in small lakes nearby until they get a bit more experience. Here are some tips to help you plan a kayaking trip with your children, including advice about where you should go, what you should bring and when your kids are ready to paddle on their own.
What to Bring
The first thing you need to bring, of course, is your kayak! Most families can enjoy a day on the water with an inflatable kayak, which is easy to store in the trunk of the car and inflate when you get to the water. You’ll also need a paddle for everyone that will be actively involved. Look for child paddles, which are usually around 200 cm long with a narrow shaft that’s easier for small hands to hold. PFDs (personal floatation devices) are also necessary, so select models that are approved by the United States Coast Guard. You can find infant-sized PFDs, as well as those for children between 30 and 50 pounds and youths between 50 and 90 pounds. A word of advice here: if you plan to bring a baby, get them used to the PFD before your trip because they may refuse to wear it when you’re ready to hit the water.
Along with these basics, make sure you bring along plenty of snacks and food, a change of clothing and a first aid kit. Small kids will also likely appreciate their own camera to take pictures, binoculars to spot animals, a journal, books or even a fishing pole of their own if you plan to do some kayak fishing.
Choosing the Best Spot
When you’re enjoying paddle sports with your kids, try to choose areas that offer a lot of variety and great scenery to keep them engaged. You’ll also want to know the area well beforehand. If possible, research state parks in your area to find great kayaking areas that are kid-friendly and include a couple of stops for bathroom breaks. You’ll also need to think about the length of the trip, as younger kids won’t be up for a long 6-mile paddle. Keep in mind your child’s strength, coordination, age and swimming ability when you’re planning your trip to make it safe and enjoyable for everyone.
When Can Your Kids Paddle?
Some kids can begin paddling their own kayak by 8 to 10 years of age, if they have the experience. You’ll still want to venture into safe areas until they gain more experience. Younger kids do well with inflatable kayaks, which are lightweight and a bit slower. For kids 10 and older, select a small kayak. Kids over the age of 14 can learn to paddle medium-sized inflatable kayaks. If your child is under 8, the middle of the kayak is the best place for them to sit with an adult. They won’t help to propel the boat, but they will learn how the kayak feels as it moves. By the age of 8, they can also begin riding in the bow of a double kayak to help you paddle.
Involve Your Kids in the Planning
Don’t forget to involve your children in the planning of the trip as well. If your kids have never been involved in paddle sports before, let them get in the kayak at home so they can get used to how it feels. They can also help you research the trip by looking through guidebooks, animal charts and pictures online.
Additional Tips for Kayaking with Kids
Be sure to give your kids lots of praise and don’t criticize their efforts unless it’s a matter of safety.
Make rules clear beforehand, including no standing or leaning in the kayak.
Go slowly and don’t get separated from the rest of your family.
Take plenty of breaks to enjoy the scenery and point out interesting things to your children.