10 Tips for Kayaking with Kids

When you take the kayak out with kids, it can be a fun filled adventure, or one full of unexpected surprises. While getting to spend time with your kids in the great outdoors can be a great bonding experience, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that everyone is safe and enjoys the kayak excursion.

10 Tips for Kayaking with Kids

Credit: Michael "Mike" L. Baird - Flickr.com




    1. Practice Safety First

Practicing safety first when you are on and off the water not only helps keep everyone as safe as possible, it helps ensure your kids are creating good habits. Before you head out, make sure you talk to your child about water safety and what rules apply when you are out on the kayak. A checklist of safety could include:



  • Personal Flotation Devices (or PFD’s): It is ideal for children to wear a personal flotation device, even if they can swim. This will not only keep them afloat, but could prevent them from panicking should they fall into the water. Make it clear that regardless of swimming ability or age (sometimes older children will not want to wear a life vest because they feel it is childish), it is vital to wear a properly fitted personal flotation device for safety.



In regards to personal flotation devices lead by example. If your children see you practicing safety first by wearing a life vest, they will be more inclined to follow suit.



  • Discussing Ground Rules for Kayaking: While every child differs, there are a few things that everyone should follow when they are out kayaking. 

Some basic kayaking ‘rules’ include:

  • No jumping in or out of the kayak

  • Be mindful of where you hold your paddle.

  • Paddles should only be used to paddle.

  • Life vests stay on until the kayak adventure ends

  • No standing or leaning while in the kayak



  • Wear Protective Clothing: Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, long pants, and long sleeved shirts should be worn when you are out on the water. Being on water you are more likely to get sun burn since the UV rays are reflecting off of the water as well as beaming down from the sun. Prevention is the first line of defense against sun burns, so take extra care when you are out on the water.




    2. Paddle Practice

Giving your children the opportunity to practice paddling will not only help them get used to the weight of the paddle and the technique of paddling, but it will also ensure they are ready when it comes time to take the kayaking trip. 

A few ideas for paddling practice are:

  • Taking the kayak to a small pond or public pool to practice together

  • Signing up for paddling lessons (if you are planning a trip that is a few months ahead)




    3. Look for Calm Waters

Especially if your child has never been out on a kayak trip before, or if they are quite young or a novice level beginner, starting off on calm waters is a must. Make sure to know your river and what time of year is best for taking kids onto the water.



Calm waters will be easier for children to navigate and paddle on. Similarly, calmer waters are also safer. Starting off on calm waters will help your child build their confidence and skills on the water.



Ideal waters for kayaking with kids should be:

  • Windless

  • Without waves

  • Have several shorelines within quick reach


    4. Understand Your Kids Ability

It is important to realize what level of ability, strength, and confidence your child has when it comes to kayaking.

Keep the following things in mind when you are out on the water:

  • Don’t push your child too far. Know when to let them paddle and when not to. Allow them to take breaks from paddling when needed so they don’t get worn out or injure themselves.

  • Don’t plan on going too long. A quick journey of 15-30 minutes should be a great starting point and should be followed by a break on the shore. Once on shore you can explore the area and look for wildlife. Breaking up a journey like this will also keep your child interested.




    5. Make Sure to Pack Snacks

Kids are always in need of a bite to eat, especially when they are doing activities that require a lot of their energy. Keep their energy levels up by providing plenty of snacks and water so they can endure the kayaking trip. 

Make time in your trip to have snacks. Ideas for great snacks to take with you could be:

  • Water

  • Juice boxes

  • Dried fruit

  • Nuts

  • Granola or granola bars

  • Crackers

  • Jerky




    6. Plan for Morning Excursions

Taking your child out before they are due for a nap will help prevent any crankiness. Kayaking in the morning will wear out your child and they will be looking forward to their afternoon naptime. In addition to keeping your child in good spirits, you will also avoid the mid-day sun.



If you have a child that is a bit older and no longer needs to take a nap, you could still plan for a morning trip. Start out kayaking in the morning and take a break for lunch and resting. If your child feels up to it, you can continue kayaking throughout the afternoon. Just be sure they are not too tired to keep going.




    7. Bring a Buddy

Experiencing the great outdoors is always much more enjoyable when you can do so with friends. Your child is no exception and when they have the opportunity to bring a friend along, they will look forward to the trip even more.



When they have a friend with them, your child will be more relaxed, entertained, and will have more fun. Not to mention they will make great memories and bond closer with their friend.



Just be sure there are enough adults to supervise younger children.




    8. Kid Friendly Entertainment

While some children treasure and look forward to their time spent in nature, others might not fully understand what it means to be on a kayaking trip and become bored. This is more common with younger children who cannot paddle as long and will need to take frequent breaks. 

In order to keep your child entertained out on the water, bring along a few of the following items:

  • A toy boat to use alongside the kayak

  • Books

  • A waterproof camera

  • Pebbles or rocks to throw into the water

  • Building blocks

  • A doll wearing a life vest

  • A toy or small fishing line



Keeping your child entertained when they need to rest will prevent crankiness or complaining. When your child has the chance to stay busy and entertained throughout the trip, they will be more likely to enjoy the excursion.




    9. Know When to Tow

If you are not using a double kayak with your child, make sure to stay close by throughout the journey to give your child a sense of security. Additionally, you will also be within reach if the need arises to tow your child.



When your child is confident and skilled enough to kayak on their own, there can still be a need for you to tow them. Know your child’s ability and be prepared to tow them towards the end of the trip should the need it.



Towing is also a great option if you have a younger child that still wants to have a sense of independence. You could set them up with some snacks, drinks, a camera, and a few toys and simply let them enjoy the kayaking experience and the nature around them. This is an ideal option if your child is not strong enough or old enough to paddle for long periods of time, if at all.




    10. Teach As You Go

From launching the kayak, to bringing it back to shore, there are several techniques and tricks you can teach your child along the way. If they are younger, keep the emphasis on safety and explain why you are doing what you are doing in a simple, non-complex way. Encourage your child, regardless of their age, to ask questions if they do not understand something or if they are curious about why you do something.



For older children, explain to them (when the moment is right) how to do something step by step and see if they can follow your instructions to complete a task. Learning by doing is one of the best ways to learn and your child will be able to learn more quickly if they have the chance to do a task themselves.



Learning how to launch, navigate the kayak, how to turn the boat around, and how to handle a capsized boat will not only build their skills, but also their confidence. The sooner your child fully understands kayaking and can demonstrate their skills, the sooner they will be able to kayak in their own kayak.


Kayaking with the family can be a memorable and fun experience, yet kayaking with kids can become hectic. With the help of these kayaking tips, you and your child will soon fall in love with kayaking and look forward to each kayaking journey. When a kayaking trip is properly planned and everyone involved knows what is expected of them, you will be better prepared and fully enjoy the kayaking adventure.



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