November 19, 2021

The Family Guide to Kayaking with Kids

by Kevin

Table of Contents

Family adventures are great, and there is nothing better than having a good time and enjoying nature with your kids. One of the best ways to do this is by taking them on a kayaking adventure.

Kayaking with kids helps strengthen the family bond and provides a new perspective about nature and life. The experience helps distract them from the daily routine and helps them learn and appreciate the natural environment.

However, most of you may be wondering how to go about it and what you could do to help the kids have a rewarding experience. The best way to do this is through thorough preparation and organization.

Please start small and let the kids have controlled and easily understandable learning moments. Eliminate any surprises, keep their stress levels down, and most importantly, let them have fun.

This article is meant to provide you with tips and insights you could use to help your kids have the best kayaking experience. Read on to find out how to prepare for your trip, available family boat options, how to be safe, what to do during the trip, and more.

Planning the Trip

Planning the Trip when kayaking with kids

Who should go

Various paddlers have varying paddling experiences. Thus, please exercise caution and ensure that you, or whomever you trust, are a well-experienced paddler to take your child out in a kayak.

Ensure that each child you plan to take on your kayaking trip is assigned to an experienced and trusted paddler. If you have enough adults in your group, then you could go ahead and let your children invite some of their friends.

Where to go

For a great kayaking experience with kids, the best places to go are locations with calm waters and minimal currents. It would be great if an experienced adult tested the waters before going in as a group.

You could start on protected lakes, slow rivers, and bays where kids can develop their skills stress-free. Make incremental adjustments on preferred locations to provide your kids to make progress and become better.

Here are some tips to help improve your kids’ experience:

Select locations that offer lots of variety

Study and understand the chosen location by checking and observing the tides, boat traffic, and currents beforehand. Get your kids involved to help improve their knowledge.

Take bathroom breaks into account, especially if you have little kids

Talk to experienced paddlers, your paddling association, or social media platforms to get the best paddling locations for kids.

Length of the trip

It would be best to choose the appropriate periods for your trip, considering that kids lose interest quicker than adults. Try and keep your first trip to an hour or a half, unless your child wants to stay longer than that.

If you have babies or toddlers, then you could try and take them out into the water for a few minutes at a time (possibly at the water’s edge). The older your child, the longer you can stay in the water. However, the general rule of thumb is to go for a third of the distance or period you’d go with an adult.

Things to Consider when Kayaking with Kids

Things to Consider when Kayaking with Kids

Your kid’s:

  • Boat and paddling experience
  • Familiarity with water
  • Age and maturity level
  • Physical strength
  • Swimming ability
  • Coordination level
  • Practice beforehand

If you’re planning for a trip a few months from now, then the best thing to do would be to sign your child up for some kayaking and swimming lessons. Let your kids learn a roll (wet exit) and how to scramble in and out of the boat comfortably.

You could also help your kids get physically prepared for the trip by encouraging them to do push-ups, pull-ups, and minimal weight lifting. Go for some long runs and help them get fit enough for the push and pull of their paddle stroke.

Kayaking with Kids: Family Boat Options

Kayaking with Kids Family Boat Options

Canoe or kayak

Deciding on whether you’ll take a kayak or a canoe on your trip depends on your paddling location, your child’s age and ability, and what you plan on doing. Other variables that can affect your decision include seat choice, comfort levels, your destination, and if you want the kids to paddle.

Typically, children 4 to 7 years old can sit in your kayak; however, they won’t provide any effective propulsion, limiting your distances. You could take a canoe for children who are seven years old or younger since they offer more stability, have more gear, and have enough wiggle room for your kids.

Children 8 years old or older are ready to paddle and can be carried on either a kayak or a canoe. However, it would be good to ensure that you practice all safety techniques meant to keep you safe.

Cold waters

You could go on a canoe with a cover made of waterproof plastic or a decked kayak. You could position your child in the bow or put them in the middle with an experienced adult on either side of the boat.

The middle compartment found on kayaks isn’t made for a third passenger but for storing gear. As such, it doesn’t have a spray skirt. However, sitting your child in the middle part should be fine if you’re paddling on calm waters.

Warmer waters

If you live in or visit warm water locations like the Florida Keys, Hawaii, or Baja, you could go for a sit-on-top kayak. You could improvise the kayak to fit two or three small children. You could also purchase an inflatable kayak if you have limited storage space or don’t want to invest in the carrier.

Paddle or Duff? Single or double?

Your children’s age, size, physical ability, paddling experience, and other qualities determine whether you’ll take with you a paddle or duff and whether it’ll be single or even a double.

Riding in the boat’s center (duffing) is an excellent way for young paddlers to learn and improve their paddling techniques. They won’t be much help at propelling the boat forward, but they’ll be able to observe and learn how to paddle.

Here are our recommendations according to the research we’ve made:

  • Age 8 – Duffer in both kayaks and canoes
  • Age 8 or older – A bow paddler in a canoe or a double kayak
  • 4 to 7-year-olds – a paddler/bow rider in a canoe or double kayak
  • Ten years or older (skilled) – Paddle in a small, single kayak
  • 14 years or older (skilled) – Paddle in a single medium kayak
  • 14 years or older (skilled) – Paddle in a single small canoe

Paddle sizes

Your paddle is the most crucial kayaking accessory when going paddling. It’s best to select one that is most comfortable for you and your kid. For your kid, pick a kayak paddle with a narrow shaft and about 200 cm long. If buying canoe paddles, choose one that’s about as long as the distance from your child’s feet to their nose.

Safety Gear when Kayaking with Kids

Kayaking with Kids Selling the Trip

Personal Floatation Devices (PDFs)

While paddling is fun, it would not be best to skimp when it comes to safety and kayaking safety gear list. Laws and regulations dictate that all individuals in small crafts should use PDFs. Take your time to search for, and find one that’s been approved for use by the US coast guard.

Ensure that you follow the proper rules for usage and that you always secure the crotch strap. You should also ensure that you choose the right-sized PDF for your child and that their head is positioned correctly with the help of the neck pad. 

The sizes include 8-30 pounds for infants, 30-50 pounds for children, and 50-90 pounds for youth.

Note: You may notice that your child doesn’t like the neck pad. Please train and educate them on the neck pad’s importance before going on the trip. You could also reward them for keeping on the neck pad.

Lines and floats

Lines and floats are essential, especially in rescue situations. You, your family, and anyone else you choose to go on your kayaking trip must understand how to use them.

Some safety techniques often used with lines and floats include the wet exit (mentioned above). The wet exit technique is when paddlers get out of their cockpit (often due to a forced event like capsizing or emergencies) and have to get back in.

Some safety lines and float gear are:

  • A throw bag for all adults
  • A paddle float for all adults
  • A towline for every boat

Warning: it’s never a good idea to tether or tie your child to the boat as this could be more dangerous in the event of an accident.

Note: Don’t over-rely on all this gear. Instead, go for some safety classes with your entire family on what to do in case of a boating accident.

Kayaking with Kids: Selling the Trip

Safety Gear when Kayaking with Kids

If you are enthusiastic about your kayaking experience, then the chances are that if you enthusiastically explain it to your kids, then they’ll be happy to join you. You could let your kids have a taste of the experience by placing your kayak on top of some pillows on our lawn and allowing them to paddle or play with it.

Other tips for kayaking with kids:

Research your trip

Please research your trip and find relevant guidebooks, tide, current charts, animal charts, etc. This could be a fantastic conversation starter for children interested in learning more about nature.

Personalize the trip and make it interesting for the kids

You could make them excited for the trip by involving them in the packing process and letting them decide what they would like to do on the trip. If possible, you could also let them bring along a friend.

Emphasize tradition

If you’ve gone kayaking previously, the best way to get them excited for the trip is by telling them about all the fun you had in your previous adventure. You could use photos and maps to act as visual reminders.

Packing for the Trip

If you can pack your stuff, then the chances are that you can pack for your kids. However, it would be good to have a list of items that you need packed and split the items between all adults present. It would be good to involve your kids in this adventure.

Tip: If your child is seven or older, then the chances are that they prefer packing by themselves. You could allow them to do this, but give them a list of items they are supposed to pack for kayaking and inform them that you’ll have to recheck their items later. Praise them and have them keep their bag close in case they want a snack.

Food and hydration

You’ll need to consider healthy and easily packaged foods like mangoes, apples, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and dry foods. You could also go ahead and pack some snacks for quick energy boosts.

Ensure that you pack enough drinking water for your trip. Paddling is exhaustive and could cause you to become dehydrated, especially when combined with sunlight. You could pack water pillows since they carry more water and can be placed below the seats helping provide your boat with a low center of gravity.


You could go ahead and layer your clothes with breathable, water-resistant fibers like merino wool, rashguards, and polyester. Avoid cotton fabrics unless you’re kayaking in extra warm conditions. Also, remember to pack an extra set of clothes for children under 7.

Tip: Store your clothing in watertight dry bags that’ll be kept strapped tightly to the boat’s inside. Ensure that there aren’t any ropes or loops that could snag a paddler. (You could forgo packing some items if you’re visiting a location where you can access these items)

Some essential items for kids:

  • Wide-brimmed hats to protect your kids against the sun and rain
  • Some high-knee or mid-calf boots to protect their feet from hazardous materials. You could pack a pair of slippers in case you’re visiting a hazard-free zone.
  • Sun-protection clothing
  • Fitting raingear
  • Bathroom necessities

Other packing suggestions when going on a kayaking trip with kids:


  • A monocular (more manageable for kids to use) or some binoculars
  • A fishing pole
  • A pencil and a notepad
  • Books
  • Tiny pop-up tents if you’re planning to stay overnight

All ages

  • Water pouches and personal water bottles with insulators that contain more water than you feel you’ll need
  • Emergency whistles
  • Sunglasses that fit and work well
  • Short seats (provide a low center of gravity), or seat pads
  • Throw/tow rope
  • Sprayskirts and decks (used to cover any open compartments)
  • Songbooks
  • Personal compasses and maps
  • An umbrella
  • Tarps for the rain or a picnic

The Trip’s D-day

What to Include When Choosing Kayaking Safety Gear Kit

Review the wet exit procedure with children and adults alike before starting your trip. Ensure that you provide good examples of what will happen during your trip. Have the kids ask questions that need clarification.

Allow enough time to load the boats, ensure that the children have gone to the bathroom, applied their sunscreen, and taken some snacks. Begin your trip after everyone is ready.

Kayaking With Kids: What to Do on the Water

Start slow

Start slow and avoid getting separated. Always leave enough distance that you can talk to your partners in other boats. If there are other well-experienced adults in the other boats, then they could separate.

Keep in mind that if the waters are too rough, the best thing to do would be to keep close. However, if they are extra choppy, you’ll have to be careful since it could cause you to have an accident.

Provide your kids with the rules

The next thing to do is provide your kids with safety rules that they should follow. Tell them that they shouldn’t lean, stand, etc., and the consequences that follow if they do not follow the rules.

Teach the kids

Now that your kid’s in the water, it’s time for a lesson. You could teach your kid what to do in various instances. For instance, you could teach them how to react against a wave, how to draw into an eddy, and how to navigate the currents.

Empower them

You’ll need to begin by letting the slowest paddler lead and then switch. You could turn it into a game and make it more interesting for the kids. If you are paddling with an inexperienced paddle, then you’ll need to let them rest after paddling some distance. You could also let the littlest duffers paddle and have fun too.


Take as many breaks as you like and enjoy the scenery. Avoid criticizing performance unless it’s a safety issue, and make it a point to praise good paddling. Give the kids some tips, a demonstration, and let them practice but save serious lessons for the shore to avoid spoiling the fun. Take some time off the boats and enjoy the shore too.

What If Things Don’t Go as Planned

Kayaking with kids isn’t a textbook activity, and there is a chance that something may go wrong. During your trip, the best thing to do during your trip is to go with the flow and ensure that everyone has a great time.

One thing you’ll need to take care of so that it won’t hold you down is boredom, which may prove difficult, especially with young children who aren’t used to generating their fun.

You could spice the experience by infusing some games, singing, handing out treats, or even taking breaks. Get ready to do the most paddling and if you have a tired paddler in a single kayak, then offer to tow them to shore.

You could end the trip by rewarding your kids with whatever you promised them initially, i.e., dinner in their favorite restaurant, more talk time with their friends, etc. What are you planning for your next trip?

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About the author 


Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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