When you are a parent who enjoys spending time outdoors, one of your principal concerns would be their excessive exposure to TV, video games, etc. And kayaking with your kids may be a perfect solution!
Today children are subjected to an overall sedentary way of life, and a paddling family trip can help break that routine without engaging in strenuous activities.
But some of you might wonder – Is it safe to kayak with your kids? – Well, Yes, it is pretty safe actually! As long as you follow the recommended safety measures and age of 2-5 years old minimum (never carry toddlers or infants with you). Also, you may want to start with a canoe – keep reading if you want to know why! -.
But guess what? We have good news! We have put together this guide to help you and your kids start bonding through the shared enjoyment of a kayaking adventure! Let’s take a look at all the guidelines you should follow when kayaking with your kids.
The very first thing you must consider when kayaking with kids is that your trips have to be more thoroughly planned for it to be a satisfactory experience. As we mentioned, please remember that no matter how experienced a kayaker you might be, never take a newborn/infant baby (0-12 months old) on a kayak! Or to make things simpler, any time before they fit into a proper Personal Floatation Device (PFD), your kids should not be out in the water.
This is not to say they cannot start young. The proper age to get children to start paddling is when they are about 2-5 years old, and the general rules to bring them along dictate:
- Kids must be able to stay afloat by themselves. So it is a good idea to take them to swimming lessons first just so they get familiar with being in the water.
- Do not focus so much on their age but more on how able and mature your kids are. While they are learning to get the hang of it becoming more and more confident on the boat you should plan for your paddling party to be at least one adult per child.
- Train with your kids, take them running, practise fun exercise routines, and lift some light weights at home. Kayaking is, after all, physically demanding, so this is the best way for them to build stamina and create a group environment.
On your first outings with the kids, you should try to be more conservative about the places you go paddling. Choose a location with calm waters, as it is not recommended to paddle against any currents on their initial kayaking trips. With this in mind, we can all agree that lakes are the perfect option.
Given the fact that children will not be able to paddle for as long and as far as an adult, the chosen destination should have some resting areas available. This will allow you to organise all of your bathroom breaks, lunch, and re-hydration stops. More importantly, pulling over in a beach or picnic area not only gives you a well-earned rest but also prevents your kids from getting bored too soon into your adventure.
As your kids get more experience, you can also widen your options with each new trip. Other destination tips include choosing places with variety (just make sure to know what you are getting into). Remember to always study the currents, tides, and on-water traffic in advance.
The Right Boat
Choosing the appropriate kayak to go paddling with children depends on a series of factors. Going from how old the kids are, their ability, water temperatures, and of course, the purpose of your trip.
- Age and Ability: we promised to explain this, so here we go! For any trips involving kids under 7 years old, you should consider a canoe instead of a kayak. This is because canoes provide you with some extra stability, storage room, and wiggle room, so small children will do just fine. Also, they can easily accommodate one adult and 2-3 child passengers.
Kids older than 7 are ready and able to start learning proper kayak etiquette, as well as building and improving their skills. The best approach for this is to take them on the same boat as you this way, you can easily monitor them while also instructing them in the ways of the paddle.
- Water Temperature: Sit-in kayaks are your best option when taking your kid to paddle on cold waters. Just add a spray skirt to avoid getting excessively wet due to the splashing water.
On the other hand, when gliding through warmer waters, children might require more freedom of movement. So Sit-On-Top -or better yet, Fishing- kayaks are a perfect choice! Not only because they are more stable, but also because you can get in and out of it smoothly (which is a bonus if your kids want to jump in the water for a quick swim).
- Single or Tandem: This is a recurring question, to which there is no -right or wrong- answer, only recommendations.
Our advice here is that children under 8 years old should go as passengers in a tandem kayak with a parent or responsible adult. 8 year-olds and older kids can start assisting in the paddle work to gain some skills.
At 10 years old (if skilled enough), kids can start using Single, small-sized kayaks. And it’s not until they reach 14 years old -and have enough skill and experience- that they should be embarking on Medium or Regular-sized kayaks.
In closing, we could summarise by saying that younger children – who are barely starting to learn the principles of kayaking -, might prefer to paddle in a sit-in cockpit. It gives them more room to move around inside, as well as a lesser chance of falling over. While older children would probably have a better time going on a sit-on-top kayak because they are more stable, and easier to paddle, overall more fun.
Safety Tips and Precautions
If there is one thing about kayaking that we cannot stress enough is that you should never get lazy on safety. Sure, it might sound repetitive, but when our children’s well-being is involved, no safety measure is too much.
- Make sure that your kid’s PFDs are specifically designed for children and fit them perfectly. This is essential because, in the event of an emergency, an oversized PFD will slip up, and therefore will not help keep their heads afloat.
If you would not like to buy a new vest for them every year as they keep growing, there are many models in the market with adjustable sides and shoulders. Also, children might take a while to get used to wearing their PFD, but you may solve this by training them in its use at home (you might even use some type of reward system, just try to make it fun!).
- You should never tie your kid to the boat! It might sound obvious not to do so, but there have been cases in which the vessel capsizes. When that happens, the fact that the child is tethered to it makes it harder to get them fast and safely out of the water.
- If you are paddling on a sunny day, be sure to apply sunscreen to your kids every two hours (do it every 45 minutes if they go for a swim). This is immensely important, as well as wearing sunglasses, a hat, and maybe a long-sleeved shirt.
- Children, due to being smaller in size, are more susceptible to getting cold. So make sure they have enough layers of clothing. Although, the best way to keep them warm -wet or dry- is the use of a neoprene wetsuit.
If you have reached this point in our guide, it means you are almost ready to take your kids on their first paddling expedition! But before going out, know that you need to establish clear rules for the children to follow. They also need to understand that there are consequences when these are not followed.
- No matter how stable it is, there should be no standing, jumping, or reaching out of the kayak.
- All passengers must wear their PFDs at all times.
- No eating or drinking on board! Much less dumping trash on the water.
- Speaking of food, try to bring healthy, light, and easy to carry snacks. Ham and cheese sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, fruits, nuts, and some protein bars will do (and eat them on your rest stops ;])
- Stay hydrated. The exhaustion of paddling, combined with the exposure to direct sunlight, is sure to increase your fluid requirements.
Finally, make sure none of your kids feel left out or think that they are slowing down the group. Help and empower each other equally, and by doing this, kayaking with your kids will be a total success and you will come back home feeling like a winning team. So what are you waiting for? Get your boat, grab your gear, and Paddle On!.