Kayaking with Kids: Guide for Families | Kayak Horizons


Kayaking is an excellent exercise to take up at any age. It easily boosts your mental health quite a few notches, while exercising major sets of muscles simultaneously. It’s also one of the most exciting methods of exploring new routes and places, whether for pure adventure or fishing.

What we’re going to discuss today is the dilemma of whether or not to bring your kid along with you on a kayaking trip. The short answer to this is yes, it’ll be beneficial and exciting for your child, and it’ll prove to be a great fun bonding experience for both of you.

Still, there’re many rules and guides that you must follow to ensure you and your kid’s safety at all times. Putting a child on a water vessel is a great responsibility, and it’s of paramount importance for you to be ready for anything at any time.

That’s why we’ll try our best to break down kayaking for kids piece by piece for you, in order to give you much-needed confidence.

Kayak Type

How To Choose a Kayak

The variety of kayaks can be quite overwhelming as there are so many variables that go into choosing the right one. Nevertheless, we’re speaking about kayaking with kids, that’s why we’ll talk about two kayak categories. 

The first will be the sitting position, which includes two subtypes: the sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks. Our second variable will be the number of people paddling. You can go for a solo or choose a tandem kayak where your little one can help with a little bit of paddling.

Sit-On-Top

In our case of taking your children out on a kayak, the more comfortable and safer option will have to be the sit-on-top kayak, for plenty of reasons. 

Firstly, it’s hassle-free to get in and out of a sit-on-top kayak. You don’t have to put your legs somewhere or fit yourself inside, you just place yourself where you’re supposed to be, and you’re good to go. 

Secondly, if your kayak flips, it’s 100-times easier to return it back and get back on it if it’s a sit-on-top vessel. Also, it’ll always stay afloat because it cannot hold water. If it fills with any water, it’ll quickly drain it through the scrubber holes. 

Lastly, it’s a lot more enjoyable for the kids as long as you keep to calm waters, as they can get on it, off it, swim a little bit, and play a little bit in the water.

Sit-Inside

Sit-inside kayaks are designed for experienced kayakers who’re going out on adventurous trips. They have many privileges; however, they’re not our best choice when you’re taking your kids with you, specifically because they cannot hold many people.

Also, if your kayak flips, you’ll have to go through a series of techniques to drain it and get back on it. Lastly, it is a lot harder and heavier to deal with.

Solo

If you’re taking one child with you who’s too young to be paddling, then a solo kayak will do you good for the time being. Still, we do not recommend it because your child will grow up, and they’ll want to start helping you and learn more about these trips. 

So, if you keep your solo, you’ll have to keep changing places, and one of you’ll be doing nothing for almost half the trip. Also, when they’re too young to paddle, you have to be sure that you’re capable of paddling the entire distance back and forth. Otherwise, you’ll need to be towed in.

Tandem

If your child is around seven-eight years or older, they’re perfectly capable of paddling slightly. That’s why a tandem will be an excellent choice for you.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Personal Flotation Devices

Personal Flotation Devices are the most crucial part of your child’s preparation to go out onto the water. If any unfortunate event happens, you might not be fast enough to reach your kid and lift them above the water’s surface fast enough.

That’s why, if your child doesn’t have the appropriate PFDs, they can’t be allowed anywhere near the water even if they can swim. The thing is, it’s not as easy as purchasing a couple of life jackets.

The age and size of each child are what determines which type of PFD will be most suitable. If your child weighs anything between eight and thirty pounds, then they’ll require Infant PFDs.

If their weight lies between thirty and fifty pounds, then Child PFDs is the category for them. Lastly, if they weigh anything from fifty to ninety pounds, then they’ll go with Youth PFDs.

The PFDs used for infants and children are designed differently from youth PFDs.They have crotch straps to keep the jacket where it’s supposed to be, along with added head support in order to protect the neck if your child goes into the water, and keep their head over the surface. Plus, it’s also designed with grab handles that’ll help you retrieve your child out of the water.

Mostly, these three categories include specifically designed life jackets, of which we have five different kinds. Today, we’ll only be discussing two of them; Type III; Flotation Aids, and Type II; Near-Shore Vests.

Flotation Aids

These are the life jackets used for the youth category, and they’re similar to adult life jackets as they’re suitable for a wide variety of water sports. They provide some freedom of movement. However, they don’t flip you on your face. So they’re designed for kids who can swim a little bit or even attract attention to themselves for a quick rescue.

Near-Shore Vests 

Those are used for the children and infant category as they differ from other life jackets in some critical areas. They’re designed to flip their users face-up, therefore, performing the essential part of the rescue procedure.

Lastly, we would like to say that although PFDs are critical, they’re not the most comfortable thing to wear. They’re puffy, and they tend to limit one’s freedom of movement. That’s why you must work on familiarizing your children with them.

Have them try them on repetitively and get used to their feel. Most importantly, let them know that they’re not allowed anywhere near the kayak without their appropriate PFDs, as the importance of PFDs must be ingrained in them early on.

Paddles

Best Kayak Paddle

Paddles are the pillars of any kayaking trip, and children are not excluded from this rule. If this is your child’s first time, and you want them to have the full experience, bring them to the shop, feel, and try out different paddles.

Explain the differences between the different categories and what’s the effect of such variations on the trip. Help them find one that fits their hands and general build and that they’re comfortable with.

Typically, an eligible paddle for a child will be around 200 cm in length, but paddles do come in all shapes and sizes. So, when your child favors one model over all others, he’ll feel a link and sense of responsibility towards it, and he’ll be enormously excited to try out his choice.

Child’s Age

Your child’s age will impact several factors like the appropriate PFDs, what you can pack for them, how you can prepare them, their position on the kayak, and what they can do. The latter is what we’ll discuss right now.

If your child is younger than eight years old, then they cannot paddle, or rather, they cannot paddle on their own. Thus, if you’re in a single kayak, you should place your less-than-eight-year as a duffer.

On the other hand, if you’re in a double-kayak and you’ll be paddling on the other side, they can paddle alongside you for a bit and share it in the excitement.

Nevertheless, if they’re older than eight years old, they can start paddling at the bow of the kayak. That’ll give them a sense of leadership, and definitely, a lot of excitement.

Target Destination

Where you’re going is one of the key factors that might make or break this trip. By knowing your child’s preferences, you can easily sell this trip to him through picking the right destination.

Nonetheless, for safety reasons, comfort, and security, if your companions are all quite young and incapable of paddling, you should stick to places that you know very well. 

There’ll be no surprises, nothing you have to deal with other than the ordinary, and you can give your little ones a little more freedom to roam around when you’re in knowledge of your surroundings.

Also, since when you’re with your kids, you’d like to take every possible precaution; no matter how skilled you’re, try to keep to calm protected waters such as smaller lakes and rivers. Stick to places where you know there’ll be minimal drifts, nothing that can pull you or unsettle the kayak too bad to tip it over.

One last thing is that you’re never allowed to tie your kid to your kayak. It’s against every safety rule. If your kayak tips over, your child will have extreme difficulty or even no way to reach the surface. If it drifts, your child will be pulled along with it. That’s why it’s absolutely against the rules to limit the mobility of your little one.

Trip Length

This, of course, depends a lot on how old your kids are and their preferences. If they’re a little older and have a little more knowledge about kayaking and staying out on the water, you can actually extend the length of your trip and even set up a little camp.

Still, all the safety precautions that we have mentioned before and will mention later on are to be followed. Try to be in a place that you know well to avoid any emergencies or surprises, and make sure that you have a good connection on your cell phone or any communication method with civility.

On the other hand, if it’s your little ones’ first time on the water, and they’re way too young to be camping or staying the night out, we would advise you to cut your standard kayaking time by ⅔.

Keep them out there as long as their attention is captured, but when you see them weaning down, head home, and call it a day.

Activities to Do on the Trip

Kayaking with your children can be used efficiently to perform various activities that’ll strengthen your bond. You can use this time as one-on-one time, which every kid needs.

Moreover, you can go more in-depth with the same activities that you have done to prepare him for kayaking, such as telling stories that’ll be a lot more realistic for him since he’s in the environment itself.

You can also teach him how to fish; if you’re in relatively shallow waters, you can improve swimming, maybe do some bird or animal watching. If your children are a little older, you can prepare for a camping trip and do all sorts of camping activities.

Consequently, your kayaking trip can range anything between 20 minutes and a few days. It all depends on the circumstances around you, where you’re, where you can go, your children’s age, and their knowledgeability.

Prepare something that fits your schedule, your kids, your capabilities, and take as much from such quality time as you can.

Lastly, one of the most important parts to plan when taking your kids on a kayaking trip with you’ll have to be bathroom breaks. How, when, and where you will organize such breaks must top priority on your list in order to avoid any mishaps or accidents.

Packing

Kayak Packing

We’re going to state two general rules for packing; the first being that it’ll always depend on your target destination, and the length of your trip. Of course, your target destination includes the weather, kind of water, and obstacles that you’ll face.

The second thing we would like to say is that kids like to maintain a level of independence. Hence, the best thing to do is to guide them in the beginning and then let them do their own thing. Perhaps even prepare a checklist and go through it with them when you’re all finished.

Food and Water

Always pack more of these two than you think you’ll need, especially water. All the environmental factors, such as being exposed to the sun, wind, and water, while paddling and rocking in the boat will affect everyone inside the kayak, especially the younger ones.

Thus, make sure that you have enough water pouches or bottles on you for more than adequate hydration. Try to steer clear from plastic or disposable containers and go for environmentally friendly ones.

As for food, try to stick to small nutritious meals that are not messy, and that’ll give a significant boost of energy. Some candies and fun-food are welcome as well as long as they’re taken in moderation. They can actually be utilized as trophies.

Gear

These items can prove to be quite helpful in cases of an emergency. Plus, in normal circumstances, they’ll keep your children’s attention, boost their imagination, and have them genuinely connect with the trip.

Such items include extra comfortable seat pads, emergency whistles, emergency tow ropes, spray decks, and umbrellas.

These items are also quite useful in cases of sudden weather changes, as they can be obtained in compact varieties that would not take up too much space off your kayak.

Clothes

You never know what could happen, as we’ve mentioned before, you might be faced with unexpected weather changes. So, make sure that you bring the correct size rain gear for all your little ones.

On the other hand, if the heat of the sun gets way too hard, you should be prepared with your extra sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to rectify the situation as much as possible.

Mostly, a lot of kids prefer their light shoes, such as sandals or swimming shoes when on a boat. However, the preferable and safer option here is to have mid-calf to knee-high waterproof boots. This is the footwear that’ll protect their legs and feet from anything that could be present in the water if it’s the kayak trips over.

Lastly, always pack an extra pair of pants for any children under the age of eight.

Fun

If you have the extra space, and you’re absolutely sure that you have packed everything you need, pack a few things for pure fun tinged with a little bit of education, such as trip-related books, binoculars, or even some camping gear if you wish to take this trip to a whole new level.

Preparation

You certainly know that you can’t just take your kid, put them on a kayak, and go. There’s a lot of preparation, mental and physical, that goes into getting your child ready for their first kayaking experience.

First, let’s talk about mental preparation, which can include stories, books, research, and maybe exploring nearby ponds. All of that’ll help paint a picture in your child’s head so that he’d not be surprised by what he’ll see and experience.

Make sure to tell your child about your kayaking trips, what happened, expected and not expected, what you needed, and what you didn’t need. Do not conceal any information from him as long as they can understand it.

Read them books about different kinds of fish that they can see on various waterfronts. If you’re going to add fishing to the mixture, you can teach them a little bit of that onshore as well.

There’s also the physical preparation, which can include some exercises to strengthen and excite them, and a few safety techniques that they must know before stepping foot inside the kayak.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most important life skills, if you may call it that. Everyone should know how to swim, even if it’s just the basics. But when you’re putting your kid on the water, they should know how to swim and how to keep themselves afloat. There are even classes for babies that teach them how to float if they’re ever underwater; these classes are called “Survival Swimming.”

Wet Exit

A wet exit is the safest fastest method of dealing when your kayak capsizes. If you’re using a sit-on-top kayak, then it’ll be a lot easier for you, as you’ll fall right off, and you can start creating your plan immediately.

However, if you’re using a sit-inside kayak, then getting yourself free can prove to be a tiresome dangerous task. That’s why you must be careful when performing a wet exit and teach your children how to do it properly. We’ll now summarize the wet exit technique for you.

When you start feeling that your boat is going to tip over, brace it as hard as you can and try to balance yourself to prevent that from happening. It might work, it might not, and when it doesn’t take a massive breath of air and keep your position until you’re underwater.

If you have a spray skirt on, move your hands from the front of the kayak to the cockpit’s sides, stretch your arm forward, and reach the spray skirt grab loop and yank it to remove it.

Put both of your hands at the level of your hips on the cockpit. Next, bring your knees together and push yourself out of the kayak.

Your PFD will take the steering wheel from here, bringing you to the surface of the water. You need to be quick to act in order to collect your gear, especially if they’re expensive ones. Your spray skirt and your pedal can be forever lost if the drift is too strong.

Next, you should seek the help of your kayak-buddy to help you either tow your boat to the shore or flip it over to get back in it.

Of course, the age of your child will determine how much of this process they’ll understand. That’s why just explaining or showing them videos is not enough. Take them and go to professional mentors that’ll teach them exactly how to act and control the panic levels in a language that’s understandable to their mindsets.

Exercises

This can be a fun bonding experience for both of you. If your children are old enough, you can have them do some arm, core, leg exercises, and some push-ups. Share such time with them and teach them as much as you can.

This will all build momentum for the awaited trip. It’ll also give them a sense of achievement that they’re working towards a particular goal.

General Rules

When it comes to having kids in a water vessel, there are some general logical rules that everyone must stick to in addition to everything that we’ve previously discussed.

  • It’s essential that the ratio of adults to children remains 1:1. These adults have to be fully knowledgeable of different kayaking and rescue techniques.
  • Never let your child out of sight when you’re out on the water
  • Needless to say, you have to make sure that your kid is genuinely interested in kayaking in order to start on the right foot.
  • You must always keep a keen eye on the kayak and what’s happening with it. Still, don’t let that take away from your enjoyment of sharing this time with your little ones.
  • Never go camping alone. Always have a kayaking buddy that’ll help you take care of your little ones, and rescue you and your children if the boat tips-over.

In Conclusion

To wrap-up this article, we’ll say that we encourage you to take your child out onto the water. Educate him about this entirely different environment, its importance to us, and how the whole ecosystem is built on it.

Still, always keep in mind that you’re taking your child on a kayak onto the water at the end of the day. This is a dangerous situation, and you must be fully prepared. Take your time and acquire everything that you might need and a little bit more.

Teach your child and prepare him well enough for what he might face, plus his responsibilities towards both himself and his fellow kayakers. Don’t forget the safety precautions, the appropriate PFDs, and rescue techniques.

Try taking one older kid for the first time and then add your other younger children one at a time. Never go out onto the water without a kayaking body that’ll help keep an eye on your children, and rescue you if your water vessel tips over.

Don’t forget your communication devices. No matter what you choose to go with, always make sure that you can communicate with people on the shore in order to help you if it’s ever needed.

Make sure to always inform someone about your estimated return time, so that they can alert the authorities if you’re too late.

Lastly, keep a keen eye on your little ones, do not exhaust them too much, and make sure that they’re well-fed and hydrated at all times.

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