Are you looking for an adventurous outdoor sport you can enjoy with the whole family, children included? You should consider kayaking. It’s perfect for families that want alternative exercise with minimal initial investment. Kayaks are highly portable, which means you can enjoy the lake behind your house or a river that’s hours away. In this guide, we’ll outline everything you need to know about kayaking with kids.
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we feel it is our goal to help you learn new sports. As outdoor sports enthusiasts ourselves, we’re happy to share our knowledge and do the research so you don’t have to.
CHOOSE YOUR GEAR
To get started kayaking, you’ll need kayak(s), paddles and life vests, also known as personal flotation devices (PFDs).
There are many different kinds of kayaks on the market, from recreational to whitewater and everything in between. One of our favorite kinds of kayaks is called a sit-on-top because you sit on the top of it with your legs exposed. You may have seen other kayaks where you legs are obscured by the body of the kayak. Those are called sit-in.
Some people prefer sit-ins. The only downside of sit-ins is they’re hard to recover if flipped since they easily fill with water.
Sit-on-tops cannot fill with water since they have no cavity capable of being filled. If flipped or hit with a wave, the water quickly drains out one of the scupper holes. We highly recommend this type of kayak for kayaking with children.
An added benefit of this design is easy entrance and exit from the kayak. Sit-on-tops are almost like floating platforms.
If you’re playing in a clean, freshwater lake, for example, the kids can jump off the kayak and easily crawl back on. As we all know, children can jump into the water for hours and hours before losing interest, so be prepared to get splashed!
SINGLE OR TANDEM
For children under the age of (about) 10 years old, it’s best for them to share a tandem kayak with an adult. Children should always sit in the front seat, as the person in the backseat is responsible for steering. Most sit-on-top tandem kayaks have room for two adults and a small child in the middle.
If you do go with a single kayak for your child, make sure they are fully capable of paddling the full length of your trip. You would not want to them to tire out and not be able to make it home without a tow.
One way to test your children’s ability and interest in kayaking is to take lessons. Lessons usually take place on a small lake where there’s no danger of being too tired to make it back.
Each person needs a paddle that’s comfortable and usable for their arms and hands. Standard kayak paddles are usually a bit wide in the diameter of the handle for children to properly hold.
For this reason, we recommend choosing a paddle specifically made for children. These paddles will be thinner and lighter with smaller blades than paddles made for adults.
Above all, safety is most important. It is not acceptable under any circumstance to allow a child to wear an adult’s PFD. They are simply too big, and will ride up. In the event of an emergency, an over-sized PFD will not float a child’s head above water.
Look for a PFD that’s designed for children. Consider going to your local outdoor retailer shop for a proper fitting. Most are quite affordable.
If you prefer not to have to buy a new vest every year as they’re growing, choose one with adjustable sides and shoulders. This will allow your child to wear the same vest for a few years.
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As with everything, practice makes perfect. We recommend teaching your kids proper kayak paddling technique while they’re young. Good habits last a lifetime, and great form will ensure they don’t strain their necks, backs, or arms.
Instruct your kids to sit up straight and hold the paddle at shoulders’ distance apart. It’s important to be able to read the logo on the paddle blade. All manufacturers print their paddles this way to ensure kayaker so always know which direction is right-side up.
A good, strong stroke will reach forward at a 45-degree angle and dip into the water so that about half of the blade is covered. Pull back until the paddle is in line with your body and then reach the opposite blade forward and repeat.
It’s entirely possible that kids will tire out quickly or struggle to paddle in an adult-sized kayak. Some will enjoy it and some will prefer not to paddle at all.
We recommend showing your children these animated instructions before going out on the water or to a lesson.
WHERE TO GO KAYAKING
After purchasing your kayaks, choose a body of water that’s calm for your first outing. It’s not a good idea to have to paddle against any currents during the first kayaking experience. Lakes are perfect for this.
Even after your children become comfortable riding in a kayak, be sure that you are comfortable paddling alone or that they can assist before you attempt kayaking in strong rivers or the ocean.
WHAT TO TAKE KAYAKING
There’s nothing better than spending a full day on the water paddling, fishing, swimming and stopping to explore on land. Before you leave the shore, it’s very important to pack everything your family will need to ensure everyone will stay happy and healthy.
Behind the rear seat in a sit-on-top kayak, whether single or tandem, there is usually a small storage cavity covered in bungee rigging. With a small cooler, you should be able to pack some sandwiches, sliced fruit, chips or whatever else your child enjoys eating.
Pull the bungees aside to fit the cooler snugly into the cavity. It should stay there all day long.
Water doesn’t need to be chilled unless that’s your preference and there’s room in the cooler. Most kayaks have cup holders that sit in front of each seat.
We recommend drinking extra water before bed the night before, and a couple of cups of water before you leave shore. This way, you can get a jump on dehydration before it becomes an issue.
For day trips, pack a gallon of water per person for refilling water bottles and hydration packs like Camelbak.
As recommended by NRS, adults should drink 5-8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes while on the water. Check out their dehydration calculator for accurate estimations of how much water you’ll need for each person, based on weight and activity level.
Regardless of where you are or what you’ll be doing, sun protection is always important during kayaking. Children typically have sensitive skin.
If they’re not swimming, lather them up with sunscreen at least every two hours. If they are swimming, be sure to reapply approximately every 45 minutes when they’re taking a swim break. Because of the reflection of the sun on the water, the chest and neck areas are extra susceptible to burning.
Long sleeves, fishing hats and sunglasses are super important items to take kayaking. If your children really take to kayaking and you foresee lots of adventures in the future, consider buying UPF clothing for the whole family. These shirts, pants, and hats are made with sun protection built in. It’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen underneath, but they offer an extra layer of protection.
Long-sleeve shirts and pants can keep you surprisingly cool because they keep the sun directly off of your skin. Once you become accustomed to wearing them, you really won’t want to go back.
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FUN ON THE WATER
Depending on the length of your trip, children sometimes get restless and bored while sitting in a kayak, especially if they’re not paddling. It can be a good idea to pack a few toys or books. While you’re on the water, take advantage of being in nature and try to choose items that will encourage your child to enjoy the outdoors.
Pack a small bait net or clear cup on a string (tied to the kayak). These work well for paddling-only excursions, while beach shovels or a jar for collecting shells are good choices for trips that include stopping at islands or sandy shores. Children’s fishing rods can be purchased inexpensively online and at most outdoor sporting goods stores.