Has your family been kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding? Our family has enjoyed paddleboarding and kayaking with kids, our other family members, and friends for lots of reasons:

  • Paddlesports are an outdoors activity that just about anyone can do. Kayaking with kids or a multigenerational group is a great family adventure we’ve enjoyed. Even our friends who had never kayaked or been on a paddleboard before were able to get the hang of it easily.
  • Kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and the like not only give you a different perspective of a place (seeing it from the water), but they let you explore the outdoors without the pollution that motorized craft can create.
  • When you’re paddling, you slow down and can see things you might miss in a motorboat.
  • Plus, paddling gives you exercise even when you’re in calm water. It’s a fun way to be active.
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with kids
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with kids

Before kids, my husband and I had one tandem kayak we took everywhere with us. With two little kids, we needed two tandem kayaks. Then we found a third one that was used whose price we couldn’t pass up, and a fourth one soon after, which allowed us to invite friends on adventures. The kids each got small sit-on-top kayaks that are easy for them to use on their own. After trying paddleboarding, we were hooked and started collecting those — we now have five. Today, our small fleet (plus PFDs in a range of sizes) can now outfit almost any group of family members or friends who want to take a paddling day trip with us.

Where do you kayak with kids?

Rental kayaks lined up and ready to go
Rental kayaks lined up and ready to go

We are always on the lookout for new places to paddle, so we are encouraged that more communities seem to be recognizing paddlesports’ benefits and popularity, and acting to accommodate that. Just this month, four U.S. cities have made the news for their kayaking plans. The city of Fort Wayne, Ind., is planning a kayak dock. Au Gres, Mich., has a grant to add an accessible kayak launch in its Harbor Park on Lake Huron. Park Township in Michigan has plans to expand a boat launch for a separate kayak launch area on Lake Michigan. Oakmont, Penn., is planning a kayak launch on the Allegheny River. And paddlesports have become so popular in Tennessee that the state has proposed requiring outfitters to have a permit so it can get a handle on the scope of the industry and factor it into water access.

If you haven’t been paddling yet, try it out on your next free good-weather weekend. Look for a place near you where you can rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board. If you need help finding an outfitter near you, let us know!

Kids can kayak and paddleboard!
Kids can kayak and paddleboard!

Or on your next planned family vacation, go kayaking with kids in tow. Young children should be paired with adults on a paddleboard, or in a canoe or tandem kayak. Older children can try managing one on their own. You’ll see your destination from a unique perspective that not all travelers will take the time to experience.

Tips for kayaking with kids

  • First, make sure your kids are comfortable around the water. If children are terrified, you don’t want to force them into a kayak while they’re crying; you want this to be enjoyable. If kids are hesitant but you really want them to try kayaking, let them get comfortable with the idea, perhaps by sitting in the kayak on land. Then perhaps a short time on the water near shore. Work up to longer amounts of time or farther distances from the launch.
  • Have a PFD (personal flotation device, aka life vest) that fits your child properly. Most children’s PFDs are sized by a person’s weight. Make it a rule to always wear a PFD when doing paddlesports. Some locations require them.
  • Give your child his or her own paddle, even if you do most of the paddling. Look for paddles sized for children. Let kids decide how much they can paddle. This will make your outing more fun for the kids and less like a chore. And they will learn to paddle.
  • Let kids know what the route or plan is so they feel like a part of the team of paddlers and not just an accessory along for the ride.
  • Let kids bring a snack and a drink in watertight containers. Bring those for yourself too!
  • Even if you don’t think you’ll get wet, you probably will, even if it’s just from paddles splashing water. We recommend wearing swimwear or other quick-drying clothing while paddling. Then we change into regular dry clothes that we’ve left in the van.
  • Loading/unloading or launching can be a bit hectic if you’re at a busy public ramp or you’re paddling with a group. It’s easy for kids to get lost in the shuffle, so be especially in tune with where the kids are and what they’re doing at these times to keep them safe.
  • This goes for every paddling outing for all ages, but definitely check the weather and water conditions before heading out. You don’t want to get kids involved in a dicey situation. We have canceled many outings or chosen a different place to paddle many times because of the weather.

Some of our best family adventures have been on the water in kayaks or on paddleboards. Most of our outings have been fantastic, and while some have been difficult, we definitely enjoy making memories on the water.