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Paddling with Kids - How to introduce kids to canoeing without the worries

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Jun 2014; updated May 2023.

Getting on the water as a family brings many family adventures. But how do you introduce kids to canoeing? Here are some great tips on paddling with kids.

As a family, getting out on the water opens up many opportunities for great family adventures. But how do you introduce your kids to paddling? Here are a few tips to get your kids canoeing...

Getting your family out on the water is a great activity to do. But there's a first time for everything.

If you have small children, here are some tips you'll find useful to make things go a little smoother when introducing them to canoeing.

It's an Adventure

Family caneoing

Get in the mindset of it being 'an adventure’.

This is not something they’ve done before, and seeing the world from the water is very different.

It will be an adventure for them, so focus on the fun things to remove any worries they may have.

Safety First

Exploring the river Bala in Wales

Of course, a top priority is ensuring they have an appropriate buoyancy aid or even a life jacket for small non-swimmers.

Click here to read about the difference between buoyancy aids and life jackets.

Best type of Canoe when Paddling with Small Kids

Inflatable Canoes

You want a nice stable craft when taking your little ones out.

We use inflatables as they’re the easiest for us to transport and store, and our Sevylor Hudson is very stable. A good Canadian canoe or a good sit-on-top (with sides) is ideal too. (Click for more on different types of canoe or kayak)

We found that the youngest child is best sitting between two adults. For us, it’s Mum at the front, the little paddler, and Dad at the back. One can watch them, and the other can easily help if needed.

Even if you are in a stable boat, you'll need to remind them to try and stay sitting in their seat and not to walk about in the canoe.

Where to paddle when taking them out for the first time

It would only be natural that some kids are apprehensive about getting into a canoe.

As mentioned above, please focus on the fun things, or heading to a picnic, to keep their mind off any worries.

Unfortunately, some kids may freak out, so paddle where it’s easy to come to shore….. this might also be handy for the “I need toy-lut” moments anyway!

A gently flowing river is often good. Canals can be good too (but not ones that are busy and have lots of locks, which you have to walk around).

Some places to avoid are large open water which could mean battling the wind. The sea presents its challenges, and not the best place for a young kid’s first trip in a canoe unless you’re with an experienced guide.

Remember that you'll need a license and insurance to canoe in some places. Click here to find out more.

Keep them occupied

Child with small paddle

We got a pair of little paddles for our youngest. They’re really easy for him to use, unlike an adult-sized paddle.

The only problem is that he sometimes paddles ‘in his own unique way’, just at the wrong moment.

A floating toy

Tie an empty bottle or floating toy to some string so they can tow it behind.

When in doubt, eat

Sandwhiches in a dry bag

A dry bag is essential here to make sure you still have your lunch if things get a bit wet. (No one likes soggy sandwiches!)

Remember to take and use hand wipes and sanitising gel. You can get some nasty bugs from lake and river water, so please clean their hands before eating.

Now all that's left to do is get out on the water and have some fun 😉