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

December 20, 2020

Being able to get out on the water as a family opens up loads of opportunities for great family adventures. But how do you introduce your kids to paddling? Here’s 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

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

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

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

Safety First

Of course, a top priority is to make sure they have an appropriate buoyancy aid, or even life jacket for very 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

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) are 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, then the little paddler, then dad at the back. It means one of us can keep an eye, and the other can easily help if needed too.

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

Where to paddle when taking them out for the first time

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

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

Unfortunately though, some kids may completely 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 gentle 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 that could mean battling with wind, and the sea presents its own challenges, and not the best place for a young kid’s first trip in a canoe unless you’re with an experienced guide (click here to see a recent trip we made with the Kayak-King around the coastline).

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

Keep them occupied

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.

When in doubt, eat

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 😉

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Gav Grayston
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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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  1. Hi!
    We have two small kids and live by the sea. We are looking to get an inflatable kayak but want to get something we can grow into long term. As you recommend having the child in the middle – what do you suggest when you have two kids? We were thinking we might get two 2 seaters long term rather than a 3 seater now that we outgrow?
    Littlest is still very young so it’ll be a while before he can get on the water and or be without both parents at the same time if they took the elder child out (who is almost 4 years old).
    I’m asking in case you have an insight I haven’t considered:) any help much appreciated

  2. I tried some of these tips and still struggled. Given them a paddle means we are forever clashing paddles or they start dipping it in and slowing the kayak. The bottle on the string moves to the rear and gets caught in my paddle.

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes, I know what that’s like. If you need to get somewhere quickly then it’s “time to have a rest and let Daddy have a go”.  I’ve also called out strokes too before now to prevent our paddles clashing.
      Don’t expect their contribution to help; it’s more about getting them involved and part of the experience.

  3. Reply
    The Inspired Home
    July 4, 2014 at 3:38 am

    Thanks for mentioning our tip! We used it again this weekend in the canoe with 2 kids & a dog and it still works wonders 🙂

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