Have you ever been kayaking with kids? Today’s blog post is written by Explorer Family @kaylagoesoutdoos. Kayla has shared her top tips for kayaking with kids. Kayaking is a great outdoor activity for families with kids of all ages. Playing safe in the water is incredibly important, as well as making sure you’re organized and running smoothly. Here is what Kayla had to say about Tips for Kayaking with Kids: 

When I was approached to write a blog post about kayaking with kids I wasn’t sure where to start. If I had been asked to write about an adult or older teen even, I’d have answers at the ready. I’ve been kayaking for over 12  years now. I became an ACA certified instructor 8 years ago and only recently decided to not renew my certification because well, I’ve got two very active boys and as most of you reading this will know, there is only so much time we have with them. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped kayaking, now I just have two little water bugs with me when I go. These are my top 6 Tips for kayaking with kids.

Tips for Kayaking with Kids:

It's Their Choice

As someone who loves yakin’ I couldn’t wait for my son to be old enough to get into the boat with me. I had wild dreams about us racing down rivers and taking week long kayak-camp trips. However, the first time I had my baby in the boat, he screamed before I could even try to paddle around the dock. 

Let your kiddo make the first move. You should expose them to it – yes. Have conversations about it, talk about how much fun you have when you do it, show them other people doing it, engage them without pushing. Accept that they may not want to ever kayak, because kayaking is dangerous and you need to have a confident and prepared kiddo in that boat. We know that danger is a natural part of the world but our kids can do hard things! We all can! It’s important to teach them how to do dangerous things safely. That’s why this is the Number 1 step in kayaking with your kids.

Swimming Check-Up

Now that your kiddo wants to be in kayak (with you or alone) it’s time to evaluate their swimming skills. I’m not saying you need to have an olympic level swimmer, but they should know how to swim and some basic water safety skills. Some people will tell you that you do not need to know how to swim to kayak, and for adults that can be true with the proper preparations and gear. However, I would never put a child’s life on the line and say that it was also true for them. I recommend making sure your child can swim (kicking, arm strokes, keeping their head above the water), knows how to hold their breath underwater and is comfortable in the water. If your child does not like swimming or is nervous in the water, I would take a step back and tackle that first.

Kayak Safety Course

I highly recommend that you as a parent (or you and your child if they are old enough to) take at least one of the following courses (or the offered equivalent in your area): 

  1. Flatwater Kayaking Safety & Rescue Course 
  2. Kayak Rolling
  3. Introduction to Kayaking  (This is your most basic catch all course)

Now my 4 year old has not taken any of these courses obviously, and that is okay. I was able to teach him some basic safety skills that I had learned so that if he would fall off of his kayak or if I fell out of my kayak and was in trouble he knew what to do. We also practiced paddling techniques, putting on his PFD by himself, and checking water and weather conditions before getting in the water. 

Safety comes first and in our house we like to make safety fun. We created a fun obstacle course for him to do to test all of his kayaking skills and he loved it! Kayaking is fun, and there is no reason that every step of learning shouldn’t be!


Now that you and your water bug are prepared for whatever the water throws at you (hopefully only a splash here and there) it’s time to pick out your kayak, paddle, PFD! 

Most kids’ kayaks are pretty similar. I would advise on not spending a ton of money on a kayak in the event your child loses interest in it. Most start out with a sit on top kayak, but there are recreational kayaks ( closed cockpit but with a large opening, generally under 10 ft) that work great for kids too. The average size of a kids kayak is 6-8ft. I would say 6ft is a great size for kiddos under 10 years old. But try a few different sizes out if they are getting to the preteen phase it may be best to buy an 8 or 10 foot kayak to avoid buying one in a few years when they hit the next growth spurt. I personally have a 6ft sit on top for my 4 year old (we kayak on rivers and small recreational lakes only) and it is perfect for him. Remember – this is a big choice! Let your kiddo sit in all kayaks available to them and let them find the one that feels comfortable to them (even if they are all the same kayak, just different colors!). 

Normally when you purchase a kids kayak it will come with an adequate paddle, this is fine for starting out. Your child does not need a carbon fiber paddle, but more power to you if you get them one. If you need to purchase a paddle with your kayak I recommend a light midline paddle. EXAMPLE 

PFD’s are the only area I recommend splurging on. This is the device that is going to best help your child from drowning. Any child should have a Type III USCP approved PFD (or your country’s equivalent). Unlike with adults a child’s PFD depends on their weight – do not guess their weight. I don’t care if you have to throw them on the scale at the local YMCA locker room, figure it out and purchase one based on it (though a lot of paddle shops will have one on site). I will die on this hill – get a well fitting PFD. REI has a great online resource for purchasing one yourself. Check it out below ↓↓↓↓

“How to Choose PDFs for Kids” – REI

Planning Your Trip

Whether you are just going out on the lake for a quick 20 minutes or are planning on spending a few hours on the water it’s always good to have a plan. 

If you’re spending the day at the lake and you take the yak’s out for a quick paddle around, you probably don’t need to plan all that much. In fact, for your first trip out with your kiddo that’s exactly what I recommend doing. The idea is to get them used to their kayak and being on the water (if you have older kids this probably won’t be as big of a deal). If you are going to river kayak for a few hours, or are on a larger body of water it’s a good idea to have a plan in place.

At the minimum, you should plan your route, tell someone where you are going and when you think you will be back. Anything extra depends on the length of your trip and if you are adding on any other activities like camping. 

American Trip Planning has a great article on trip planning. Click here to read


Last but not least, schmere on some SPF, throw on something with UPF and fill your water bottles up! Get out there and enjoy!! Time on the water with your kiddos is a special experience, so take photos, make memories and most importantly, – HAVE FUN!

Are you heading out kayaking any time soon? We hope these tips for kayaking with kids make your family kayaking trip a little bit easier. Use hashtag #KWEWaterSafety when sharing content from your family kayaking adventure!

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