A Primer on Kayaking with Kids

Children and Paddling

With your busy schedule and the kids’ electronic games, text messaging, Facebook, year-round school and theme parks, it’s more important than ever before to introduce your children to the real outdoors, enjoying summer and learning what nature has to offer. It’s a great way to get them out of their “comfort zone” and learn new things and for you to bond with them.

In fact, studies on brain development show that children with outdoor recreation as a regular component of their “daily diet” have greater learning retention share more, gain confidence and experience fewer episodes of depression.

Paddling is a great way to connect with nature close up. Landscapes and wildlife can be experienced in its splendor for real instead of on TV. Or, challenging conditions can create teamwork and memories that last a lifetime. Kayaking with your child is a great way to spend quality time with them for sure, but it is also a great way to teach them the lessons of life. Kayaking can help build a stronger bond between you and your child. Your child depends on you for safety and trusts in your for guidance. Kayaking with them on a regular basis is something that is sure build a strong relationship between parent and child.

Kids love the water and they’ll have a fantastic time exploring with you. Later on, they’ll be able to head out on their own adventures.


When to Start?


There’s almost no time too soon to start a child paddling. Some adults begin taking their kids with them at two months old. Dane Jackson, son of world champion Eric Jackson is almost beating his dad in whitewater rodeo competitions. If they’re going to be paddling themselves, it’s best that they be good swimmers.


Kids are like learning sponges. Teach them to kayak early and it will stick with them. They also are incredibly fun-loving and kayaking is great fun!


Team Up and Plan Ahead


If you’re taking several children out, it’s best to team up with another adult. One of you can handle the gear while the other helps pack lunches. It also helps with safety situations.


Map out your distances and times and be sure to consider that your guests are not always able to cover the same ground as you are. Include lots of time for rest.


Make It a Game, Keeping Focus, be Patient…


Introducing children to kayaking is a serious venture. But don’t make it seem so serious to them, or they might get scared or might not get the idea of how much fun they are about to have.


It’s sensible to get them to play with the boats in shallow water or a pool so they get the feel of the action. Of course you’ll supervise. You might have a capsize-and- rescue game in the shallow water. Or a game where the subject matter is which equipment is needed, which food, and then safety and navigation, for example.


If you have a tandem kayak, it is a great way to start teaching children because you can seat them forward and give them a chance to practice paddling. Meanwhile, you as the aft paddler control the boat.


On longer touring days, keep them entertained by asking them to look into the sky or water to identify or count all the different animals they see. Fishing is fabulous fun too! Don’t forget your patience. Kids might seen apprehensive, even bored at first, but give them a chance and they’ll get it!!


Safety Always


Ensure everyone is wearing a good-fitting PFD (see below). It’s best to include children that are confident swimmers. Other issues to consider are food, rehydration, sun block, cold water and strong currents. The adults are responsible for ensuring the territory to be covered is well within their skill level.


Kayak Choice


As with adults there are many options. There are even children’s whitewater kayaks. When starting a child kayaking, whether in a single or tandem kayak, stability is very important. Stability is what gives a child confidence and therefore the desire to learn more. In a tandem kayak stability is important because the kayak can help compensate for random movements of the child.


Open Cockpit Single and Tandem Models – Kayaks with generously sized cockpits whether single or tandem are great for adults taking out the youngest children. Parents can put their children directly in front of them as they paddle.


Sit On Top Models – Sit on top kayaks are also a good choice for children because they self-drain if they swamp. Some sit on top kayaks are really great in surf. They are also ideal fishing platforms.


Recreational Models – Traditional sit inside recreational models work very well with children as they grow. These kayaks are designed to be stable and forgiving. Models above ten feet start to become more appropriate.


Whitewater Models – There are whitewater kayaks just for kids. These are downsized versions of adult craft. They require a much higher level of skill and agility. They allow maneuvering in tight spaces on moving rivers.


Lessons at Northwest River Guides


It is best for the whole family to take part in a pool or calm water session organized by a local paddling club or kayak school in order to go through the basic exit and rescue exercises with competent help nearby. In this way the child can understand what happens and the parents can set up emergency procedures. If you are planning a river trip make sure the lessons cover how to swim/float with current. Try to make a game of it so rescue doesn’t get them too worried, and remember to have fun – this is supposed to be a fun activity.You can reach Northwest River Guides, in Portland, Oregon at 503-722-1122.




PFDs – Most states require children under a specified age to wear PFDs while riding in open boats. Whether for child or adult, correct sizing of a PFD is paramount if it is to be reliably safe. Toddlers need extra flotation to keep their noses and mouth out of the water. Some PFDs have a crotch strap to prevent the PFD from rising above the shoulders. An incorrect size might cause the child’s body to float in a manner that could interfere with breathing or rescue. Children’s PFDs are sized based on body weight. For example, most PFDs for kids 0-30 lbs will have a flotation collar that helps turn the child face up in the water. Youth sizes cover children 50-90 lbs and are sized based on height. You can find the size on the back of the PFD and it will be stated in weight ranges. When planning a trip with a group of kids ensure you have the correct PFDs for all of them. It’s also important to take into consideration the paddling activity in which the child is to be engaged. PFDs designed for water skiing might not be appropriate for kayaking, for example. Whitewater PFDs are different than PFDs for fishing or touring.


Paddles – This is the perfect accompaniment to for the little paddler in your family. Today there are a number of recreational, touring and whitewater models suited for children. These paddles will be shorter and have a smaller shaft diameter. Paddle sizing is important for the same reason that a kayak that fits makes for a much easier and more fun experience for you and your kids. Kids’ paddles come in lengths in the 150-180cm range.


Splashwear – You can find rash guards, paddle jackets and even spray skirts just for kits.



Whitewater River Classes 6/27 and 6/28

Join Northwest River Guides in honing your river skills. Peel outs, eddy turns, ferries, boofing, and more. We’ll have you more confident the next time you head out on the river! Saturday June 27th 9:00 – 1:00. River section chosen depends on levels. Call the office at 503-772-1122 for details.

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