Jack and Brigid Downs in the kayak

Thoughts on kayaking with kids

There are lots of reasons to introduce kids to kayaking:

  • No other kind of boating connects us so closely to the water.
  • Kayaking can be a lifelong activity
  • It’s good exercise.
  • You can do it alone or in a group.
  • Kayaking can be linked to camping or fishing or birdwatching … and so many other outdoors activities.

But like so many experiences we want to give to our kids, kayaking can be a tough sell. Who wants to sit in a kayak when the other kids are whizzing by on Jet Skis?

Kayaking can seem too boring or adult.

And using an adult kayak is tough for little ones who are too short to brace their feet or who tire holding up the paddle. So what’s the answer?


My suggestions are:

  • First, have them sit in the kayak without a paddle and play with it like you would an inflatable beach toy. You know, pretend storms, quick turns, stories.
  • Still without the paddle, push them through marshes or inshore under trees. Or tie them to your kayak and trailer them along. Give them a net to reach out for frogs, bugs or minnows.
  • Stop to wade, play, swim.
  • When they can start to paddle, let them play along at their own pace. Don’t set goals or make it an expedition. And keep a rope handy to tow them home. Snacks help, too.
  • If you can pick up a tandem kayak, put them in the front and let them paddle when they want. And when they want to rest, let them pull a towel over the seat and play tent.

Will this win them over to kayaks forever?

No, they’ll still probably envy the power-boat set. But kayaks won’t be the boring torture they fear. And maybe someday they’ll surprise you and ask to go out paddling.

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