Paddle Pulse: Kayaking with kids

By Toby Story 10 November 2023
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Taking the little’uns with you on a kayaking trip opens their young eyes to a whole new world. And it’s easier than you think!

There’s nothing better than introducing your little ones to a new adventure sport. I recently took my two-year-old son out for his first experience paddling – after prepping him for the experience by dragging him around a bit in a kayak on the grass to make sure he was happy being in the cockpit. “More, more!” he said once we were out on the water (a sheltered bay near home in southern Tassie). I was happy to assure him that there would definitely be more outings like this in his future. Kayaking with kids is surprisingly easy – and loads of fun, too. Here’s how to do it right.

Getting young kids out on a kayak provides their young minds with a different way in which to learn about the world’s marine environment. Southern Sea Ventures

Kayaking is a great way for adventurous families to spend time outside being active together, mastering a new skill and getting up close and personal with nature (See here, for more on kayaking’s huge appeal). However, like any activity, adding kids to the equation brings a few extra considerations to make sure everyone has a fun and safe experience. 

To that end, here are my top tips for your next kayaking adventure with the whole family:

1. Age is just a number

Wondering when’s the right time to introduce your kids to kayaking? It really depends. Consider their confidence in the water, your own kayaking savvy, the location, weather conditions, and the gear you have. At Southern Sea Ventures, we usually set the bar at 12 for our guided trips, but we’ve also got family-friendly outings that welcome kids as young as 8.

2. Keep it short and sweet

I’ve found kids tend to hit the restlessness wall after about 20-30 minutes, so plan for shorter paddles with plenty of breaks. Playing games on a secluded beach after a little paddle makes the whole experience more fun and about more than just paddling.

Taking a break from paddling at a beach keeps kids fresh and more keen to get back into the kayaks to continue on their adventure. Destination NSW

3. Double the fun with double kayaks

Opting for a double kayak is a good choice for families – and it’s the set-up of choice on all our guided adventures. This is not only best for stability, but also fosters teamwork and bonding as you paddle together. Win-win!

Double sea kayaks make for a great bonding experience with your children, with smiles all-round pretty much guaranteed. Destination NSW

4. Ensure safety gear is a snug fit

It can be a bit more effort to source gear that fits the littlest adventurers in your crew – but doing so is critical, not just for their safety but also comfort. For the really little ones, look for a PFD (personal flotation device) with a strap between the legs to keep it from floating over their heads. Safety gear is included on all Southern Sea Ventures kayaking trips, and we always ensure the right fit for all our guests.

5. Snack and sip on the go

There’s nothing like paddling to build up an appetite or thirst, so make sure you have plenty of snacks and water at hand for your pint-sized paddlers. Zip-lock bags are great for waterproof and easy to access hunger-busters. Packing lunch and finding somewhere special to enjoy it is also a great way to break up a kayak outing and refuel. And don’t forget to include a few special treats to keep up morale and motivation!

6. Embrace nature’s classroom

Paddling is more than just fun and exercise, it’s a wonderful way to foster a love of nature and being outdoors that will hopefully last a lifetime. Encourage your kids to spot and identify marine life and birds during their adventure – this is a great way to nurture their curiosity and keep them entertained. 

Paddling in a mix of waterways, from ocean and inlets, to harbours and tidal rivers provides parents with the opportunity to teach the young’uns about the different marine environments and the rich life that thrives in them. Destination NSW

7. Keep calm and carry on

Stick to sheltered bays that offer calm waters, making the experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone. Also keep an eye on the weather forecast and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary. That’s sound advice on any kayak adventure, but it’s especially important with younger and less experienced paddlers.

Toby Story is Senior Guide and Director at Southern Sea Ventures, which offers guided kayaking adventures across the world, including dedicated family-friendly departures to Fiji, Tonga and Bruny Island.