Have you ever seen someone doing something who just seems so confident, natural and second nature at the task? Then you hear they’ve been doing that since they were a kid. Ah, that explains it.
We were barely walking, if that, when we were introduced to life in a canoe. Now it’s become a part of us. There is rarely anywhere else we feel more at peace than paddling on the water. It rejuvenates the spirit.
But where to start? If you have the basic gear, just skip this next section. If not, here are some starting points we hope will help navigate this new adventure.
- Lifejackets are the seat belts of the canoe world. They must be worn at all times. Parents, your kids will wear theirs if they see you wearing yours.
- Buy only approved lifejackets from the country of your residence.
- Have your kid try it on before purchasing (we don’t recommend buying online unless you can return them)
- It should fit snug and not ride up over the chin or ears
- There should be less than 7.6 cm (3″) between your shoulders and the PFD, otherwise it’s too big and could potentially do more harm than good.
- A large collar for head support
- Waist ties or elastic gathers in front and back
- For the very young, a crotch strap to help prevent ride up
- A safety strap that goes between the legs to prevent it from slipping over their head
- Buckles on safety straps and reflective tape
- Brightly colored are best as they can easily be spotted in the water
- Attach a plastic pea-less whistle to the lifejacket. The Fox 40 is a staple in our family. But please teach your kids to ONLY use them in an emergency. Three loud, short blasts on your survival whistle, each lasting approximately three seconds is recognized around the world as an emergency call for help.
- TIP: As a family, we had a little code: One blast: “Are you ok” (one blast reply meant yes). Two blasts: ‘I’m in trouble but not an emergency” (two blast reply meant “we are coming to help”). Three blasts was for emergency (three blast reply meant we are coming). We were very strictly informed to never use the whistle for play.
- There are different styles of lifejackets: Type II, Type III, etc. Some are specifically designed to keep a person facing upwards even when unconscious. Here are some helpful websites to explain the different styles: Boat US and Government of Canada: Transport Canada: Choosing PFD’s.
Here is a helpful video for selecting a lifejacket
Buying for Kids
For us, one of the most exciting gifts we received from our parents was our own paddle.
Inexpensive option: adjustable emergency paddle. As your kid grows, the height can be adjusted. The aluminum shaft and plastic material make it pretty durable. Plus, you can keep it later if you upgrade it as an emergency paddle (we always keep an extra paddle in the canoe in case one is lost).
You definitely can go nicer, but kids can be brutal on paddles, and also, they will grow out of the size
Buying for Adults
This is a very personal subject – canoers are particular about their paddles! But when starting out, the best is to go into an outdoors store and try the grip and get fitted for a proper size (yes, this is important and will make your paddling experience much better).
Shape of Paddle
Paddles come in so many shapes. The most common are shown in this photo. If you aren’t sure, ask an expert.
So much depends on your style and preference. Some prefer a more square or beaver tail shape for the bow (front) as they move a lot of water, and some prefer a slimmer otter tail style for the stern (back).
Length of Paddle
Most canoeists require a paddle in the 52″ to 60″ range. The best is to go into a store and try them in person. Many things can influence sizing – your preference, size of boat, style of paddling, width of boat – but you can play around with the sizing by a few inches and still find a good fit. Below is a general guideline.
In store, trying out a paddle
At home, without a paddle
Quick Tip: For wider canoes or paddling from the stern (rear), maybe add 2″ to the paddle length to reach the water without a lot of leaning.
Gear Required by Law
Did you know you’re required by law to have certain items in your canoe or you could be fined? Check out your local country/county for specific regulations. Thankfully, there really isn’t much that’s mandatory.
- Buoyant rope (like a throw rope for emergencies)
- Bailer or Bilge pump (or a little kit like this) or you can make your own by cutting off the end of a jug
- Flashlight (waterproof) (TIP: I prefer to carry two – one that’s a cheaper waterproof style and another good quality one that I keep in a waterproof bag)
- “Sound signaling device” such as a pea-less whistle. It’s better to attach one to each lifejacket than keep it in a pocket. This way it’s always close and you won’t lose it.
There are also handy kits that have everything you need, like a little kit like this. Outdoors stores can also carry some options.
Non-Essential But Worth Thinking About
Here are some tips and suggestions per subject. Some things to make your life a little easier! The items are listed in the free pack list at the end of the article also.
First Aid Kit
Electronics, Cameras and Your Wallet: YES invest in Waterproofing
Water Filter (or bring lots of Water)
Map of the Lake & Compass (and Waterproof it)
Keeping Kids Happy
Bug Repellant (Non-Deet Options)
Clothing, Sun Gear, Extras
A Little Preparation
Some tips a, videos and references to help make your adventures enjoyable.
Learn to Paddle (and with Kids)
Bow or Stern?
Tie Down Gear
Cut the Amount
Canoe Balance with Gear
Videos (from the info above)
Planning a trip
- Most areas have a listing of places you can go. For example in Ontario, here’s is the official Ontario Parks Locator.
- You can check by location, activities, and even select areas where motorboats are prohibited (best option if you want quiet, calm water and being able to converse without yelling).
- Plan a short trip first, just a few hours, and include a lunch stop and a swimming area.
- Breaking up the paddling with swimming and playing is important. It helps keep kids from getting bored of just paddling or sitting in the canoe, and they’re the happiest when they’re tired out!
- Some of the first trips may not go so great. Stick with it! Apparently I hated water as a little toddler and my parents figured I would be the fly in their ointment. Well…that certainly changed to the polar opposite – you can’t keep me away from the water.
- Check the weather. NEVER canoe in a thunderstorm! No matter if the chances are low, it’s never worth the risk. While cancelling a day trip is disappointing, a day of rain can dampen any amount of zeal to try another time.
- Let someone know where you are going, just in case.
- Have some “in the canoe” activities:
- Give your kids a copy of the map they can follow – you are never too young to learn (but keep one for the adults!)
- Field guides so they can spot and identify animals they see
- Camera so they can take photos
- Fishing en route
- Let your kids paddle! But do teach them not to lean too much to the side of the canoe…
The Big Sis