Are you considering canoeing with kids? Are you concerned about canoe and water safety for your kids? Do you wonder what gear you should buy? Here are some tips on choosing paddles, videos on how to canoe, fit a child lifejacket, balance a canoe, plan a trip, and free pack list downloads to start the fun!
We were barely walking when we were introduced to life in a canoe. Now it’s part of us. There is rarely anywhere else we feel more at peace than paddling on the water.
But where to start? If you have the basic gear, skip this next section. If not, here are some basic canoeing with kids guidelines we hope will help you navigate this new adventure.
how to choose a child lifejacket
- Lifejackets are the seat belts of the canoe world. They must be worn at all times.
- Kids will wear theirs if they see you wearing yours.
- Buy only approved child lifejackets from the country of your residence.
- Have your kid try the lifejacket on before purchasing (we don’t recommend buying child lifejackets online unless you can return them)
- The lifejacket should fit snugly 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 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 your child’s 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 ONLY to 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 whistle communication code: One blast: “Are you ok” (one blast reply meant yes). Two blasts: ‘I’m in trouble but not an emergency” (two blast replies meant “we are coming to help”). Three blasts were for emergencies (three blast replies meant we were coming). We were very strictly informed never to 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 upward 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
how to choose a Paddle
Paddles 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 paddle 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 can go nicer, but kids can be brutal on paddles, and they will grow out of the size.
Paddles for Parents
This is a very personal subject – canoers are particular about their paddles! But when starting out, the best is to go into an outdoor store, try the grip, and get fitted for a proper size (yes, this is important and will improve your paddling experience).
Paddle shape and style
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 the boat, style of paddling, and boat width – 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 – BEST OPTION
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.
Canoe Safety 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 and floating) (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 handy kits with everything you need, like a little kit like this. Outdoor stores can also carry some options.
Non-Essential Gear – But Worth Thinking About
Here are some tips and suggestions per subject. Some things to make your life a little easier canoeing with kids! The items are also listed in the free pack list at the end of the article.
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 For Canoeing with Kids
Some tips, 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 Canoe Trip with Kids
- Most areas have a listing of places you can go canoeing. For example, in Ontario, here’s 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 canoe 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 paddling or sitting in the canoe, and they’re the happiest when tired!
- Some of the first trips may not go so great. Stick with it! 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 canceling a day trip is disappointing, a rainy day can dampen any 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
- A 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…
Looking to Get a Family Canoe?
What should you look for in choosing a family canoe?
Resources For Canoeing with Kids
The Big Sis