Paddling with Kids

A lot of people ask me, when is a good time to take my kids paddling?  My answer is always the same – when isn’t?  Realistically though, as soon as a child can sit up by themselves and you can get a correctly fitting PFD, it’s time to get on the water!

At the risk of sounding biased, I am a firm believer in getting my kids out amongst it.  It seems to me that kids exposed to outdoor recreation and the environment become more well-rounded, considerate adults.  Now, I’m not about to say that taking your kids paddling is going to make them the next Steve Irwin, but I do whole heartedly believe it will put them on a path of greater appreciation for the great outdoors and all it has to offer.  And, with summer approaching like a run-away train, there’s no better time than now to get your family out on our local waterways.

To that end, here are a few tips to successfully getting your kids on the water this summer.

First thing that you must consider is personal safety.  The safety of your kids and also of yourself.  When carrying your kids in any boat, it’s always a good idea to wear a PFD.  For children under 12 it is compulsory and it’s a great idea for all the other passengers in the canoe to do so as well.  There are two really good reasons for this.  Firstly, it sets a great example to little ones and makes them less likely to fight having to wear it. Secondly, it makes you a lot more able to affect a rescue in the event of a capsize.

Next thing to consider is organisation on board the canoe.  A tidy boat is a safe boat!  Keep things you need access to stowed in your PFD or in a small dry bag.  Pack everything else away in a large waterproof pack secured to the canoe.  Items rolling around loose inside a canoe can make paddling uncomfortable or awkward, and could potentially cause a capsize.  These same items then become potential entanglement points or flotsam in the water if the boat tips over.  Wherever possible, stow it!

On the theme of avoiding capsize, the single best way to get wet when paddling with kids is to let them get uncomfortable.  Most adult paddlers will spend time and effort setting their seat set up with padding and back support and then expect their kids to sit on the hard floor in the bilge water.  Uncomfortable kids are wriggly kids.  Wriggly kids in a canoe are sure fire way to end up going for a swim!

The good news is that it isn’t hard to set them up for a great trip.  My usual setup for little ones is a couple of foam camping tiles from BCF underneath a small cushion wrapped in a beach towel.  The camp mat keeps them out of the water and the cushion provides their own comfy (and dry) seat from which to watch the world go by.  It’s just the right height to keep the centre of gravity low for the odd fit of the fidgets, and high enough that they can see over the side and dangle their fingers in the water.  Older kids who are less prone to fidgeting can sit on a drop in middle seat, and even better, be given a paddle to join in the fun!

Better still, once they get old enough to paddle, sit them in the front seat and let a parent have a break in the middle.  Kids will naturally want to join in with mum and dad’s activity, I have found that once they hit about 10yo they are ready to undertake a short journey with paddle in hand. Don’t’ expect them to contribute all that much, or to be paddling in anything resembling a consistent manner.  With time and encouragement will come the development of hopefully the next Jess Fox!

Contributing to the paddling effort certainly helps keep their attention in the boat, which brings me to my next point; keeping them from getting bored.  I would encourage parents of small children to pick shorter duration paddles with plenty to see on their first few trips.  A bored kid is a fidgety kid, and a fidgety kid is going to give you a swim.  I find that a paddle duration of around 6km in total with a good break in the middle is enough for most younger kids.  Pick spots with narrow tree lined creeks and rivers with lots of trees, bird life and things of interest to look at and talk about.  Some of the coastal estuaries around Brisbane are perfect for this, just make sure you have a landing site at the halfway (or turnaround) mark so the kids can get out and have some time to stretch their legs.  Not a bad idea for older paddlers either!

My final tip for success is, keep their bellies full.  Make sure you have some snacks at hand and each kid has their own water bottle.  A sip of water and a nibble of a treat could be all the incentive you need to keep a potential future paddler focussed on the beautiful waterway gliding past them and not on their empty belly.  Even more so if they have been contributing to the paddling effort!  I know I’m keen on a nibble after paddling a couple of hours, and kids are no different.

Taking kids out paddling is one of the most rewarding activities a family can do.  And if you follow a few simple rules, keep the kids occupied, safe and comfortable, it will become a lifelong pastime for them.  I hope these few pointers will be of use and look forward to seeing you out on the water.

If you need any further advice on paddling with your family, choice of craft or equipment, please contact me at Natureline Australia on 07 3390 4106, canoes@natureline.com.au or follow us on Facebook for regular paddling hints and tips.  Happy paddling everyone 😊