Kayaking With Toddlers: The Complete Step By Step Guide

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Many kayaking enthusiasts do not want to put their passion for the water on hold when they have children. Including kids in your adventures can help foster a love for the outdoors while forming that crucial bond during their life. It can be perfectly safe and fun when kayaking with toddlers if you follow some guidelines. 

So when can your toddler start exploring the water with you? The ideal age will depend on several factors, including their size, how comfortable they are in the water, and attention span. When exploring how to take your toddler with you safely in a kayak, you are sure to build the same love you feel for the water in your child. 

I’ve been around the water most of my life kayaking around Canada. Some of it was done when I was a toddler! Below I will reveal what to look for, including:

  • Age limits
  • Everything you need to bring
  • The best types of kayaks for paddling with a toddler
  • Important safety tips to keep you and your little one safe on the water

Let’s dive in!

What Is the Age Limit for Kayaking With Toddlers

Every child is unique, and how they behave out on the water could be significantly different than that of another toddler the same age. Therefore, if you want to take your child with you out on the water, ensuring they remain safe is vital.

As a general rule, you can kayak with children in your watercraft until they are up to seven years old. This age is dependent on the type of kayak you own, along with their size and position. 

Of course, babies are not recommended as ideal passengers for kayaks since they cannot sit up on their own or follow directions. Some experienced kayakers prefer to wait until their children are older before taking them along on the water. 

Ideally, the child should be able to swim before they head out with you in a kayak. Even though they will have a PFD, there is a possibility of them flipping over and being unable to roll onto their back for a safe float. If you want to take your toddler out and they cannot swim, try practicing rolling over while wearing a PFD in a swimming pool

We have a guide that goes through kayaking for nonswimmers here.

Toddlers and young children will need to sit in front of you or on your lap in the kayak to prevent accidental tipping or other hazards. 

Children four to seven years old can ride in a tandem two-person kayak with you as a non-paddling passenger or as a bow paddling rider. Some kayak enthusiasts may opt to go canoeing with a toddler until the child becomes old enough to sit well with them in a tandem kayak. 

The Importance of a Proper Fitting PFD

According to the U.S. Coast Guard regulations, children under the age of 13 years of age must wear an approved personal flotation device. However, some states have alternative laws, so it is vital that you check in with your local authority on their PFD requirements for children. 

It is especially critical that children have a properly fitted PFD. Toddlers are not typically strong swimmers, and a lifejacket that does not fit correctly could do more harm than good if you capsize your kayak. Too large can push against the child’s face, while too small may not keep them afloat effectively. 

Improperly fitting life jackets can also hinder your child’s ability to roll over on their back if you capsize. Finding a style that will benefit your toddler is critical for their safety. 

There are several types of PFDs available to suit different ages and sizes of children. However, even parents or other adults should wear PFDs during outings on the water, so there is no risk of fatigue if you are both accidentally in the water. 

According to a previous study from the U.S. Coast Guard, 86% of watercraft accident victims who died were not wearing a PFD

You should never tether your child’s PFD to the kayak while out on a paddle. Doing this can prevent your toddler from escaping and floating or swimming to safety if the kayak tips over. You do not want to restrict their movements if they enter the water or your ability to reach them effectively. 

Items to Bring Kayaking

Packing for a kayak trip with a toddler can be a chore, but when you have everything you need, your trip will go smoother, and your little one will have fun. Take a look at these essentials you should consider packing when bringing your child with you kayaking. 

  • Hat and sunglasses 
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Extra water and snack foods
  • Extra clothes and swim diapers if necessary
  • Personal floatation devices (PFDs)
  • Emergency whistle
  • Floats and rescue line 
  • Spray decks and skirts if you wish
  • Umbrella to keep the sun’s rays off your little one
  • Paper maps and compass if you require (do not rely on a cell phone)
  • Toys or books
  • Fishing rods or sand toys for stops on the shoreline 

You may find other items to add to this list that work well for you and your toddler to make their paddling experience a positive one. 

What Type of Kayak Should I Be Using?

Selecting the suitable model to kayak with a baby could be different than when you want to go kayaking with a toddler. Using the best kayak for parent and child can make the experience out on the water better for both of you. Kayaks are mainly sit on top or sit inside models, giving riders different advantages to each style. 

Tandem Kayaks

While you may think that using a tandem kayak is the best solution when heading out on an adventure with your toddler, it may not be the best decision. 

Toddlers can become bored quickly and get squirmy if they sit too long. When using a tandem kayak that separates you from your child, you may not have enough control over them during these times

Photo by Sea Eagle

If you must use a tandem kayak, you should always place the child in the seat in front of you so you can see them at all times. The Sea Eagle 330 can be a terrific choice for hitting the water with your toddler. The adjustable seats ensure that you can keep your child close while still remaining stable. 

Sit Inside Recreational Kayaks

Sit inside kayaks can be an excellent choice for parents taking toddlers on a long trip and needing a safe space for them to lie down and nap. Depending on the model, some sit inside kayaks can be more stable in the water since the center of gravity is situated lower. 

Paddlers can choose between inflatable or hard-body options for many sit inside models. The Intex Explorer Two-Person Kayak can be an extremely portable option for parents who do not have a lot of room for a rigid kayak along with other gear. 

If you prefer a hard-bodied kayak, choosing a more extended model that can provide more inside space will be beneficial. This Pelican Sprint 120XR model is 12 feet long and can give you enough room to have your toddler close to you on your next trip out.  

Sit On Top Kayaks

Many brands of sit-on-top kayaks can provide stability and comfort for kayakers with toddlers. Alternatively, they may not feel as tippy as sitting in kayaks, which can make you and your little one feel more comfortable. These models are also open and provide more space for gear and snacks rather than having to pack all your supplies inside. 

This Sentinel 100X EXO Neptune Kayak from Pelican gives paddlers ample room to get out on the water with young children. In addition, it can support up to 225 pounds, making it a terrific choice to fit both an adult and a young child. 

For an inflatable sit-on-top kayak option, the Sevylor K1 QuikPak Kayak is an easily portable choice to handle on the water with a kid. It deflates into a backpack, making transport and storage easy. It also has multiple air bladders to keep you safe incase a puncture does occur. Still I would restrict the use of this kayak to near shore

Safety Tips to Keep in Mind With Toddlers

Learning how to kayak with a toddler requires observing many safety tips to ensure the trip goes well for everyone. Being safe while out on the water can help prevent disasters or accidents from happening. 

Learn Safety Techniques

Although no one wants to flip their kayak with a child on board, it is critical that you know what to do if this happens to you. It can be frightening to capsize, so talking to your child about the possibility can help ease any fears they have. 

Let your child know that if you both end up in the water, they will be perfectly safe with you, and they need to listen to your instructions to get to shore or reboard the kayak as soon as possible. 

Some parents will practice capsizing in shallow water before taking a trip with their toddler, so they are comfortable if the scenario happens. 

Paddle Close to Shore

When first kayaking with two-year-old children, you should recognize their short attention span. Paddling close to the shore can provide a buffer of safety if you capsize so you can both get to the land quickly. 

The shoreline can also provide your little one with some terrific things to look at and talk about as you enjoy your time kayaking. This changing scenery can hold your child’s interest, so they become more comfortable riding with you. 

Tips While Paddling With a Toddler

To make your kayaking trip go smoothly and help your little one become comfortable in the water, here are a few tips you can incorporate. 

Paddle in Calm Conditions

You should not go kayaking with an infant in extremely windy weather conditions or in areas with strong currents or tide changes. Unstable water areas can increase the chances of capsizing

Save your whitewater adventures for when your children are older, and stick to flat, calm water. You want to instill a love of paddling in your child, not make them fearful of setting out in their own kayak later on. 

Bring Lots of Water and Snacks

Even if you are planning short trips out, you should bring lots of water and snacks. Being out on the water in the sunshine can dehydrate you and your little one quickly, so be sure to have enough to drink. 

Snacks can keep your little one busy and occupied during your paddle. Young children need to eat often and can become grumpy and irritable when their blood sugar is low. This way, they will not become hungry while out on the water. Additionally, their attention will be on their food rather than wanting out of the kayak

Do Not Forget the Sunscreen, Hat, and Bug Spray

Even if you think you will not need bug spray or sunscreen, you should always have it with you. Children and adults can burn quicker when paddling since the sun’s UV rays bounce off the water and are amplified as they reflect onto you.  

It is better to have these essentials handy and not need them than be out on a kayak trip and have your child suffer from bug bites or a sunburn. 

Make a Set of Rules

Setting rules and boundaries before you head out for a paddle is critical for you and your child. Although kayaking with a baby can make this tricky, you should still have simple guidelines to follow in any possibility. 

Many toddlers and young children can follow simple rules, including not leaning over the side, not standing or jumping, and keeping hands and feet inside the kayak.

Make Time for Teaching Moments

Children can retain information as they learn, but it helps to teach as you go. For example, many kids will absorb rules and guidelines more quickly when they practice. 

If you come across scenarios during your paddle, make sure to talk them over with your child about possible outcomes and preventative measures. For example, people with stand-up paddleboards may pass by, and you can talk about how those devices have the proper design for standing while kayaks do not. 

Keep the Trips Short

When you first start taking your young child out with you on adventures, you want to keep the time on the water short. Toddlers can find it exhausting to sit well for long periods, and they will tire more quickly than you will from paddling. 

By limiting the time in the kayak, you end each trip on a positive note, rather than stopping when your little one becomes disobedient or hard to handle. This way, your child will associate positive feelings with kayak trips rather than negative ones. 

Bring Things With You to Keep Them Entertained

Sometimes bringing other things along will help your child settle in for their kayak trip. For example, some children may find watching birds boring after a few minutes and might need alternative things to hold their attention. A couple of simple hand-held toys can work wonders for occupying their minds out in the kayak

Playing Games

Entertaining your child while riding in a kayak can be pretty similar to engaging them in a vehicle. You want to avoid boredom that can lead to having a grumpy little one on your hands. Young children can play games such as I Spy, singing nursery rhymes, or other word association games. 


below are some FAQ’s that readers ask us about kayaking with toddlers.

Can a 6 Year Old Kayak by Themselves?

Your six-year-old can kayak by themselves with some practice and the right equipment. Do not expect to launch your child in the water and keep up to you the first try, though. Your young child will need a kayak small enough for them to handle and practice on shallow, flat water until they become comfortable. 

Can You Take a 2 Year Old Kayaking?

Yes, you can go kayaking with a 2 year old, but you should observe some vital safety measures beforehand. For example, they should have a properly fitted PFD and can follow your instructions for their safety along with many of the tips we shared above. 

How Do I Begin to Teach My Child to Paddle a Kayak?

It is easy to teach your young child to paddle a kayak, and with a little practice, they can accompany you on your many adventures on the water. 

Start by showing your child how to enter and exit a kayak safely while on solid ground. They can learn how to sit correctly and paddle before they even hit the water. 

Next, let them try in your pool or very shallow flat water area like a local pond. Once your child becomes comfortable with the water, you should practice capsizing, so they know how to safely reach land or return to their kayak. 

What We Have Learned

Kayaking with toddlers is possible when you follow some ground rules to ensure a safe trip on the water. Although many parents may wonder how to kayak with a baby, you will find that taking an infant on a kayak is not an ideal situation, and it is preferable to wait until your child is old enough to sit on their own and follow directions

If you want to introduce your toddler to your love of kayaking, ensure you are well-prepared by bringing all the supplies they may need. You may need to keep entertaining your child during the outing until you return to shore from extra water and snacks to toys. 

Photo of author
Hey, there! My name is Derek and I have been around kayaks and canoes all my life. The last 5 years I recently turned my attention to inflatable kayaks and my world has been a lot more portable since! When I'm not kayaking I like to watch motorsports, play hockey and work on this site!

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