Better for stability- kayak or canoe

-- Last Updated: Sep-16-14 1:24 PM EST --

My daughter is expressing an interest in going paddling. She's 8 (but sized more like a 5 year old). Obviously I would never take my child out with just me since I am a true beginner. I'd like to take her on a small, group guided tour (for beginners).

My question is this- what is best for us, a kayak or a canoe? Some guided tours offer both. I need the most stable, least tippy vessel as she will really freak out and probably be plagued with a life long case of PTSD if it even feels like she will tip over. She is a strong swimmer but we are in gator country so she's fearful of what might be in the water. And we'd be in the one boat but I would likely be the sole paddler.

Thanks for your advice!

The rental places rarely have anything other than big stable boats. Canoe or kayak is fine for getting her out on the water. If they have a tandem SOT, maybe give that a go.

Least tippy

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 11:04 AM EST –

Well I went on a canoe a few years ago with a friend (a rental at a state park) and it felt extremely tippy.

Some places only have one... meaning only rent canoes or only rent kayaks. I'm trying to choose which would be best for her, so I know where to take her, is one or the other more stable? We are both small (I'm 110 lbs and she's 40 lbs). I'd really love for her to explore the world of paddling and maybe take lessons if she's interested. But if I take her on a boat that feels tippy I doubt she will ever set foot on the water again.

Does she fear the water?
Can she swim? She would be wearing a PFD, of course…

The suggestion of a tandem SOT is a good one. I paddled a friend’s SOT. Was extremely stable (but like paddling a barge compared to my own kayak). Easy to get on and get off, even while in the water.

Beginner and Child in One Boat

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 11:41 AM EST –

The definition of which style of boat is more "tippy" has as much to do with the occupants as the boat.
I'm going to skip all that, except to say that it's harder for most first-timers to "break the rules" and tip over a rec kayak than a canoe, but neither boat should tip over unexpectedly once you get a bare minimum of practice.

Instead of focusing on tipping over, I'm thinking of something else. If you go to a rental place and get a canoe, you and your daughter will be given single-blade paddles, and if your daughter doesn't contribute much, you'll be trying to control a full-size tandem canoe all by yourself, which with a single-blade will be a lot harder than it has to be for someone at your experience level (two rank beginners who are big enough to provide power, each with single-blade paddles, will get by far more easily than just one). If you rent a tandem kayak, you'll be given a double-blade paddle, and I've yet to see a first-timer who couldn't make a kayak go from Point A to Point B and make basic turns, quite naturally, within a few minutes. This idea that, when solo paddling, the most basic propulsion using a double-blade is easier than with a single really ruffles the feathers of at least one kayaker on this site, but at the MOST basic level of boat handling, paddling with a double-blade paddle is much more intuitive and efficient. I think you'll be happier getting started in a tandem rec kayak.

pick the kayak
As someone who has often paddled both types of boat with kids that age (not my own, but friend’s kids and various nephews and cousins) I would say pick the tandem kayak. As others have said, a kid that young new to paddling will not be all that much use propelling the boat and you will be better off in the kayak for that reason. Also, kayaks put the kid’s center of gravity lower so they can lean over and look at the water without feeling the boat tip. I think being tucked into the smaller kayak cockpit makes some kids feel more secure as well. Rental tandems tend to be as stable as an aircraft carrier so you need not worry about capsizing either.

A tandem kayak would be the…
easiest for you.

A tandem canoe would be harder for you to control and keep straight

Even with a PFD, I wouldn’t put her in either a canoe or a kayak, unless she can swim and doesn’t fear the water.

Jack L

first things first
I agree with Jack.

First thing is to get your girl comfortable in the water. Teach her to swim, you or others. I’m assuming you can swim, didn’t read this long thread.

Imo part of her tendency to ‘freak out’ comes from not being able to swim. She is afraid of the water. Fearful ppl are more likely to stiffen up and feel unsteady in a canoe, kayak, whatever small vessel.Sometimes a self fulfilling prophecy which contributes to capsize.

Teach her to swim.

Oh yes, can swim for sure

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:33 PM EST –

Absolutely! We swim often at beach and pool. I wouldn't think of letting her go if she couldn't (even wearing a PFD).

She's not afraid of the water, however it's what's in the water (or could be in the water) that scares her. We're in gator country, so if she feels like it might tip over she'll probably never go in one again.

Being strong enough to paddle for 2

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:30 PM EST –

Thank you, that advice is helpful. So you are specifically speaking about a rec kayak, SOT style, right?

By tippy I don't just refer to actually being able to flip it over but just to it feeling rocky and tippy. I was in a canoe last it felt quite tippy and I know she would not like it and would immediately want out.

Now that you mention it, I remember getting a canoe with another adult and we still had trouble paddling it. So I can imagine paddling alone would be quite difficult (unless a certain type of canoe is easier, I don't know?)

So having her feel stable and me being able to paddle alone (and keep in mind I'm only 110 lbs so my arms aren't like machines or anything) are top priority. Thanks for your input!


– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:45 PM EST –

Are you referring to a sit on top? Or the kind that you sit inside? Recreation kayaks include both styles, correct?

Yes, I do agree that she would prob feel more comfortable with the lower center of gravity feeling. So are you saying a sit in would be preferable to a SOT?

She is a strong swimmer

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:37 PM EST –

She is a strong swimmer. She swims in the ocean and pool. The fear comes from what might be IN the water. We live in FL (gator country).

My experience with kids.

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:39 PM EST –

I started paddling with both of my sons when the were quite small in canoes. When we moved to California and the ocean we switched to sit on top tandem, then quickly one of the kids wanted his own kayak.

Canoes are good for families and flat water. If you never tip over you are great. If you do tip over with a child it is not easy to deal with. Tandem SOTs are much less likely to tip over than canoes and if you do, it's very simple to flip the boat, climb back on, help the child back in the boat.

A good tandem sot for families is the Hobie, since you can paddle it from the center seat with small child in front seat. The wide and heavy Ocean Kayak Malibu II is also quite good for kids.

been there

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 12:51 PM EST –

My children are 10 and 12. We put each on them in kayaks when they were literally infants (not even toddlers yet). These were large, stable, inflatable tandems, on flat shallow waters, on calm days. Just to get them acclimated to being in a small boat on the water. Both paddled rental SOT's on lakes when very young (and yes, for the paranoid folks out there, they took extensive swim lessons from early on)

When they were 4 and 6, we got them two SOT's. These were Emotion Spitfires, inexpensive 8 foot boats that are easy for a kid to manage. They were all over these boats. My son stood up in his to fish, on Maine harbors. Both now paddle larger boats (and SUP's).

I had that same sense of concern, all along (albeit without the gator factor). We had a tandem SOT at one point, but it was a heavy beast, hard to load and unload and slow as hell on the water. I would think with a child the size of your daughter, it might make sense to first get her on with you in a single SOT, just sort of sitting in close with you. On shallow water, of course, where she can actually stand up if she goes over. Paddle around a bit and let her see how nice it is. The tandem would be nice, but she will be "alone" up there and may feel more afraid.

I'm sure someone will jump all over me that It's Not Proper to Put Two People on a Solo Boat. To each his own. Just so you have more dirt on me, I once had me, my wife, both kids, a Golden Retriever and a large cooler (full of beer and sodas) on the tandem SOT. It was awesome! (We didn't go far but it made a great swim platform. :) ).


You hit the nail on the head!
Actually now that you brought it up, she did mention she didn’t like that- the fact that she would be in front or behind me instead of next to me. So are you saying if we got a solo kayak she could just sit up against me? I know for sure she would prefer that, at least at first.

not practical

– Last Updated: Sep-16-14 1:16 PM EST –

You can't paddle with a child sitting beside you. In a canoe you have to switch sides, plus your weight(s) must be centered in the boat to keep it tracking straight. In a kayak you would hit the child with the paddle and the same balance centering would apply. And if she does get jumpy you would be far more likely to capsize if she makes a sudden movement sitting beside you.

I have seen some adults paddling with a smaller child between their legs in a rec boat with oversized cockpit or solo sit on top, but I can tell it's awkward and makes effective paddling almost impossible. Plus the kid gets drenched with paddle drippage.

I think she will be fine in front of the boat -- most kids get over their nervousness quickly once they launch. I usually find being overly protective only feeds their anxiety. Calm confidence, encouragement and reassurance works better than letting them cling to you. If she really can't tolerate sitting on her own in the front of a tandem, then she is too young and too nervous for now to attempt such outings.

I would add that it would probably be best for both of you for you to get comfortable on your own paddling first before taking her out with you, even in a group. You will telegraph your own nervousness and uncertainty to her if you are not confident in your own handling of the boat and the conditions. It would be different if she was 10, but she is still pretty young and you need to know that you would be able to capably tend to her if the remote chance of an upset occurred, and not be freaked out yourself.

You make some great points
I never thought of those things so thank you.

well we all have
different experiences.

FWIW, I don’t think anyone was suggesting putting a child “beside” you. What I had in mind was the child in front of the paddler, basically yes, between their legs. And yes, it is hard to paddle effectively like that. But I’ve certainly done it plenty of times, and it can be done. If we’re talking about warm, shallow waters, like a calm beach, it’s basically just playing in the water with a float. And in Florida, “getting drenched” can’t be such a bad thing. :slight_smile:

I wouldn’t suggest doing this a lot. Just as a first time on a kayak kind of thing. You could even then stand in the water, in two feet of water, and hold the boat, and let her sit in the seat and hold the paddle and “paddle” a little.

Of course, I’m picturing nice safe beaches. If you’re really in 'gator territory… I dunno. I’d move. (I hate gators.)


Bad idea, and further…
It sounds to me like you have a kid who has issues with the idea of being in the water. Honestly, never in my life would I have wanted to snuggle with an adult in a boat. But I and my siblings got taught to swim as soon as it was legally possible.

You should deal with her comfort in the water before you try anything about boats. Maybe yours as well if you think her anxiety level is a good match for being on the water in a paddle craft. It isn’t. This needs to get fixed to have a good experience. Winter and pool classes are coming in YMCA’s and many local schools. Take advantage of them.

That’s a great idea
What you are suggesting she would absolutely love. I think the idea of just letting her get used to it in very shallow water is a great idea. As she grows more comfortable with the kayak itself maybe we could try the tandem SOT with a small group tour. It’s baby steps but it gets you there. :slight_smile: