Canoeing with a child - how old?

My wife and I made it a point to go canoeing, whether on a day trip or extended, at least 10 times a year.

We recently gave birth to our first child. A gorgeous baby girl.

She’s only two months old, so a canoe trip is quite a ways away.

But I’m curious, when do you think they are old enough to go on a mild day trip?

I’m just trying to gauge how long it’ll be before we get back out there. I’m jonesing already!

Paddling with a child
First of all congratulations for the baby.

I have a 3 years old daughter and, although I’m dying to get in the water with her, I decided to wait until she can swim.

She’s actually taking swimming lessons so… it might be soon.

I started to dream about paddling with her basically the day she was born :wink:

It is the greatest gift in the world, is it not?

I am in a similar situation. I have 3.5 year old and 14 month old girls.

While we have not been on a real boat outing we have taken them camping. When the older girl was about 2 we spent about a week on the river. My wife and I took turns taking solo trips. We also played in the sand by the river and got her aquainted to the boat by going for “rides”. She would site in the boat and I would pull her around while holding onto the painter. We tried a 15 minute down river trip from the top of the campground to the bottom and she cried the whole way.

This summer we began taking her on short trips at a quiet lake. These were 5-10 minute out and back loops near the shore. She sure loved that! She is also taking entry level swim lessons at the YMCA.

I expect I would not take them on a real trip until they are about 5. WE will see how that works

We have good MTI PFD’s for both of the kids. The older one had outgrown her PFd and we went to the Dick’s sporting goods. She got to pick out her own tweety bird model and she could not wait to put it on.

Start out slow…
That’s what we did. I am fairly new to canoeing other than as a kid but have been for the last 2-3 months going out every weekend with a buddy and feel pretty confident of my abilities and the boats capabilities. That is where you start. (In my opinion)

Depending where you live, the weather is a factor. I live in Southern California where it is still in the high 70’s to low 80’s each day. This helps and for the most part eliminates the hypothermia factor. (Not totally) but is a factor. If it is cold where you are, adjust accordingly OR wait until next year when it warms up. I also have the luxury of very calm water to choose from to pretty tough wind blown stuff so pick your location right.

My daughter is 5 and a very accomplished swimmer easily diving to 10 feet and able to handle breaking waves in the ocean so she is not a factor with her PFD, BUT….my son is 2 and while he knows how to hold his breath and is comfortable in the water, it is different in deeper water and uncontrolled conditions. So what did I do?

We started slow. First, I got him used to his PFD in a pool (Story in itself). Next, we sat in the boat in the backyard and went through rules of the water. This helped, trust me! Next we went into the Newport Beach Back Bay and VERY shallow water. This gives you a mindset that if anything happens, you feel confident that all is under control.

This is where we are now. As we progress (and learn) we will try deeper water. For now, this is fun. I must agree with the above post that swimming is a HUGE factor along with your own level of experience and confidence.

Again, while I am fairy new to the sport, I did everything in a specific order, knew my boat and what I could do, and am very familiar with where we paddle.

Hope this helps and if anybody has any info about this or my style (pro or con on what I did) please let me know.

Enjoy, our family does!!!


Thanks for the advice
It’s only been two months, but I can’t remember life before her.

I guess it will be quite a while, considering we hope to have more. That’s great advice to wait until they’ve graduated from their first swimming lessons (life jacket or not).

Good to know we can take them camping at an earlier age though… not sure i could live without that for over five years.

Maybe Grandma and Grandpa will be kind enough to take them for a weekend once a year so we can get our paddling fix.


Certainly, swimming lessons are
important, but there is no magic age for pre-toddlers and toddlers as far as being ready for the canoe, at least not when they are to sit by themselves without a parent’s on-hands guidance…like a few inches away. Some are ready for that first paddle as young as 2 or so, others, its best to wait another year, or even two. My grandson is now 3. But, I don’t feel comfortable having him a canoe with just me yet. I’m hoping by Summer he will be ready. As his grandmother doesn’t swim and has a fear of the water, I don’t see taking her along as a good option, so I’ll wait. Evaluate your child as you go along. You will know when its right to go paddling together. Make sure the first trips are short, even 15 minutes can be a long time to a 2 or 3 year old.

2 or 3
A lot of it depends for me on the size of the child and how well their PFD fits. Mine went in ponds and lakes with me starting between 2 and 3. They always want to grab a leaf of something that drifts by so the pfd is important. Two weeks later fall out again trying to reach for something. It seems to me they have to fall out ever trip and then they remember for the rest of that trip. The lighter they are the easier it is to pick them up single handed and keep paddling.

I later learned to bring a small net so they could scoop up things with it. Thisreally helped them stay in the boat. Later still we learned the fun of towing anything the floats. Tie the tether to a stick and tow any toy.

Also tie anything else into the boat so that they cannot loose it by testing to see if it floats. By 4 or 5 they are ready for their own paddles and by 6 it is time for their own boat.

I went flatwater paddling with my baby
girl fron the time she was 11 months old.

Pfd for me and her, calm lake with no motor boats a 29 inch open cockpit kayak.

If somehow she had gone in, I’d have instantly fished her out by the pfd handle or jumped in and put her face up on my chest.

Really Flat water in a 29 inch wide barge no worries.

My first question is “why do you want to take a child paddling when they are too young to benefit from it, or remember it?”

I took my son to Walt Disney World when he was about 3 or 4. A couple years later, we returned. Since time was limited, I suggested that we skip some of the attractions he had seen two years earlier. I was shocked when he said he didn’t remember ever being here before! Everything was a new experience for him. The earlier trip was just a waste of money.

So, I suggest there is no hurry in taking a very young child paddling, who is too young to remember anything, unless it is YOU who want an experience to remember. I realize that there is a strong urge to share the paddling experience with those you love, but there is a time and place for everything. And, sometimes, people take kids along simply because they aren’t free to go paddling UNLESS they take them along.

On the other hand, as an earlier post mentioned, falling out of the boat is a real concern. Make sure the PFD fits properly, including the crotch strap. PFDs aren’t cheap, and the child can actually outgrow one during a season. I have seen a number of young children wearing PFDs that were either too small, or too large for them. In either case, this is just an invitation to disaster. I can’t imagine anything scarrier than seeing that PFD floating alone on the surface.

Of course, my son is gown and I didn’t get into paddling until a couple of years ago. I did, however, own a sailboat (26’) when he was young. And, yes, I did take him out a couple of times. But to this day, he doesn’t remember anything about it, except for one night that he slept on the boat … and was scared of the spiders.

Never too young

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A day trip sounds like too much -- but we made sure to get our daughters (held by Mom or Dad, of course) into a kayak for little half hour trips before their first birthdays.

As far as their "remembering" it, they may not have conscious memories -- but the more positive experiences of nature and movement they have have in those first months and years the better. It very probably gets imprinted in them as body memory, deep in every cell of their body. (Who cares if their minds remember it?) Why would you deprieve them of that?

Just make sure to be safe!

P.S. Taking young ones for short hiking trips is really good too!

depends on the kid, but…
both of mine started going with us when they were 2. Make sure you’ve got a properly fitting PFD with a crotch strap and a handle at the collar for retrieving them, just in case. Keep your trips with kids limited to fairly calm water and (more importantly) recognize that an hour in a confined space like a canoe feels like all day to an toddler, so plan your time according to THEIR schedule, not your own.

If you do your job of making it a fun event about discovery, you’d be surprised how much they’ll get out of it. With my kids, we played the “Bambi” game - they spent the time looking for the errant deer in the woods, and fortunately, in this part of the country, you’re guaranteed to spot one every once in awhile which gave them concrete reward for the effort. I also made sure that each of them had toddler sized paddles (Bending Branches use to make them, not sure if they still do), which gave them the sense of being part of the team rather than just a passenger. THEIR game turned into “drop the paddle and see if it floats”, which sounds aggravating, but with my son, at least, actually turned into a discussion about why some things float and others don’t. Like a said, an event about discovery.

They’re 9 and 11 now, and both of them still like to paddle (though in their own kayaks more than the family touring canoe). Upside is that when we DO go together in the canoe, the trips can be a little longer than an hour and a lot more adventurous than flatwater rivers.

I’ll tell you why
Because it doesn’t make any sense to give up pappling unil your child is 6 and can handle his own boat. Sure you could paddle alone but wouldn’t it be nicer to have your wife along too. And if you wife and you are paddling along then who is watching the child? So I can see a lot of reasons why you’ll want to take the child paddling at a young age.

As far as Diseny went. I’m sorry you wasted your money.

On small lake we used to take
out our first when she was not much more than a baby. We had the skill and new the issues and took the precautions. It was more dangerous driving there than the actual paddle.

Water babies
Check on Water Babies where babies are trained to be secure in the water. When they are old enough to crawl, wear a life jacket and are secure in the water you can take them out. Our daughter was 6 months old and would splash around on her own. Same with the boy. We got our first canoe when they were 3 & 5 and never had a problem. They were on boats earlier. One of my grandsons just turned 3 and he has been riding in the tankwell of a Pheonix 12 for a few months now. We put a seat in for him that wraps around and he is pretty secure. Usually falls asleep. It is his boat and my daughter is the engine.

Sunlight fresh air the feeling of having

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water about, the rhythm of the ripples, calm time with Papa and no distractions.

Story time, snack time, meal time, time to lie on the sleeping pad put on the shades and watch the clouds, nap time. Time in papa's arms drifting with the wind, time for books.

Time to look into the water (age 3) and see the trout.

Too young to benefit? I was in a boat before I could walk.

TV, day care, loud toys, that's what most kids get. Nothing wrong with any of them, (they are in the world; she better learn to deal), it's a matter of balance.