Canoeing with toddler - Advice?

Haven’t been on this site for awhile but am happy to be back. I’m sure this topic has been discussed but would really appreciate hearing from moms & dads out there or getting a link to previous discussion threads.

My husband and I have a 3-year-old son with developmental delays, so he basically behaves like a 2-year-old, and we want to start paddling with him. Of course we have the appropriate PFD for him and will offer him snacks, but my question is how to keep a mischievous toddler with no rational self-preservation instincts inside a canoe? I don’t mind if he leans over the side to touch the water, or if he drags some toy attached to a string (anything unattached will be subject to burial at sea :-)), but he’s not discerning enough not to pitch himself into the water. Attaching him to a thwart via a tether is a wonderful idea but dangerous in the event – no matter how unlikely – of a capsize. Meanwhile, we have a choice between an Old Town Penobscot 17 and a Wenonah Seneca, so we figured we’d use the Seneca because it’s so big, wide, and stable (my dad and 7-year-old son can paddle the Penobscot). On the other hand, that’s a lot of boat for him to wander around in alone between the bow & stern paddlers (he doesn’t really listen to ‘No’ that well). Maybe we should take him in the Penobscot, stick him on the floor in front of me (Mom, the bow paddler), and let Dad in the stern do most of the work?

I’m thinking out loud here and probably not thinking of obvious ideas, which is why I’m turning to you fine folks! We’re headed up to the Saranac Lake – St. Regis lakes area of the Adirondacks in a few weeks and want to make the most of it. Advice from parents or grandparents of toddlers, anyone?


Shani in NJ

Given the attention span and supervision required, you have to accept that family canoe trips won’t be about going fast or far for a while. One person paddling, one person parenting is probably your best bet.

Kids in canoes
I put in a lot of hours in canoes with my kids when they were that age. First remember it is about the kids. Plan on short times and short distances. If you get more you are lucky but don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting it. My daughter when she was that age thought it was a great trick to jump in. It was just part of the job of the rear paddler to pull her back in. Our mantra was stroke, stroke, grab Elizabeth, shake her off, put her back in the boat, stroke, stroke. We put a strap on the back of her lifejacket to kneel on when the game had to be interupted.


The best place for your son is probably in the bow - can’t upset the boat there or easily jump put. Try giving him a small paddle or a toy fishing rod to occupy himself. That worked for my daughters. He may also find the bow a nice place to take a nap. Good luck.

Our solution
I added a drop in third seat bought on Amazon. I then flipped boat around and paddled solo from bow seat (turned around). My wife sat on middle seat immediately behind our daughter to keep control at alll times.

We were limited to 20-30 minutes and I let my daughter drag a fishing pole with a plastic fish through water to keep her entertained.