Introducing kids to kayaking

My 4 years old daughter is doing well with the swimming lessons so pretty soon I will be able to introduce her to the world of paddling.

I believe the best place for that in the Ft Lauderdale area would be West Lake, a shallow, no powerboats saltwater lake.

As far as the boat of choice I have the following options:

  1. Borrow a Necky Dolphin SOT and keep her between my legs. Pros: total control of the kid. Cons: paddling probably not that comfortable, cockpit space limited.

  2. Use the wife’s QCC 400 and keep her in the back hatch. Pros: paddling very comfortable, more room for both me and her. Cons: she would not be under control at all times.


We were absolutely amazed to…
watch our four year old twin grandchildren learn to paddle several months ago.

We let them play in the 9’ rec. Keowees in a few feet of water, and before the day was over they were each doing not only a forward stroke but also had learned how to back paddle.

That particular kayak comes with a childs seat (which I have removed) just in front of the larger seat.



Not the hatch.

You may want to rent a good sized SOT. I have an Ocean Kayak Malibu II, which is a cheap recreational SOT. It can be paddled solo from a center seat or tandem with a front and rear seat. When my daughter goes, she sits in either the front or rear seat with her own paddle and I sit in the center solo seat. If she sits behind me, I have to be ready to be smacked in the head with a paddle. If she sits in front of me, I have to be ready to be smacked in the face with a paddle. Any way you go, if you give a big stick to a four year old, you’re getting smacked somewhere. Nevertheless, it works.

I’ve also done the tandem thing with my wife and I in the tandem paddle seats and my daughter in the center seat. That way my daughter can get two parents with one paddle.

Not hatch. Your kid isn’t cargo.

  • Big D

in the hatch

– Last Updated: Jun-26-07 4:26 PM EST –

similar thread:

as stated there, you can see a woman paddling with her small child in a hatch in "sea kayaking: a woman's guide" (

yet another similar thread naming some yaks that can accommodate a child seat in a hatch:

we have ocean kayak malibu II's for tandem paddling with kids. as soon as they could swim we put them into small 9-foot rec kayaks and they went to town. now we use the SOTs for distance paddling and the rec kayaks (a swifty and a zydeco; keowee is similar) for creek exploring or lake fun.

No hatches
Kids will screw around because it is fun. So did we. And in what I’ve seen at demos, they absolutely delight in taking the boat over and coming out of it once they are comfy swimming. You really don’t want to have that behind you, no matter what promises get made now.

Go with the SOT, and I wouldn’t count on her staying on it too long.

My 5 1/2 year old
fits just fine in the front of me in our America 11.0 by Islander (Perception?). He isn’t in the way of my paddling, but he gets wet from the paddle drip on his head. I gave him a hat and now he is perfectly happy.

Hatch can work fine
Both my kids rode inside the rear hatch when they were 3-4 years old for short jaunts on flat water. How likely are you to tip and how tight are they in the hatch? The risk was negligable in my opinion, probably less than pushing them across the street in a stroller. Stay close to shore with your precious cargo and you’ll be fine.

Here’s my son 2.5 years ago at the age of 4.

They both survived to own their own boats.

Assess the risks for yourself, bring lots of snacks, and keep it short and sweet.


not so sure
i don’t see why kayaks are any different from canoes, bicycles, hiking backpacks or even cars. even very young children are capable of learning how to handle these situations. we’ve always brought the kids along, and they’ve always done well.

Here’s another idea…
For very little money, and not too much time either, you can build a child size SOF boat. You can even very easily build a removeable outrigger system (sort of like training wheels on a bike). In Chris Cunningham’s “Building the Greenland kayak” book, he describes this method.

So, build a little boat (with optional outrigger), carve a little paddle, and she’ll be a happy little paddler in no time! :slight_smile: And you’ll be very jealous of her lovely little SOF boat! :slight_smile:


big cockpit
in addition to a sot, as some have mentioned, i would suggest you consider a kayak with a large cockpit, such as a perception sundance or old town loon, or a tandem kayak.

i have the sundance 14 and the cockpit is roomy enough that my 4-year-old sits at the front end of the cockpit, not in my lap, and her position does not hinder my stroke at all.

a popular old town model is the dirigo. i’ve sat in it w/ my kid and that center “dashboard” hinders leg movement for the child. it makes it tough to slide the child’s legs in and out, which i think may pose a hazard in the event of a capsize. with the sundance, we both just pop out when we practiced self rescues.

the largest dirigo comes with a child jump seat that you have to buy separately. i think that forces the child to sit facing the stern, as in looking at you. i don’t know for sure, there wasn’t one to try it out.

if you should choose to go this route, know that the bigger cockpit means the boat will be wide, which means it’ll be strictly a rec. kayak. you won’t win any speed prize and you can’t do anything fancy with it, but on the other hand, it’s very stable and great for slow and calm conditions. i’ve taken my kid out on it many, many times and we both love it. it’s a trade off between a sleek kayak and time with my kid, and the kid wins, hands down. i’m going to buy the kid a fishing pole next and we’ll be doing some fishing.