Kayaking with our 2 year old, help!

My wife and I live in Colorado. We plan on kayaking on the nearby reservoirs, seemingly calm water and not going out very far just along the shore. We are bringing out 2 year old out with us. We want to buy separate kayaks as we will be going out separately as well and like the independce of the two. Do you reccomend sit inside or sit on top? The sit inside seem so much more stable, more of an area for toddler to sit in and less chance of getting wet. But I know they can be dangerous. My big quetsion is, I’ve never felt like I was going to tip over a kayak especially nearby shore, but am I being naive? Let me know any comments on what kind of kayak we should buy as well as some general reccomendations for kaying with a toddler. Appreciate any and all insight!

There are actually 3 categories of kayaks you might be talking about - 2 types of sit insides (touring and recreational classes) and sit on tops. You may want to read an article in California Kayaker Magazine on types of kayaks, with some basics of pros and cons. Issue #10 at California Kayaker Magazine - South West's source for paddlesports information

Presumably you are talking about recreational class sit insides versus sit on top. If this is the case, they will both be very stable, as both are similarly wide. A recreational class sit inside will keep you a bit dryer and afford a little bit of protection from elements, but would be much harder to get back in should you flip it over. A common way to get yourself out of trouble with a rec boat that flips is to swim to shore, so that part about staying close to shore is important.

Outside of your question, you may want to consider getting one of the boats as a double that could be used as a single. This would give you more flexibility as your child grows. Something like an Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 (or Malibu 2XL if either of the adults is on the larger side - like 250lbs+) if you go sit on top. Or there are similar recreational class kayaks that are doubles but where the front seat can be moved to a center position to allow one to use as a single - but makes and models are slipping my mind right now.

Peter’s overview and advice is golden. What about a sit in for the single and a SOT for the double for carrying the child? Lots of room for a 2 yo to move about and easier to get back into when you flip or go for a swim. All kayaks turn over, it’s just a matter of when.

Kayaking is a water sport…expect to get wet. And always wear your PFD! Also, buy your child a PFD based on the appropriate size/weight.

Good advice, but are you nutz? 2 yo have the attention span of a gnat and will want out very quickly.
Maybe you are better parents than I was. I started mine young but not that young.

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I would never take my child in any water I couldn’t stand in easily.

My little guy is 6 now, but has been on the water since he was 2. Initially we would only have him in our canoe, but starting last year (he was 5) he paddled his own sea kayak for short outings on our local reservoir. His kayak is designed for kids and small adults (Wilderness Systems SP) and while he is still small for it, he has no problems getting where he wants to go. I have my tow-tether on me at all times, and will occasionally have to help him to shore, especially if the wind picks up. While we might be out for several hours, we frequently won’t paddle for more than 10 or 20 minutes at a stretch before getting out and playing on beaches, sand bars, etc. A proper fitting PFD has always been a must of course. We’re on the western slope of CO and while most of our reservoirs are still pretty solid, we’ve got a little open water starting to show up.

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I think 2-year-olds can be taught to swim; you may want to look into that.

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Life jacket that fits with leg straps. Dress for immersion and you better figure out how to practice a wet exit. Do it in shallow warm water with help.

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How many times has someone kayaked near shore in calm water tipped over in there kayak? I get that she is young, but saying she is too young and I’m “nutz” from a safety standpoint with a Sit on Top and close to shore in calm water is ridiculous. Thanks for the insight into PFDs and thinking maybe a double with my wife may be a good idea. This is literally hang out on a beach and kayak near shore for 5 min increments, not planning on doing rollovers in choppy ocean water as I sight see Blue Whales.


Temperatures and environment where the kid can have fun (and be safe). Also, pay attention to the child. Some will love it and others may not. Dynamics are different for every family. I second Peter’s advice above.

My youngest daughter loved being out in a canoe. At 2 or 3 she was wandering around in a Sawyer Cruiser like she was home on a 4 hour paddle on a warm summer day. But, not every kid is like that. Her older sister was designated as “Official Worrier” on a couple trips.

I had great luck with both my kids when they were two… In a canoe.

They had room to move around and could easily reach the water while having plenty of protection from falling in.

The life vest is critical. We used puddle jumpers initially and have now switched to NRS vests

Even at 3 and 5,trips are short. If I take my oldest out alone, he can do maybe an hour.

Please do not underestimate the ability of people to unexpectedly flip a kayak nearshore in calm water, especially with a small child onboard. It happens! I have seen it happen in benign situations next to shore & even had to rescue a few of those individuals as panic happened after the unexpected flip. Very happy you are open to and onboard with wearing PFDs.

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Both parents should obtain professional instruction first before taking any child out on the water, especially if they lack experience paddling. At the same time, enroll your child with a swimming instructor that specializes in teaching newborns through age 5 how to swim.

I use a sit on top Ocean Kayak Scupper with one or both hatch covers removed to carry two toddlers and myself . Or, on rougher days, I’d take the Ocean Kayak Zuma Two out, with only the 2 year old sitting up front wearing a PFD with a collar type handle, which I can grab and wisk the child out of the water after they jump out.

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Professional instruction is certainly not a bad idea.

That said, I feel completely comfortable taking my kids on on the water we paddle without having done so.

It is possible to get out there safely without it.

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I love the range of responses here, from “do it, you’ll be fine” up to “are you nuts?”

Ben: do it, you’ll be fine. I’ve been taking my kids out in folding kayaks since before my daughter was two and before my son was one. PFD will be good for your peace of mind, but even that is not necessary for the type of puddle-jumping you’re describing. Kids need room, so I think you’ll be happiest in a canoe, reasonably happy in a SOT, and least happy with a sit-in kayak.

Some of the “safety-conscious” responses here strike me as over the top. Dress for immersion? Practice wet exits? Avoid water deeper than head high? Professional instruction? He’s hugging the shore of a reservoir, not crossing the Arctic Ocean! He could do these trips in a pool noodle.


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With all due respect, I disagree with your statement that a PFD is not necessary for a child. Not only is it an irresponsible statement, but Colorado Boating Statutes and Regulations mandate children 12 and under must wear a PFD when in a vessel on the water, unless they are in an enclosed cabin or below deck.


Saying a pfd is not necessary is ignorant and dangerous. When the boat flips, you may not be able to immediately get to the kid.


This is the most classic forum responses when kids are brought up ever. I will respond back with how the kayaking goes 4 feet from shore in a couple feet of water on a sit on top kayak goes, hopefully we survive. I love you all.
Summary of comments:

  • Am I nuts
  • Commenter has saved many panicking near shoreline kayakers that have flipped over
  • Professional Instruction necessary
  • Practice wet exists, desss for emmersion

Sounds like you asked the question just to illicit the responses that you knew were coming. Thanks for playing

Only the ignorant assume all will be well. They don’t know what they don’t know. I hope the child does not pay the price.