Kayaks for kids, what to buy and not?

We’re a beginner family and have two new recreational boats for adults, a tandem and a single. We have a 5 year old who is anxious to try his own boat. What 's out there (If anything)for a young go getter?

Two schools of thought:
Go stable: Keep kids’ confidence high by getting wide, flat bottomed, unsinkable boats. SOTs are great for this. It’s a great concept if your kids are just going to paddle out less than a hundred feet and romp around. The downside is they’re basically paddling a raft. They’ll need paddles too long for them just to reach the water. This adds weight and reduces their levering ability. These boats are also very slow, so keeping up with adults will be at best difficult. As an adult, try paddling a 3’ wide, 25’ long, 18" deep boat with a 10’ long, 4# paddle. That’s what it’s like for them.

Go “right sized”: Look for boats less than 14’ in length, less than 23" in width and with a deck height less than 10". Also, find a comparable paddle, light and short. They’ll fit these boats like an adult fits his/hers. They’ll be able to keep up better with the pack and their abilities will expand further. The downside here is less coordinated kids may get turned off out of fear. We don’t want that either. However, you can always add sponsons or ballast until they get build more confinence.

Check out the Perception Umiak/Carolina 12.0 and Acadia Scout, the Episea and the out of production Wilderness Systems Picollo. There’s a few adult boats that kids may be able to use also like the Impex Mystic, but they would be marginal for quite a while.


Perception Carolina 12’
I bought one for my grandson when he was 4 1/2. He is now 5 1/2 and is paddling short distances without any difficulty. My 12 year old niece loves to paddle the Carolina as well. Laura

Wilderness Systems Picolo
Possibly the best kids kayak out there.

I’ve got several teenagers who seriously regret outgrowing this boat.


Still Made?
Ocean Kayak KEA sit on top. Not sure they still make them, but stable SOT made for smaller kids.

formerly known as Umiak
I bought a used Umiak (now the Carolina 12) for my 6-1/2 year old. It not only works wonderfully for her but teenagers and even very light adults love this boat.

If you like to build things…


Right sized
Agree. Children who are comfortable in the water are a lot less concerned about falling over than most adults. They get frustrated at not being able to keep up with the older folks. Most rec boats are too wide and too deep for kids to paddle comfortably, and they end up having to work way too hard for it to be fun. I’ve seen too many kids wrestling with proportionally huge paddles and trying to paddle with their hands up around their ears.

Small-shaft small-blade paddles are availible which make a huge difference. Here’s one:


My son had an Umiak
Great little boat. Another option could be an “old school” whitewater kayak like a Dancer or Crossfire. Often found for less than $200, lots of giveaways too.

Fit the boat and the paddle to the kid
Fit the boat and the paddle to the kid, that said a 5 year old does not have any paddling strength, stamina or judgment. My experience with four kids and many dozens of cousins and kids friends (we have had entire soccer teams out on the water) is that there is a major change in strength and size that takes place around 6-7 and lasts until 11-12. Happens earlier with girls and later with the boys. I would pick a boat that targets this fit size for the type of paddling you want your child to do with you. Pick the boat based on the distance (time) and speed you will be paddling each day. Being the slowest paddler is no fun for the kid and towing is no fun for their older siblings :slight_smile: Given a small paddle (there are inexpensive wood ones available – fit them with Prijon drip rings) a 5 year old should be able to fit into a kid size boat and have fun over a short distance.

I don’t think the short fat rec boat works at all- case study – My ten year old has a cousin the same age (± 30 days), my son has a Carolina 12 – long and thin, Wavesport EVO – kid size whitewater playboat, and OT Loon 86 – rec boat that tracks. He can do class 3 whitewater and jump beaver dams on little creeks in the EVO – or pound out 18 river miles given breaks, food, and the promise that the next shoal is better swimming. His cousin has an OT Otter. A fun boat to take to the beach or putz around the lake, but while it may be slow it sure is hard to paddle in a straight line. Once when we went as a group to the Mink river in Door County he only paddled a little over a mile ( I think he was 8 at the time) before he quit paddling. I tried making a rule that none of the kids could pass him, but didn’t help as my kids all kept up with him by paddling backwards – they were right, technically, I told them to practice their whitewater backferry by paddling backwards into the wind in flat water. My nephew seems to hate kayaking while my son decides for himself (sometimes with corrective input from his older siblings) what boat to use for the water we will be in. oops – I forget to mention some other things, my nephew has a long cheap heavy rec paddle, my son has moved to using a 194cm Werner Black blade fiberglass paddle (I think it is a sidekick) lightweight stiff. Note- we all use whitewater paddles and use a high angle paddling technique. My nephew uses a cheap discount store PFD with a few really long straps and an open cockpit, my son uses a NRS silver colored vest type PFD that he picked out himself (when he first got it we had to tell him that he was not allowed to shower or sleep in it- that is how kid PFDs should fit – happily and always)- he uses a full skirt, bimini or open cockpit depending on temperature and wave height (kids boats have lower freeboard and so more waves roll over the deck) and we usually have a deck bag (empty or maybe some action figures) strapped on the front to break waves and spray.

I am dividing boats into two major categories; new and used. While there are some great old kid’s boats, some people might not have the time or inclination to hunt down a used boat that hasn’t been manufactured in years. I also left off SOTs- we live wear the water temperature is less than 50 degrees on Memorial Day weekend, make your own judgment.


Carolina 12 – we have one and we like it, unfortunately he is outgrowing it. Needs flotation bags (split) front and rear, needs backband – short so it doesn’t hit life jacket, lacks any kind of deck access – which is probably good- keeps boat light. My son can keep up and pass many of our group with this boat. Listed at 38 lbs more after the additions. List $399 paid about $320 on sale

Riot Stealth – Slightly larger than the Carolina and probably the next river boat for my 10 year old. He has paddled ours for many miles on both rivers and lakes (including Lake Michigan in light chop and did fine. I noticed they finally updated there web page and the weight has gone up to 45 lbs from 39. This boat tracks well and has front and rear storage bulkheads in the expedition model. Stiff Kayak. Older new boats can be found at dealers with the Sun-Flight badge for good deals. Paid about $600

Jackson Kayak – have never used one but if I was looking to replace our EVO today I would be talking to Jackson- My hat is off to anyone that has that many sizes for kids- I just wish he made a kid sized creek boat.

Perception Acadia Scout – we looked this in the showroom and carpet tested it, we never made it to the water to test drive it. On paper it looked good- more freeboard, wider seat, higher weight rating, more storage space under the deck, cheap. In person it is ugly (I know my kids have Prijon Combi 359s- we should talk) and the plastic seemed as thin as a milk jug. it was Red! He said no. I thought that the two missing feet might make it turn better in the tight spots on the river. It needed the same things as the Carolina- backband, floatation, deck rigging, etc. Although the Riot is more money initially they will be much closer in price when ready for the water. List $339

Used boats: harder to find but much easier on the wallet

Wavesport EVO – my sons favorite kayak, he has been in class 3 whitewater but mostly uses this for nearby rivers and creeks and to take to the lake for water tag (full contact). It is fitted out with racketing backband, adjustable leg braces, etc. it doesn’t track well – it does have a full planning hull which helps, but turns on a dime- in its own length. This is how he always wants to kayak.

Old Town Loon 86 – It is stiff, has a huge cockpit, a narrow seat, and seems to track well, for reasons I don’t understand it seems to be harder to turn than the Carolina 12 even though it doesn’t track as much- this just splitting hairs. It is a fun boat that has enough straight line ability to keep up with the older kids for awhile. It once did a fifty mile trip- too slow to keep up with longer boats. We use it for guests that look like weak padders or poor swimmers (it easy to fall out of the big cockpit) some time it is chosen because the parents are crazy even if the kids are sane.

Piranha Sub 7 – as a class these are used whitewater playboats that are very small (You could actually buy a very similar model new but that’s not the point in this section). They turn over product lines rapidly and don’t there value at all. There is virtually no market for small used whitewater playboats, everybody cool needs the latest and greatest. The smaller sizes seem only to differ by a small amount 1-2 inches in seat width from the EVO. We have 2 and although still claimed by the older kids as whitewater boats they are more often used as river /creek boats for young guests too small for the real creek boats (high freeboard). These could be a great deal- compare to Jackson above.

Perception Dancer – as a class these old style whitewater boats are interesting. They are long 12 feet plus, they have forgiving displacement hulls- harder to flip, they have rocker and are easy to turn. Ours was nixed for our 10 year old (by him and his siblings) on our lastest trip since we knew the water was so low- he choose the Carolina for straight line speed over the dancer. Someone else could append other names- I don’t all the other models that were like this. I got lucky- I saw it for $175 on the Rutabaga used boat area- one hour and 3 minutes later (I live an hour away) it was in my truck. It must have been used – it had a scratch on the bottom, the seat and coming were factory fresh and the original unfaded warning stickers were still clean. Sometimes you get lucky.

Umiak – old name of the Carolina 12 – my neighbor found one at a garage sale for $50- got the boat, PFD, paddle and a box-o-junk included. I think he wanted the box-o-junk. His grandkids use it all the time.

So it looks like I’m recommending two different types of boats- kids sized boats that go well in a straight line (maximize the paddling efficiency of the weak paddler) and fun boats that turn quickly (maximize the fun).

NC 11 Squirt

WW kids boats
I second the notion on the Jackson boats - the One Fun and the One 1/2 Fun boats are proportionately sized cut-downs of EJ’s playboat, the Fun - this boat comes in 6 sizes from little kid through hefty adult! However, playboats aren’t beginner’s boats, and they don’t track worth a darn compared to a touring boat, so if this is a child trying to keep up with adults in rec or touring boats, find something like the Umiak!

Some good info here
My two kids each have their own kayaks, one has been passed down, an Umiak, itis now in use by my 8 year old and she willprobably get a few more years out of it. My 12 year old has a Necky Looksha Sport LV. This is a nice boat for a larger child or small adult, quite sporty actually, surfs well and can keep up a decent pace. My older daughter is bout to out grow it though. The Looksha Sport LV is probably good to up to 150 lbs or so. Good luck and whatever boats you get for the kids is going to be great for them as well as you. Enjoy.

ocean kayak
kea a very nice kids boat not to wide not to heavy! an can be bought for around $300 in my area an a kids paddle werner for another $75 your in business heres a link to kayak



My daughter is 5
She paddles a kea, and has the Werner paddle too. It just makes it nice for her. It really is a perfect combo. And it will sell easily when the time comes. At least locally. I plan on donating it to a paddling club.

Thank you all for the information!
Just a note of thanks for all the great responses, I appreciate it. You all have been most helpful. I think we’re going to like this kayaking community. Stay Safe!

consider renting first
I see lots of young kids (5 and up ) who want tp padddle there own kayak on the trips i help with. often they get tired and we( the giulds) or there parents end up towing them. even the 8or nine year old grand son of the shop owner who has his own kayak and does know how to paddle, can be a lot of extra effert on us.

get the kid out in the boat and conditions you paln to paddling under.

you know your kid and probably can tell there maturaty level. but young kids even the physicly/emotionaly can cause you a lot of extra effert,. wich can really hurt the experience for both of you.

OT Loon 86
We bought my daughter an Old Town Loon 86 when she was younger and it was great. Sized and shaped for the smaller and younger paddler. She enjoyed our outings a lot more with a boat that fit her. She has since grown larger and moved up to a full size kayak. We have the Loon 86 listed for sale in the classified section if you’re interested.

kayaks for kids
Second all votes for Old Town Loon 8’6" … have two, each gotten for my sons when they turned 7. Now 8 year old daughter paddles one. Very stable, track well, have run up to hard Class II water.

When and if they get interested in whitewater kayaking, a Perception Dancer XS (the small version of the dancer) is a great boat to learn to roll, etc. Plus it is very fast for downriver paddles. Not a great playboat, but they can learn to side surf and do enders.

SOT for kids