Open canoeing for youngsters...

-- Last Updated: Sep-09-09 6:14 AM EST --

Lots of folk do open canoeing with youngsters, and in a quite dizzying array of canoes... but what if you want to pick a canoe (just one) to give the growing youngster (say a child growing from 5-6 through to 11-12) the best experience?

Assuming you start as an adult in a solo canoe with a child... do you position yourself just back from a conventional solo position to trim the boat (and further back each season) and encourage child-input from what would be a forward-seat position in a tandem?

Equally... providing for a pair of (say) 9-10-11 year old children on their own (to paddle tandem).. do you fit out a smaller solo canoe as a tandem rather than giving them an "adult" tandem?

I'm assuming that in both cases, compact would be good: narrow and with low gunwales to facilitate the development of decent basic technique... and short, light and well rockered to provide responsiveness despite the paddler's limited reach and strength.

More than just curious: my daughter is 5 in a couple of weeks :)

what I did
When my daughters were young I would take them out (individually, not together) in my Mad River Traveler, a high volume, 16+ foot long solo with a sliding seat, on Class I water and lakes. My kid sat on a little LL Bean folding canoe chair in front of me, and with the sliding seat I could trim the boat tolerably well.

Of course, you have to get a little paddle. You can buy a cheap Feather Brand paddle. They really can’t do anything effectively with it and they lose interest after about 60 seconds, but if they see you with a paddle, they will have to have one as well.

As my kids got older, I would take them out individually on Class II to III water in a Dagger Caper, a smaller WW OC2 with the “modern” arrangement of seating positions close together. Since I was sitting relatively close to the center, I could effect bow control strokes with my paddle blade forward of the center so I didn’t need to rely on their input for control.

Have you ever seen siblings fight? I never tried putting both of them in the same boat, but if I had, I think the nature of the canoe would have been the least of my concerns.

You don’t need any rocker
Little kids don’t have the weight to sink enough boat in the water to present turning resistance. My boys started out in a Wenonah Solo Plus and it worked well. Never really argued paddling it either. Next I want to get them in the ME. That might make for some back and forth “discussion” …

MR Explorer Backwards
When my youngest was small I just turned my Explorer around. The stern seat became the bow which gave her a nice narrow station so that she could easily reach the water. The bow became the stearn which put me closer to the center so the boat trimmed reasonably well.

Sliding bow seat & light paddle
My 4 are each 2 years apart, so i had in my first modern tandem, a 10year old bow paddler, an 8 & 6 year old as a parallel pair on a drop-in seat and a 4 year old on an ice chest in front of me. All this in a 17’ Wenonah Spirit.

The sliding front seat allowed all of then to paddle bow. As the seat moves forward the canoe becomes narrower and allows an easy reach to the water. For her 6th birthday, my daughter Kelly got a custom Gillespie paddle. Small Tee grip, slender shaft, and a proportioned blade. Under a pound and sized just for her. She went from a 5 minute and tired paddler, to an all morning and “where do we go next, dad?” paddler. What tires small children is not pulling the paddle thru the water,its lifting it and holding it out at arms length during the recovery. And what Zaveral says about how much lifting you save with one of their carbon fiber paddles over a wooden paddle, is a big saving for a child.

If mine were little kids today, they would each get a Zaveral or Gillespie for Christmas or their birthday.

Kelly’s Gillespie made the rounds of a dozen small paddlers after she outgrew it, and then returned to her for her daughters to use. Its a family keepsake now.

We used a Wenonah Solitude with two sling seats for the kids to paddle as a youth tandem. It worked great when they each weighed less than 100#. The narrow ends fit their small bodies and they could paddle fast enough to keep up with the Spirit, and not get blown around by the wind. The Solo Plus did not exist then, and would have been perfect with a sliding bow seat.

There are many small tandems now that will work for starting out a youngster in the bow. Just add the sliding bow seat and outfit the youngster with a good light paddle.


Mohawk canoe

– Last Updated: Sep-09-09 12:21 PM EST –

Have a good friend who has a Mohawk Odyssey that he has outfitted so that he can paddle it solo, or remove that seat & install both a bow & a stern seat.

He used it with his 2 boys(when each was a very young rookie paddler). There is a 3 year age difference between the 2 boys. He would paddle stern & paddle with one of them at a time in the bow, while the other was with mom in their tandem canoe.

To make a long story short; the kids ended up paddling together in the Odyssey, with mom & dad in the tandem canoe, or dad paddling solo in the tandem canoe(and hauling gear),if mom didn't go. The older boy progressed to being able to paddle the Odyssey solo. Both have done some lower level whitewater with the dad in dad's Dagger Caption. The younger one has never shown any interest in solo paddling.

The Odyssey proved to be a great option for "their" needs. Could be used as a solo for adult, tandem for adult & smaller kid, or tandem for both kids.Didn't cost them a fortune, and proved quite suitable for class 1 & 2 rivers,no matter who was aboard.

Sawyer makes some decently priced, wooden, kid's paddles.


Nothing special needed
I started by giving each of my three older kids plenty of time as riders (starting on floor) in the canoe before ever asking them to paddle. Being comfortable in a canoe, especially ones that have less initial stability than most like my tripping models (Bell Northstar and Northwind), is critical. (We used to use a Souris River Quetico 16, too). Most problems I have seen result from kids (adults, too) being too jumpy in the boat and overreacting. They need to learn to go with the flow and respond appopriately. My three kids and I did three extended trips together in one canoe this summer without issue. They traded off paddling.

Just go in a tandem that you can handle reasonably well alone and let your child do what he/she can and grow appropriately. Even my 6-year-old son and I paddle either of my tandems (Bell 16.5’ Northstar and 17.5’ Northwind) without issue. He uses a small kid’s paddle (Bending Branches) and does well for his size. My 10- and 13-year-old daughters also paddle with me (10-yr-old uses kid’s paddle, 13-year-old uses my wife’s short adult paddle). I have also put my 10- and 13-year-old daughters together in my Grumman aluminum canoe and they managed and had to work out any differences (which is part of the process).

If you’re looking for a small tandem that can function as a reasonable solo, I suggest the Bell Northstar and Souris River Quetico 16 models. But be aware that the Northstar is very tender initially (but does everything well for me; it’s my favorite tandem). The Quetico 16 feels just like my old Grumman but in Kevlar.

My kids have not shown enough interest to turn them loose alone in one of my solo models…yet.

last comment…
I agree with the message before me. What kinds of water would you be traveling in mostly?