Taking Kids Canoeing

My little boy just turned 2. Is he too young to take canoeing? I’m thinking just short trips in small local ponds and lakes for now. Any safety or other recommendations would be appreciated.

Dont see why not
But in this case, I’d find some kind of PDF setup for him just in case (Although I’m getting lambasted about PFD laws on another thread, this case I’d consider a PFD a must) Another thing to consider, Small kids and babies seem to take to the water naturally (unlike mine who are way older and still don’t swim).

Now the problem of keeping the child in one place - - thats a problem. It’s not like you really want a car seat in the boat, (Exact opposite of a PFD) so how were you planning on dealing with that. He’s gonna want to move around some.

I am no expert…
I am no expert in any way (I just bought my first canoe) but there is no way I would take a 2 year old on a canoe.

love to canoe. My son did his first paddle at 18 months and my daughter at 2 years. Both are superior paddlers now and are 10 and 12 years now. Keep them entertained with snacks, drawing equipment to record wildlife sightings and make frequent stops at stated destinations. It is a real joy and challenge but worth every minute. most of our paddling is flatwater Everglades ecosystems with lots of birds, bugs, frogs and gators. A blast for kids, dad and mom. We are now in two different boats due to incresing size.


Take Him
But on short trips only, say 30 minutes to an hour. Beyond that a two-year old will have difficulties. When he’s three, the trip can lengthen.

Be 100% certain he has a PFD that fits properly.

Give him a toy to play with in the water. A short stick works well, both as a mock paddle and something to splash with.

Keep him close enough to you so you can grab him if he decides to get out and take a walk.

Our kids used to sit side-by-side in our canoe, at the center thwart. They loved going places and hated being stuck with each other.

I would certainly try it
on a limited scale. I took my twin sons on their first river trip in the Ozarks when they were three. It was fine and we had no issues but we did stop and swim and play in the water a lot. Two is considerably younger but with some of the suggestion above I think it would be just fine.

good book
My wife and I are expecting our first child next month and to be prepared I got this book called Cradle to the Canoe.

It has lots of good info in it, I have tested some of it out with my niece and some friends kids. We took a 10 month old canoeing this year and he HATED his infant PFD. I am planning on breaking my baby in over the winter by wearing it around the house a little at a time.


Our daughter was riding in a canoe as a “babe in arms”, she was in a duffer seat as a toddler, a competent bow paddler by age 6, “graduated” to the stern by about 7 or 8 and was paddling her own solo canoe by age 9. We could have easily “pushed” that time-line, but we let her advance at her own pace. At age 12 she’s a far better paddler than many adults I’ve seen.

The younger your children are when they are exposed to the outdoor life in general and paddling in particular the sooner they will feel at ease with it. Naturally I highly recommend swimming lessons for all children (the younger the better) and wearing a properly fitted PFD while paddling.

Proper PFD’s
I have many friends who introduced their children to water at an early age. Go for it.

Only one caveat: PFDs for children this young should have crotch straps. If not used, there is a real danger of them sliding out of the PFD if they should go over.

One last thing: I have seen many parents insist on their children wearing PFDs at all times when in the boat. Good. But they will not wear theirs. Bad. Bad example, and bad if a capsize actually takes place - you need to be comfortable so that you can deal with the young ones.


I took my kids at that age. My best advice…

  1. PFD’s for everyone, and little ones should have crotch strap.
  2. Don’t go on warm days if the water is still cold, a capsize could be deadly.
  3. Keep it short 30-60 min is plenty for lots of little ones.
  4. Bring snacks and drinks.
  5. A cushion is not a bad idea for a little one to be able to lay down and nap in the boat.
  6. Toy paddle, and a chance at the big one when they are a bit older.
  7. When they are a bit older, a net and bucket for exploring shallow waters near shore.
  8. Did I mention snacks and drinks…can’t stress that one enough.

Another Father who took his kids out.
I say go for it. I took my two boys out well before they were 2 yo. Although they were sitting in their Mom’s lap before 2. We have a large open cockpit tandem, Loon160T

Now regarding kids taking to water. No two kids are the same. Our younger one can’t get enough of it, our older one is more carefull. So let the child set the pace, with some gentle prodding as needed.

We have not had a problem with the kids trying to jump out of the boat into the water. However, our youngest did jump into the lake once from shore, as a 18 month old.

I would agree with most of the advise above, pfds all around, keep it short, give them their own paddles.

But remember, to keep it fun.


Thanks for all the advice
I think I am going to give it a go with my little one. I have some small local lakes around that I can try. Probably going to hug the shoreline and keep it short, as suggested. I am also definately going to get the book “Cradle to the Canoe” that was mentioned. I love canoeing and would really like my kids to enjoy it also. Might try this weekend. I’ll let y’all know how it goes!

My son went sailing regularly with me on San Fransisco Bay. We did not paddle back then and only recently adopted paddling. He learned to swim at eighteen months. And now enjoys all water sports, including kayaking and canoeing.

I generally dont say much about PFD’s and think that everyone should make that decision for themselves. However, I would not let a two year old go in a small boat without an approved PFD sized for its weight.

Happy Paddling,


Wear your PFD also
I agree with this as your the adult setting the example. My son is 10 and a very good swimmer but we both still wear a PFD, never know when you really need it until it’s floating away.

Hope you have a wonderful time. Nothing better than a father spending time with his son or daughter.

See this post


As a father of two grown boys and a
grandfather, my take is there is no magic age for taking a child canoeing and kayaking. Each child should be evaluated. You’ll know when your child is ready. My boys were on the water by the time they were 2.5, but my grandson is not yet ready at 3. I’ll try him this coming summer, but he needs a bit more time. Don’t rush. As for the length of trip, 15 minutes is long enough for some kids, others are ready for hours. Try short excursions, stay close the Thosethe launch site so you can get back if the child appears uncomfortable. At the younger ages, make sure you have someone else in the canoe with you to do the hands on stuff with the child. Most of all, be careful not to rush to get your child on the water, you have a few years to build on and you want those experiences to be positive.

Between 2 and 3 for me and mine
I took them to the pool first and testing the pfd fit buy jumping in the water with them. Then I’d pull and push them around enough while we played in the pool that I was confident the pfd would not come off

My 5 year old granddaughter and I took the canoe around the pond last night and soaked in the fall scenery. She was first in a canoe when she was 1.5, and finds it terribly hard to sit still. Rather than berate her for her wiggliness, we paddle for maybe 20 minutes and then beach the canoe to run and explore. Last night we caught frogs, and of course had to take one home. My granddaughter’s parting words as we left the pond were “Now that was an adventure!”

We paddle calm water, stay close to shore, of course wear PFDs, and keep the trips short and fun. I’m hoping she’ll still be paddling when she is grandpa’s age.

Wearing your pfd
enables easier rescue of the child, if needed. Sets a good example and is a must!

our older son went on his first day trip 4 month old. We later got more adventurous: the younger fellow was just 5 weeks old.

Key: fun…, long breaks for play, room in the canoe to play, a paddle and some toys to play with, Mom and Dad are wearing their PFDs all the time as well (otherwise hard to understand for the little ones-they are trapped in that thing and the grown ups not?), we donned the baby pfd at every opportunity at home as an dryland exercise to let the boys get used to it, the kids get the same quality equipment on overnight trips as the parents (i.e. warm enough sleeping bag!) Otherwise it takes the fun out pretty soon and that’s not what you want…

Happy paddling!


BTW: my boys are 9 and 11 now and they paddle their own canoe on occassion-not for days yet, but for hours…