Tips for Kayaking with a Toddler

Ideas & Advice / Paddling

We love to spend a summer afternoon kayaking; in fact, one of my husband’s goals is to kayak every lake and pond in NH. When Jacey was born, we struggled to find a way to stay on the water. Happily, after a few fits and starts, we’re there!

Here are our tips for kayaking with a toddler:
Kayaking With Toddler
1) Plan ahead.

Choose the pond wisely when you take your toddler kayaking. We prefer to take Jacey to places where parking is right near the boat launch, the water is slow, the wind is calm, and there are lots of fun things to look at. We avoid lakes and ponds with large crowds, power boat traffic, long walks from the car to the boat, etc. Likewise, the boat choice is key.  I ride in a Perception Sundance, a stable, good tracking kayak with a huge cockpit. This boat allows us to stay upright, move through the water fairly well, and (most importantly) stretch out. Like every other toddler out there, Jacey switches positions frequently, sometimes sitting (or napping) on my lap, sometimes standing and leaning on the front edge of the cockpit (with my knees locked around hers), sometimes reclining under the bulkhead. She’ll kayak with me much longer if I let her shift around which makes a recreational kayak like the Sundance a good choice. For the same reason, I don’t recommend taking a toddler kayaking in a sit on top kayak. :)

Choose a boat with a spacious cockpit that gives your toddler room to fidget, without falling out.

Choose a boat with a spacious cockpit that gives your toddler room to fidget, without falling out.

2) Pack more gear.

It used to be, I’d bring a PFD, water bottle, and sunscreen. Now that we’re kayaking with a toddler, we pack extra snacks, a change of clothes, warm layers, towels, and more. I don’t stow the bag in the watertight compartments, as I want to reach it easily. Everything I bring is either able to get wet, (including the camera) or stashed in a drybag within easy reach.

3) Comfort is key

From the air temp, to the water temp, to the gear we bring, keeping your toddler comfortable is the key to staying on the water. Jacey’s first PFD was bulky and restrictive – she was safe, but was an unhappy paddler. The next one we got is a better balance of safety and comfort. Try several on, make sure you’ve got one that is the right safety rating and comfortable to wear. Make sure your toddler’s clothing, hat, and shoes are comfortable, and that you’ve got a comfortable seat for them, whether it’s your lap, a folded towel, or a camp chair.

Kayaking with a toddler can be great fun but always remember that you can't control how long the fun will last!

Kayaking with a toddler can be great fun but always remember that sometimes, you are not the one who decides how long the fun lasts!

4) Focus on the experience.

it’s not about how fast or far we can paddle anymore. It’s about everyone staying happy. Sometimes that means a quick 30-minute paddle. Sometimes it means I stop and play on the beach with Jacey while Mike continues to explore. Picking blueberries on the edge of the water is a huge (and often unexpected) way to have fun. Look for birds overhead, frogs and turtles in the water, other kids. Let her try paddling (use a paddle leash to ensure the paddle doesn’t float away if accidentally dropped.) If she’s happy, I’m happy.

5) Paddle with a friend.

I haven’t yet taken Jacey kayaking by myself for one big reason – the loading zone. What works best for us is for one of us to focus on Jacey (and Fritz-the-dog) while the other preps the kayaks, or loads the kayaks back onto the car. During that time, the person not doing the loading either entertains Jacey with a snack, walks around the shore with her looking for frogs, or coaches her on how to carry the PFD’s and paddles to the car. Having one person focus on her makes the load/unload time a LOT less stressful for us and safer for Jacey.

Bottom line – if you plan ahead, prep your gear, and have some patience, you can have a great time kayaking with your toddler. Happy paddling!


Beth Marchand

Beth's love of skiing and summer camp led her to a career in the outdoors. After spending 13 summers at Girl Scout camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, obtaining degrees in wildlife & environmental education, and working 4 years with NH Project Learning Tree, Beth joined Eastern Mountain Sports. As marketing manager, she handles media & advertising, events & sponsorships, new store openings, conservation projects, and more. On the weekends, Beth and her husband, daughter, and dog can be found roaming the mountains, waters, and woods of Northern New England.