Your Guide to Paddling With Kids

Your Guide to Paddling With Kids

At Ottawa Valley Air Paddle, we believe that exploring the waterways with your children can be a truly enriching and unforgettable experience. The joy of paddling together, surrounded by nature's beauty, creates cherished memories that will last a lifetime for both you and your children! In this blog post, we will delve into the adventure of paddling with children, explore the ideal age to start, and discuss kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. Remember that safety is of upmost importance for paddling with your children. 

1. Ideal Age for Paddling:

The right age to introduce your children to paddling can vary depending on individual readiness and comfort levels. Generally, children as young as four or five years old can begin to explore paddling on their own - with parental supervision. It's crucial to ensure that children are comfortable around water and can follow basic instructions. As they grow older, their motor skills and water confidence will develop, making the experience even more enjoyable. 

But What About Babies? 

Introducing your little one to paddling at a young age can be a wonderful way to foster a love for the outdoors and water activities. However, it's essential to approach paddling with a baby with extra caution and careful preparation. Generally, infants as young as six months old can join in on paddling adventures, but it's crucial to ensure they have adequate neck and head control and can sit up with support. Once your baby reaches six months and has developed better control over their head and upper body, you can consider taking them on short, gentle, calm paddling trips. We might suggest taking a couple of swimming lessons before plopping your baby into a boat. This will get them acquainted with the water and hopefully excited to be in it! 

When paddling with a baby, safety should be your top priority. Here are some crucial safety tips to keep in mind:

        • Life Jacket: Always make sure your baby wears a properly fitted infant life jacket specifically designed for their size and weight. Look for a Transport Canada Coast Guard-approved life jacket with a handle on the back, making it easier to lift your baby out of the water if necessary. A good way to get your child used to the idea of wearing a life jacket is to start with a floatation aid such as the Level Six Puffer jacket. This style is a great starter life jacket to put on your babies while they are on land near the water. Once your little adventurer reaches 25lbs, it is time to graduate to a safer PFD. We recommend the Level Six Kid's Stingray PFD. It is durable and quick-drying with reflective piping. The Stingray not only keeps your child safe, but also visible at all times. 

        • Stand Up Paddleboard: Because of the flat design of a stand up paddleboard, we don't recommend bringing a baby less than 3 years old onto a SUP. We aren't saying it can't be done - and if you have a safe way to secure your baby in place and keep them within arms reach at all times, then you might be okay. Alternatively, you can bring your baby on board your SUP and stay on your knees or butt. This way, you can easily hold onto your little the entire time.

        • Kayak or Canoe: We suggest choosing a spacious and stable kayak or canoe that allows you to set up a safe and secure seating area for your baby. Make sure they are positioned in the centre of the boat to maintain balance. Our folding kayaks and canoes are great for babies! We often take our 13 month old out with us in the Oru Beach and sit her down between our legs. I will normally lay a towel down for her so she is more comfortable, and any water that falls from the paddle can be sopped up with the towel. 

        • Sun Protection: Babies have sensitive skin, so you want to ensure they are adequately protected from the sun. Use a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to shield their face from the sun's rays. We know how tough it can be to get a little one to keep a hat and sunglasses on! A good tip is to practice wearing these items when you are at home indoors so they don't come as a surprise when you are outside. Dress them in lightweight, long-sleeved rash guards, and apply a gentle sunscreen to any exposed skin. We suggest Baby Boo SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen. It is made from organic bamboo extract and minerals, perfect for sensitive skin. Swim diapers can also be a great idea in case you want to stop for a quick dip! 

        • Hydration and Comfort: Bring along plenty of sippy cup water and snacks for your little one to stay hydrated and comfortable during the paddling trip.

        • Stay Close to Shore: Stick to calm and shallow waters, and always stay close to the shore. Avoid strong currents, deep waters, and areas with potential hazards.

        • Keep Trips Short: Paddling adventures with babies should be kept short and sweet. Their attention spans are limited, and it's essential to consider their comfort and well-being throughout the experience.

        • Plan Around Naps:
          This may go without saying, but you will want to make sure you go out for a paddle while your baby is the most awake and content. If you wait until they are tired, they can be much more irritable and frustrated. Unless you have a baby who can sleep anywhere - perhaps paddling around naptime will work just fine! 

By adhering to these safety guidelines and choosing appropriate gear, paddling with a baby can become a cherished family activity that fosters a deep connection with nature from an early age. Remember, the key is to take it slow, stay safe, and create wonderful memories of water adventures with your little one.

2. Paddling with Children in Kayaks, Canoes, and Paddleboards:

Each type of portable boat has its unique charm and advantages when paddling with children.

  • Kayaks: Kayaks offer a snug and secure space, making them an excellent choice for paddling with younger children. Tandem kayaks provide the perfect opportunity for a shared adventure, where you can take the helm while your child sits comfortably in the front. This setup encourages bonding and allows them to feel safe and engaged in the journey.

  • Canoes: Canoes are spacious and stable, making them a great option for families with more than one child. They provide ample room and stability for kids to move around and enjoy the scenery. Canoeing promotes teamwork, as kids can paddle alongside their parents, fostering a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Even folding canoes such as the MyCanoe Duo are stable and secure, making them great for children to enjoy! 

  • Paddleboards (SUPs): Paddleboarding with children can be a thrilling experience. While it might be more suitable for older kids who are comfortable standing and balancing on a board, inflatable SUPs offer stability and safety. For younger children, parents can paddle while their child sits or kneels on the front of the board, providing a shared paddling adventure. Be sure to take a look at the maximum weight capacity of your SUP before embarking on a journey with your child on the front. If your little explorer is ready for their very own SUP, you can check out the Weekender Nano Board. It is our most compact, kid-friendly paddleboard exclusively designed for the smallest adventurers! Nano’s 8’ length, wider body, and rounded hull make it easy to control and requires less exertion to paddle, especially for kids just getting a hang of the sport.  

3. The Importance of Safety:

Above all else, safety is paramount when paddling with children. Here are some essential safety tips to consider:

  • Life Jackets: Ensure that each family member wears a properly fitted and Transport Canada Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while on the water. Even if they are confident swimmers, life jackets provide an added layer of security.

  • Weather Awareness: Always check weather conditions before embarking on your paddling adventure. Avoid paddling in strong winds, storms, or adverse weather conditions.

  • Stay Together: When paddling with children, it's crucial to stick together as a group. Assign a designated lead paddler who sets the pace, and ensure that everyone is always within sight of each other.

  • Know Your Limits: Choose waterways and routes that match the experience and skill level of your group. Avoid fast-moving rivers or challenging conditions that may be too advanced for young paddlers.

  • Sun Protection: Don't forget sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to protect against the sun's rays during your paddling excursion.

Keeping Your Children Interested in Paddling:

We understand that encouraging children to stay active outdoors instead of being glued to the internet can be a challenge. Here are a few simple tips to keep them excited and ready for your next paddling adventure! 

  • Short and Fun Sessions: Keep the initial paddling sessions short to avoid overwhelming your kids. As they build their interest and stamina, gradually extend the duration of the paddling adventures.

  • Create Games and Challenges: Make paddling more fun by incorporating games and challenges. Set up a treasure hunt, encourage racing, or challenge them to paddle through an obstacle course. This adds an element of excitement to the experience.

  • Empower Children to Plan the Paddling Adventure: Empower your children by involving them in the planning process of a paddling trip. Teach them about water safety, trip planning, map reading, and environmental awareness. Encourage decision-making and independence while ensuring you supervise their activities to maintain safety. 

  • Bring Friends or Siblings: Paddling with friends or siblings can make the activity more enjoyable and create a sense of camaraderie. It also gives them the opportunity to share the experience with others.

  • Explore New Places: Take your children to different water bodies like lakes, rivers, or calm coastal areas. Exploring new places adds variety and keeps the adventure fresh and intriguing.

  • Wildlife Spotting: Encourage your children to observe and appreciate the wildlife around the waterways. Identifying birds, fish, or other creatures can make paddling a learning experience as well.

  • Pack Snacks and Drinks: Bring along some snacks and drinks to keep their energy levels up during the paddling trip. A small picnic on the water can be a delightful break.

  • Capture Memories: Allow your kids to take photos or videos during the paddling trip to capture memories. They can create a scrapbook or share their adventures with family and friends. Using the OVAP 2.5L Dry Bag with Window can be a great way to use a cell phone camera while keeping the phone safe in case it falls in! 

  • Incorporate Learning: Teach them about water safety, paddle strokes, environmental conservation, or the history of the area you're paddling in. Learning while having fun will enrich their experience.

  • Lead by Example: Show enthusiasm and excitement for paddling yourself. Children often emulate their parents, and your enthusiasm can spark their interest in the activity.

  • Celebrate Achievements: Praise their efforts and celebrate milestones, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement encourages them to continue and develop their paddling skills.

  • Be Patient and Supportive: Some children might take time to feel comfortable with paddling. Be patient, offer encouragement, and support them as they develop their confidence.


Paddling with your children creates lasting memories of bonding and adventure. The experience of exploring nature's waterways together fosters a love for the outdoors, while also teaching essential life skills and promoting teamwork. Remember to choose the right type of boat for your family's preferences, keep safety at the forefront, and embrace the joy of paddling with your children on this incredible journey together. Happy paddling!

Looking for some easy paddles in the Ottawa area to explore with your little cuties? Check out some of our favourite paddling locations

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