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Articles - Get Your Kids Canoeing & Kayaking

Family Fun in Canoes & Kayaks
Family Fun in Canoes & Kayaks

Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 03 Feb 2011

There’s no minimum age for canoeing or kayaking if you feel safe and comfortable taking the youngsters afloat then the only constraint is often finding a buoyancy aid that fits properly. For young children, lifejackets are often more readily available than buoyancy aids and are more suitable if your nipper does not swim well. Open canoes work well if your kids are really young, as a standard 16-foot canoe can easily accommodate two adults, two children and a bag of necessities for the day. Tandem Sit-On-Top kayaks are also ideal for kids, as they can clamber all over them and there’s no danger, or unnecessary fears, about getting trapped. Simple, easy to use, SOT’s can be a lot of fun Canoes, and Sit-On Top kayaks (SOTs) are the ideal craft for taking the youngest members of your family on the water for the first time. They can provide a safe and fun way for the whole family to enjoy local waterways and experience some fantastic adventures together.

Sport and adventure are good for people of all ages. Getting your children interested at a young age will maximise the chance of them continuing sport throughout their whole lives and maintaining a healthy, active and fun lifestyle.

Before You Go

Before venturing out onto the water there are many points to consider, a good plan will increase your time spent enjoying the day and reduce the time spent worrying. Couples often work badly together when faced with a new challenge; if you are not particularly experienced paddler yourselves try to get out on your own without the children, to get the hang of paddling the same boat together. The last thing you want to do is to spoil the day by bickering over who’s fault it is you can’t go in a straight line! Discover who the best Captain is and keep to the plan, work out efficient strategies for paddling forwards and backwards in a straight line, stopping, turning and moving sideways. It is well worth considering attending a course to get the basics sorted. Communication is the secret to good teamwork, so before each direction change or manoeuvre, make a plan, communicate it and stick to it. In a canoe many people fall into the trap of both paddling on the same side, this can make the canoe unstable and liable to capsize, unless you are draw stroking sideways you should be sure one person has their paddle on the left and one on the right at all times. On a tandem kayak, the paddler at the back should take their timing from the paddler at the front, otherwise you’ll end up bumping paddles every five minutes.Canoeing & Kayaking with kids

Top Tip
If you are unsure of your skills contact your local canoe club or shop for some coaching. You shouldn’t head out onto the water with children until you are sure of what you are or should be doing. By getting some coaching advice you are only going to improve the day for both you and your family, you’ll learn something new and have fun.

Plan a route that is not too long and has plenty of opportunity for emergency take out points. For instance, the River Thames is an ideal location for a family open canoeing adventure with locks at regular intervals along the way providing access, information on the river and surrounding area, toilets and if you’re lucky an ice cream shop! Places like the Lake District
also offer great locations for family paddling and of course, the UK’s coastline is a classic destination for families in the spring and summer time and an SOT can be brilliant fun at the beach. When planning your journey, take into account that kids have an uncanny knack of slowing everything
down beyond believability, this shouldn’t be a problem so long as you’ve not planned a 20-mile epic. Less is defiantly more when it comes to kids and once cold, damp and, worst of all, a boring experience can put them off forever. Keep it short and fun, expect to travel at between two and three miles per hour and allow time for exploring, taking photographs, playing games and snacking. The weather forecast also plays an important part in the planning of your adventure, a cold or rainy first day on the river could put your nippers off ever wanting to go paddling again. A scorching summer’s day will increase the chance of sunburn or sunstroke, so it is also best to avoid very hot days too. The final weather factor to take into  consideration is the wind direction; paddling into a head wind for a day is not only hard work but can be quite cold. And at the beach, a strong side or off shore wind can soon have
you in trouble. Be sure to have an emergency plan in case the weather does turn against you, highlight places along the route where you could take shelter, dry out and warm up or cool down in the shade. If you are at the beach, be aware of lifeguard regulations, what the various flags mean (they will be explained on a board somewhere near the beach) and prevailing wind direction and tides.

What to Take
Packing for a day on the water is relatively simple, the things you need are not much different for any other family day out other than the boat and paddling gear. It’s a good idea to pack every thing into a dry bag or wrap things in plastic bags before packing them into a bag, just in case. The last thing you want after an unplanned dip is to find that all your spare dry clothes are wet, your sandwiches are soggy and your mobile phone has drowned! Include waterproofs, hats and gloves even if the weather man says it will be warm and sunny, sun cream even if he says it will rain, a first aid kit and plenty of water and high energy snacks such as jelly babies, jaffa cakes and flapjack. A canoe or kayak, in good condition, is the most crucial item of equipment and should carry any relevant waterways licences you may need. You will also need paddles for everybody and possibly a spare paddle in case one is
lost or broken. Everybody who will be getting afloat will also need a correctly fitting buoyancy aid or life jacket. Before taking to the water it is a good idea to familiarise very young children with wearing a buoyancy aid, try wearing it around the house or garden for a few hours at a time in the days running up to your adventure. The key feature for a buoyancy
aid or lifejacket for kids is that it has leg straps to stop the child falling out; these straps should be snug but not uncomfortable. To test for a good fit, try picking your child up by the shoulder straps of the buoyancy aid, they should not fall out of the bottom and the buoyancy should not ride up over their face.

Top Tip Canoeing & Kayaking with kids
Attach a length of string between the children’s paddles and the boat, this will reduce the amount of time you spend turning around to pick up dropped paddles and reduce the amount of tears from losing paddles temporarily.

Some Simple Rules
Any day out on the water should be an enjoyable and carefree experience, several key steps will ensure that it is. Be sure you have planned your day as thoroughly as possible, and that you have packed all the necessary equipment. Some rules should be made and adhered to by all; the first and most important being that everybody keeps their buoyancy aid on when near the water. If you stop for a picnic, lay a paddle down a few meters from the water’s edge; anybody who is between the paddle and the water should wear their buoyancy aid. When getting in and out of a canoe, try the following procedure; one adult holds the boat at the front while the other adult climbs in the back and sits or kneels in position, next the children climb into the middle of the canoe one by one and sit down and then the other adult can climb in and away you go. For a tandem kayak the adult should get on first, always at
the rear. The reason the rear paddler gets in first, with both craft, is because they can see much better what the children are doing and can react quickly if something does not go to plan, if the front paddler climbed in first they would have to turn around to see and this could cause the boat to become unstable, the last thing you want in a challenging situation.
Encourage the kids to hold their paddles correctly and take part in the paddling, a child who just sits in the middle of a canoe, or the front seat of a kayak and does nothing can very quickly become cold or bored. Children love to learn and by explaining what you are doing and how the simple paddle strokes work it will increase their participation and enjoyment of the adventure. There are several different types of child sized canoe and kayak paddles available or you can simply make your own, cut down an adult sized paddle both in length and blade.

Fun and Games
When you are confident of your paddling ability, experiment with standing up and paddling the canoe or SOT, this exercise will improve balance and is quite good fun; the boat will feel much more stable when you sit back down again. Start with just one person at a time, gradually building up to the whole crew all standing and paddling together. Experiment with changing places in the canoe or kayak, this is best done from the safety of the riverbank but more experienced crews can also try swapping when out on the water. It’s particularly tricky on the sea, but much fun can be had trying to master it in small waves. Kids often enjoy sitting up front in a canoe and two can normally squeeze onto the front seat together. Be
aware that this will affect the trim, balance of the canoe; the canoe will sit stern heavily and this is not an idea situation to have when paddling into a head wind. Another good set up to try that is ideal for teaching children the different paddling strokes, is for one adult to sit in the middle of the canoe, as if they were to paddle solo, and for the children to sit on the seats. This set up gives the children a real feeling of open canoeing while you can still maintain complete control over the canoe. On a SOT you can try all sorts of things. Sit facing each other and try combining backwards paddling with forwards, or get the youngster to try standing up at the front while you paddle from behind.

Different Strokes
Canoeing & Kayaking with kids
Paddling strokes are not the only things that can be learnt during a day out on the water. Encourage kids to look around them at their surroundings, most rivers, lakes and coastlines are teeming with wildlife, everything from pond skaters to otters can be seen on the UK’s waterways, and exploring sea side rock pools is a must. Look through a wildlife book before your trip, and be sure to pack it into your bag before you go, and challenge the children to spot several different types of birds, insects or animals during the course of the day. Maps are difficult items to look after at the best of times but combine them with children and water and they will almost certainly never survive the day, try copying and laminating the section you intend to paddle and challenge the children to keep track of where they are by matching up features on the map with landmarks. Rivers and lakes are relatively easy to navigate on as you will always be somewhere along the blue line or blue blob. Map reading is not just important for paddling but as a life skill and one that it is important for everybody to learn, paddling trips give an ideal opportunity to introduce the skill of map reading to kids in a fun environment. Beware though, laminated sheets do not float and so can be lost over board very easily. Many canals and rivers have locks and some of the older locks can still be operated by hand, winding wheels to open and close the sluices and pushing to open and close the gates. Provided your kids are calm and well behaved, most lock keepers are more than happy to explain the workings of the lock and have some little helpers to operate the lock with them.

Get out Canoeing & Kayaking

Hopefully these words and pictures will have inspired you to get your family out paddling. So long as you remember a few simple rules the most dangerous part of the day will be driving to and from the river. Contact your local canoe club, centre or canoe shop to get some lessons if you are unsure of your skills or to arrange the hire of an open canoe, paddles and buoyancy aids; check out The Marketplace and Clubs Page to find your nearest. The aim of the day is to explore, learn some new skills and most of all have a safe, enjoyable and fun time.

DisclaimerCanoeing & Kayaking with kids takes no responsibility for your children catching the canoeing and kayaking bug and wanting to give up school to become a raft guide, canoe coach or expedition kayaker, constantly travelling the world in search of new rivers and paddling adventures. And what if they do? Well, it could have been worse; they could have grown up and been boring!

Check out these other great features that may be of interest you young paddlers 2010 Kid's Kayak Test, Kids Kayak Test, Why Canoe Clubs Are Great, Kid's Kayak Review - The Pyranha Rebel, Kid's Kayak Reviews - The Perception Carolina 12XS Kid;'s Touring Kayak , Kid's Kayaks Photo Shoot with Rock Canoe Club

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