Kayaking tourism is getting increasingly popular and more and more people want to try to spend their free time in this way. At the same time many of them want to spend their time with their kids. Adults often take the approach “we’ll go and see”, but when they’re planning to go with their kids, a million questions arise. And that’s good, because you need to get ready for kayaking, in particular if this is your kayak debut and you’re going to take your kid. Kayaking on a calm lowland river is safe, but you should know in exactly what you are going to participate so that you have nice memories when the kayak rally ends.
The first question asked by parents is: How old should a child be to go kayaking? There is no age limit. Experienced kayakers take even babies on several days’ trips, but it is not advisable for beginners in any case. The youngest participants I remember from my experience as an instructor were about four-years-old. Every parent knows their kids best and must assess by himself/herself whether the kid wants to sit in a kayak for several hours or gets bored after 15 minutes and says he/she is getting out. Of course, children love water; when they’re sitting in a kayak, they can play with it as long as they want. As for young children who are unfamiliar with water, it is worth going at a water basin earlier, where you can hire a kayak for 15 minutes and see whether your child will accept this means of transport. Kayaking on the river is definitely more interesting that kayaking on a reservoir or a lake, as new landscapes emerge behind every bend, the bank changes and you can take a short break on land almost anytime. Sometimes kayak routes lead across open basins (lakes, reservoirs), then you must particularly care for safety because open waters are usually very deep and far from land.
If you are sure that your kid has all the makings of a young kayaker, the next step is to get ready for the rally. First, you must choose a route that will be appropriate in terms of difficulty and length. Families with children, where the adults are kayaking for the first time, can use the wide range of guided kayak trips supervised by instructors. They will be provided with proper equipment, training and support on the water. Before booking a trip, it is good to make sure that the route is easy enough for inexperienced kayakers with kids. If they’re going to hire kayaks, they should see to it that there will be an experienced paddler in the group.
Another issue that often bothers parents is how to seat the family members in kayaks. There is no explicit answer to that as a lot depends on how old the kids are and on the kayakers’ physique. In Poland, two-person kayaks are usually used. Some models have an extra seat for a child but that doesn’t mean that a kayak with the seat is bigger, it is still a two-person kayak. As for a three-person family with a fidgety young kid, one kayak can be used. Dad sits in the back, mum and the kid sit in the front. The kid sits between mum’s legs. You should bring e.g. a foam mattress for the kid, no matter whether the kayak has a small seat or not. If the family members are not slightly-built and even the four-year-old child is a big young boy, one of the parents sits with the kid in one kayak, the other parent has to sit in the other kayak with someone else. During guided kayak trips, instructors usually assign the crews to all the kayaks before setting off, or reshuffle the participants during the rally if one of the crews can’t handle.
As for four-person families, each of the parents usually sits in a kayak with one kid. Two kids shouldn’t sit together and the adult separately because a capsize may always happen and then the parent won’t be able to help both kids at the same time. If there is no other person to sit in the kayak, you can always talk another family into taking part in the rally or invite a grandparent.
Whatever type of kayak trip you will choose, remember:
1. Children should obligatory paddle in life vests that are properly put on and fastened, and younger kids must wear life jackets. Tell the event organiser or the equipment rental’s staff earlier that you’re going to take kids on the kayak trip. Information about your kid’s weight/age will be useful for choosing the right life jacket.
2. You can’t finish a kayak trip anytime you want. Parts that are a dozen kilometres long are standard on the kayak route and no car can reach such routes to take the kayakers and the equipment. In an emergency, you must contact the rental’s staff and agree on the closest possible spot to collect the kayaks.
3. Young children don’t paddle, so if mum is sitting with a child, she has to paddle for two. This is slightly more difficult than when two adults are paddling. That’s why it is so important to choose an appropriate route.
4. Put on shoes that protect your feet against sharp surprises on the bank or on the river bottom. I don’t advise you to wear flip-flops as they tend to swim away in the river.
5. You must always take into account that the kayak may capsize, so secure properly your belongings in the kayak against getting wet. In particular, remember to take a change of dry clothing for your kid.
6. The river is unpredictable and there are deep holes hollowed by water, even in shallow rivers. Obstacles may appear in the river, depending on the current water level, e.g. trunks that jut out of the water or small stone dams. Sometimes there are new obstacles about which nobody will warn you, e.g. a tree felled by a storm a day before.
7. Take some sandwiches, sweet snacks and of course drinking water.
8. Rain is not a contraindication against a kayak rally. Sometimes a cloudy sky is even better than the heat, as you can’t hide from it anywhere on the river. You put on the raincoat and continue to paddle. I think nobody needs to be reminded of protecting themselves against the sun’s harmful effects (a cap, sunglasses, sun cream with a filter). Mosquito repellents and preparations against other insects may be useful as well.
9. Reaching the bank on the finishing point doesn’t mean you can immediately go back home. Giving back the kayak equipment is not all either; you usually have to come back up the river to collect the cars that were left there. In practice it often means that only the drivers go, while the other participants wait for them by the river. Keep in mind that you need to come up with some activity for your child when you will be waiting for the drivers, think of a game and be prepared for “a hunger attack”.
10. Young children not always accept new circumstances easily so before the rally it is good to tell the child what the kayak trip means and what rules must be followed on the water.
I hope I’ve gathered all basic issues in one place to outline how to get kids on a kayak trip. In other posts you will find a range of detailed tips: what to take on a camp, how to dress, etc. Read other posts on this guide blog.