Some tips to help ensure you’re prepared for a paddling adventure.
By Lisa Cordeiro
If you’re searching for a fun family activity, consider canoeing or kayaking. You can spend a relaxing hour on the water enjoying nature and taking in breathtaking views, or you can pack a picnic lunch and make a full day of it. As with many family outings, it pays to plan ahead to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Bringing The Family
Family members of all ages can go canoeing or kayaking. The lulling motion of the water might even encourage naps, so parents may want to keep the youngest ones close to their laps.
Keep in mind your children’s ages and abilities. If you have an active toddler who doesn’t like to sit still (like one of my kids when he was younger), an outing on water might present a challenge. The new mom in me worried: What if he wiggles out of my grasp and falls in?
My son surprised me; he was so entranced by the experience, he stayed put in the kayak. The experience could have just as easily gone the other way, though, with an overexcited toddler eager to explore. So, like many first-time family activities, especially with younger children, be flexible.
Around the age of 7 or 8, kids may be able to assist with paddling. Soon after that, they might ask to paddle a kayak or canoe on their own. Make sure they can swim and are comfortable with paddling. Keep them from straying off too far from adults.
The website of retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) has a “Kayaking with Kids” page (https://goo.gl/035XIM) that offers approximate age recommendations. For instance, kids ages 10 and up who are skilled may be able to go out in a single small kayak; kids ages 14 and up who are skilled may be able to paddle a single small canoe.
Many of our family members rent multiple kayaks for our group trips on rivers and lakes. The younger kids stay with an adult in a double kayak while the older ones head out in a single kayak. So far, so good!
Canoe Or Kayak?
Whether you choose a canoe or kayak depends on factors such as kids’ ages and the place you’re headed. With a wide range of options, such as inflatable, recreational, or sea kayaks, as well as single- and two-passenger sizes, it can be difficult to choose.
Here are some basic differences: A canoe is an open vessel; a kayak is closed. You sit or kneel in a canoe; you sit with legs extended in a kayak. You use a single-blade paddle in a canoe, but a double one for a kayak. Visit a local outfitter or two and see what options they have that will work for your family.
I’m keen on finding activities that get our family outdoors. So, in addition to being a fun activity for all ages, canoeing or kayaking is a great way to enjoy nature.
It’s also a great time to eschew technology. Tell the teens and tweens to leave their electronic devices at home or in the coach — they don’t want to risk them getting wet, right? Unconnecting, even for a short time, makes it easier to focus on each other and enjoy time together.
And paddling can be a relaxing experience. We often kayak on the Charles River, which separates the busy cities of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet we hardly notice the urban environment when navigating through stretches of tree-lined shore.
Another benefit of kayaking and canoeing is the exercise it offers. You can engage in some cardiovascular activity while working the upper body. Although it’s not especially difficult to paddle, the repetitive strokes can be tiring, so you may want to take short breaks.
I also find it appealing that these vessels don’t require fuel, making them environmentally friendly.
If you’ve never tried canoeing or kayaking before, talk to an outfitter. Many offer both options and possibly some others as well, such as paddleboats or stand-up paddleboards.
And remember: safety first. Make sure everyone has a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) — even if they are good swimmers. An outfitter will be able to determine the appropriate size for each family member.
In addition to making sure everyone has a PFD that fits correctly, experts will match the right-sized paddles for each family member. Many kids will want to try to paddle on their own. They may give up after a short period, but part of the fun is letting them have a turn. You’ll want to provide a paddle that’s appropriate for their size so it’s not too heavy or unwieldy. Again, an outfitter will know how to match sizes properly.
The outfitter also will be able to offer suggestions on where to navigate for however long you’d like to spend on the water and may suggest a landmark as a turn-around spot.
Planning The Outing
Before heading to the water, consider how long you’ll be out and what you’ll need to make the day enjoyable. Here’s a list of items you might want to bring, depending on the difficulty and duration of your outing: water; snacks; sunblock; sunglasses; first-aid kit; appropriate clothing (layers work well); map or chart; and a waterproof case to protect personal items.
If it’s your family’s first time canoeing or kayaking, plan a shorter trip; an hour maximum is enough for a beginner to get a feel for the activity. If you have very young kids, 30 minutes may be more appropriate. An enjoyable first experience, even if it’s a short one, will make a better lasting impression than one in which family members end up tired or bored.
Try to keep kids engaged. Occupy them with a visual scavenger hunt, asking them to spot specific items found in nature. Or, play “I Spy.” Give them a snack that will keep them busy for a bit — for instance, a container of dry breakfast cereal such as Cheerios, or trail mix. Older kids might want to take photos or sketch in a nature journal, depending on their interests.
Consider the location. Don’t pick a challenging route. A good choice is calm water without a strong current so you can get back to shore fairly easily. If you’re renting a kayak or canoe, the outfitter can help you plan the trip and duration.
Learning how to paddle in advance is much more beneficial than trying to wing it while you’re out on the water. All family members would benefit from an orientation or course to familiarize them with proper paddling techniques and maneuvering through the water. A course will help prepare you for what to do if something goes wrong, such as if your canoe or kayak tips. Knowing what to do in such situations lets you worry less so you can enjoy your trip.
You can sign kids up for a one-day course or maybe even a multiple-day camp. Many options are available, depending on their interest level.
Rent Or Buy?
If you don’t own a canoe or a kayak, you can rent one by the hour or the day from a paddling outfitter conveniently based on the shore. Renting is simple and affordable, which makes it easy to try out the activity before you commit to buying gear.
If your family will go canoeing or kayaking often, it might make sense to invest in your own equipment. This may be a good option, especially if you generally keep your motorhome in a location with access to a navigable body of water.
If so, determine how many canoes or kayaks your family will need. Will you all go out on the water together, or will it typically be only two or three of you? My family of four has been sorting through the various options as we consider whether to purchase kayaks. Do we need a pair of two-person kayaks? Or one two-person kayak and two singles? Both have advantages and disadvantages. And then, storage and transportation becomes a factor, as these are not tiny items. Ah, maybe we should continue to rent.
If you plan on purchasing, consider where you will store a canoe or kayak and how you’ll transport it with your motorhome. Consult your RV owners manual to see if there are tips on how to store or tie down such items. Racks that can be attached to motorhomes vary greatly in size and price, so look into the options that best fit your situation.
Planning and other preliminary considerations aside, being out on the water in canoes or kayaks can lead to wonderful memories for your family. It truly is a multigenerational experience.
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