Must-Haves When Kayaking With a Baby or Small Child

Kayaking with a small child or baby can be a fun way to spend the day with the whole family, but you should always take special precautions with kids. Children must always wear a life jacket, and young children and babies should be in the same boat as an adult who can paddle for them and supervise them. 

Babies must be in coast guard-approved infant PFDs to ensure that they stay safe during the day. 

How Old Does a Kid Have To Be to Kayak?

There aren’t any official age limits on how old a kid has to be to paddle in a boat, but most parents with experience do not recommend kayaking with children under 12 months old. Children under one cannot wear a life jacket comfortably, so it’s not a good idea to take them kayaking. 

Generally, you shouldn’t bring a kid kayaking with you until the child is about two years old, but maturity and ability are more important than age. The US Coast Guard recommends that children who go kayaking should be able to sit without moving around too much, float by themselves, weigh at least 18 pounds, and comfortably wear a life vest. 

If your kid cannot yet do these things, kayaking may be too dangerous for him/her. 

When Can Children Kayak by Themselves?

The coast guard recommends that children between the ages of two and five share a kayak with an adult. If it’s a child’s first time or he/she doesn’t have good paddling skills, then children up to eight to ten should still share a boat with an adult. 

A double kayak will allow an adult and a kid to sit together comfortably. When kayaking with a baby, you may choose to hold the baby on your lap. 

If the kid is sitting alone, have the child sit in front of you or with another trusted adult so the child can be watched at all times. 

Children between nine and thirteen are usually the right age to go in their own child’s kayak. If a child is taller or heavier than other kids of similar age, he/she may need an adult kayak earlier. 

Children under 13 or children who aren’t as experienced should stay close enough that you can hear them when they’re riding solo. Ensure that you can listen to and see the kid when spending time on the water. 

Once kids are 14 or older, they are typically ready for an adult kayak. Just consider the child’s weight and height when deciding to upgrade to an adult kayak. 

Children of this age are usually ready for more independence. Still, a child’s maturity and experience is more important than age when deciding how much autonomy a kid can have on the water. 

Planning a Kayak Trip With a Child

The first few times that a kid is on a kayak should be in calm water. Lakes, bays, and slow-moving rivers are ideal places for children to get used to the water. 

Some children are afraid of the motion of a boat when they first get on one, and they may get sick. 

Also, choppy water or strong currents can be too stressful, even for an experienced paddler. Pay attention to your child’s stress levels when kayaking. 

When first kayaking, it’s best to only stay on the water for 30 minutes to an hour. Young children, especially, can quickly experience mental fatigue. 

Older children and experienced paddlers can remain on the water longer. 

Adults paddling with children should have some kayaking experience so they’re prepared to assist children. Also, if you’ve planned a trip to go kayaking with kids or if a kid is interested, it’s a good idea to consider kayaking lessons. 

Swimming lessons are also a good idea to ensure children stay safe if they fall in the water. 

Furthermore, pay attention to the kayak traffic in the place you are visiting. Some children may get upset if they can’t compare to other kayakers or feel people will be laughing at them. 

Instead, opt for a place where a kid can practice alone and praise good paddling so you can improve the child’s self-esteem. 

Kayaking Safety

Essential safety measures for kayaking are life jackets or any other personal flotation devices (PFDs). The coast guard requires a life vest on the kayak for each person, but children should always have their life jackets on, especially if they can’t swim confidently. 

Life vests come in three different sizes for children:

  • 8–30 pounds (for an infant PFD);
  • 30–50 pounds; and
  • 50–90 pounds.

It’s a good idea to buy a coast guard-approved vest to ensure you are getting top quality. 

The life vest should fit snugly, and small children should have a crotch strap if they are less than 50 pounds. A baby’s vest should have a neck pad to help keep the child’s head positioned correctly if the kayak tips over. 

It’s a good idea to have kids wear life vests before they go on the kayak so that they can get used to the way they feel. 

Before kayaking with kids, you should go over the rules with them. 

Explain to your kids that they cannot stand, cannot reach over or lean over the side of the kayak, cannot jump in the kayak, and cannot take off their life vests. If a kid cannot stay seated, they should not be on a kayak. 

Never tie a kid on a boat to keep the child seated. Tethering a kid to a boat, even on a tandem kayak with an adult poses a severe drowning hazard. 

Also, think about sun exposure before going on a kayaking trip. Children with light skin tones and sensitive skin are more susceptible to burning, but all kids can get a sunburn, especially if their skin is wet

Check the UV index before going on any paddling trips and bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat to ensure children have enough sun protection. All children staying out with the sun directly on them for a long period of time should be protected. 

Finally, ensure that there is enough adult supervision for the children. Generally, there should be one adult per kid, but if the children are older or more experienced, then two adults may be able to handle four or five kids. 

Adults who watch children while paddling should be able to handle the responsibility. Many parents allow older siblings or cousins to watch children, even when they first start paddling, but just because someone is 18 or older does not mean they are mature or vigilant enough to protect a child. 

Other Considerations for Kayaking with Children and Babies

There are other factors to consider when kayaking with children and babies, like whether to use a sit-on-top kayak or a sit-inside kayak. It makes sense to consider the length of kayak paddles too to make sure everyone is having a good time. 

Have Fun

Kayaking can be fun for the whole family, but younger kids are more likely to get rowdy or bored. If you’re letting a child use a single kayak on his/her own, stay at the same pace or let the slowest paddler lead. 

Adults going below their normal pace to keep up with children makes them feel more comfortable paddling and like they’re doing a good job. Also, a slower pace makes it less likely a child will lose balance and fall off. 

You should also stay near land if you have a young child, especially on the first trip. Young kids get bored quickly, and you can get to land faster if your child stops listening and becomes a danger to himself/herself. 

Sit-On or Enclosed Cockpit?

For young children, it is best to have a tandem kayak with an enclosed cockpit. A sit-inside kayak is the best kayak for keeping children from tumbling over the side. 

Sit-ins also give kids more room to move around. Most kayaks are of the sit-in variety since they are the traditional model. 

Once children are old enough for their own boat, a sit-on-top kayak is a better option because sit-on-tops are easier to steer and can be flipped over if they capsize because of their self-draining scupper holes. 

You should be aware that a person in a sit-on-top kayak will get wetter than in a traditional kayak. 

So, when deciding if you should buy a sit-on-top, think about whether or not the kid is comfortable being wet. Some children enjoy it while others hate it. 

You can also consider buying inflatable kayaks for the kids. These boats are great if you live in an apartment or have multiple kids and need a few kayaks because you can easily compress them for better storage. 

Extra Gear

First off, when kayaking with children, bringing extra clothes is a good idea. If you have water-resistant garments for your kid, then they should wear those, but if you don’t, having an extra set of dry clothes will keep them comfortable. 

Also, children should have a paddle that is a comfortable size for them. Typically, a kid should use a paddle that is about 200cm long with a narrow shaft. 

Finally, you should consider other gear that could come in handy, such as personal maps of the area to keep children from getting lost if they somehow become separated from you. 

Also, emergency whistles make it easier for children to signal to you that they need help. And, most importantly, ensure you bring a life jacket for each kid. 


Overall, a good general rule for kayaking with a baby or small kid is to think of their ability and maturity levels. Small children should be placed in tandem kayaks and sit-inside kayaks to keep them safe. 

Similarly, when children or babies kayak, they should be kept in calm waters, at least at first, and they should always wear a life jacket when on the water.