How I Got My Kids Out Flatwater Kayaking As Babies

Kayaking with Kids

I loved this recent comment on a photo of mine on Instagram:

Never knew people that were brave enough to take a baby kayaking. Power to those people! I think with the proper care, children and parents should be able to travel the outdoors together.

Agreed. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago we didn’t have gas-, diesel-, steam-, electric-powered vehicles. How do you think our predecessors got around before us? Right — they walked, paddled, biked, rode or used animal-powered transportation. (And, that’s a separate topic which I cover in: being active without a gym membership). Paddled. They hand-carved boats from trees, and they paddled from place to place, moving goods and people (which likely included small children).

I’ve been paddling for over 20 years now. My first real dive into paddling began in the Summer of 1994. My university offered summer programs for inbound freshmen students to get to know some faculty, staff, and fellow incoming students before their first day on campus. It proved to show a declined drop-out rate. One of the programs the school offered was a 10-day trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. Excluding transportation to- and from- and a side trip to Niagara Falls, we spent a week out on the lakes of Algonquin paddling each day to new, remote camp sites, portaging in between the lakes. We did this with canoes, anywhere from 2-3 people per canoe or dry-bagged gear and food in lieu of a third person.

I went on to become a frequent paddler and camper with the outdoor club at the university, since the gear was rented out to students during the school year. Once I graduated, and landed briefly in Atlanta, I got back into some gentle stream paddling with kayaks from Mountain Town Outdoor Expeditions in Ellijay, GA. And, then once in Maryland, sought out many locations that offered rental kayaks, such as Gunpowder Falls State Park — Hammerman Area. But, it wasn’t long after that, that I longed to have a boat of my own. That meant, I could take my boat everywhere I wanted to go.

In the six or so years since I’ve owned my Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 recreational kayak, I’ve taken it to Watkins Glen State Park (PA), Rehoboth Beach (DE), Outer Banks (NC), Patapaso Valley State Park — Daniels Dam (MD), Mallows Bay at Purse State Park (MD), several locations in Annapolis, MD and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay, Centennial Lake in Ellicott City, MD, Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, MD, reservoirs in Howard County, MD (Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge Reservoir), Tuckahoe State Park (MD), Point Lookout State Park (MD), Janes Island State Park (MD), and so on… I’m also planning to take the boat up to Cunningham Falls State Park — William Houck Area at Catoctin Mountain (MD) this season. All of these are flatwater bodies of water or gentle streams and rivers. I may not be an “expert” or “professional” paddler, but I do consider myself rather well experienced at flatwater kayaking.

It was only natural for me, when I had children, to want to involve them in one of my favorite activities, hobbies, fitness routines. Here are the steps my husband and I took to make bringing our kids along paddling, starting at infancy, a reality:

  1. Swim Lessons: As parents, it was important to us, to start water acclimation classes early. Both our babes were born in November, so they were 6-months-old, give or take, at the start of the Maryland outdoor swim season following their respective births. We registered in local association swim classes that preceded each outdoor swim season start. They started the six-week class around five-months-old each. This feeds into the “not panicking” part, should falling overboard happen. Our daughter has now been to this class three consecutive years and is ready to move up a class level next year. The kids are gifted swim lessons by their grandparents. Way better than more junk we don’t need around the house.
  1. Ability: They need to be able to stay upright for extended periods of time, even if an adult gets them into the position. It will also help if they can take a little bit of direction.
  1. Age: They have to be able to sit still when the boat’s in motion. This is actually much easier for our kids as infants than it is our now two-year-old. They also need to be old enough for sunscreen. Since sunscreen is not tested on babies under six months of age, it is not recommended for them and therefore advised to keep small babies shielded from the sun’s rays. Our daughter was around nine-months-old her first time out in the kayak. Our son was seven-months-old his first time out.

    Kayaking Babies
    Our daughter started joining us for kayaking at 9-months-old in 2016 and our son at 7-months-old in 2018. Photos from their first time on the kayak.
  1. Vessels: The boats my husband and I own are the Pungo 120 and Pungo 140, which I find are really hard to flip or fall out of -and- have roomy cockpits. Since you sit within a cockpit area, and they are not sit-on-tops, your center of gravity is a bit lower. I had to flip my 120 once during an outing with the Chesapeake Kayak Adventures Meetup group, to practice water rescue skills, and found it much harder to flip out of than I ever would have expected. Definitely practice water-rescue with adults some time (and maybe kids once they get a bit older too) at a swim-friendly body of water (many of our area reservoirs prohibit wading and swimming), so you can learn about your kayak’s tilt tolerance.
  1. Seats: We had the Summer Infant 3-Stage SuperSeat on our baby registry. This seat, used without the add-on tray and toy accessories, is water resistant and has support similar to a Bumbo, but easily converts as the kids grow. Placing this in the open part of our kayak(s) served as an infant seat. Do NOT strap your kid into the seat and do not tether the seat to the boat. Note: this seat was not at all made for this purpose (see following disclaimers). The reason you don’t want to tether the seat to the boat or the kid to the seat, is IF your vessel did tip over, you want the kid in its life jacket / life vest / PFD (personal flotation device) and nothing between your kiddo and that device. If your kayak flipped over and didn’t resurface, with your kid strapped in, they would have no air. For our older child, we have children’s play area mat flooring (we purchased at our local Lowe’s home improvement store) that we cut to size, placed in the bottom of the cockpit of the boat. Or, she sits in between our legs on the front part of the seat. Though I’m not sure what we’ll do as she grows bigger. Perhaps then we’ll need a sit-on-top boat.

    Summer Infant 3-Stage SuperSeat
    The baby seat also serves as a great place to put the kiddo when taking breaks at picnic tables accessible from the water. Yes, I know you are not supposed to use the seats on top of tables. She was fully supervised during this time. Please follow manufacturers labels and brochures and choose how you use and don’t use your own products with your own children.
  1. Safety: We acquired an infant PFD from a friend who’s child had outgrown it. Infant PFDs tend to have a pillow-like float behind their head, to help keep the child upright in the water. We buy other / older-child PFDs at our nearby Costco, the Hyperlite brand. They are brightly colored, in case the kid(s) were to fall in (you’d be easy to spot them). They have a crotch strap. They are weight-rated for our growing kids. They are priced right for growing kids. Costco tends to have these products in store at the start of the Summer season. A PFD can ONLY work if it’s on the child (and on you too)! It needs to be ON the child at ALL times on the water. Always let someone, who is not going out with you, know where you are (or leave a note at home with date, time, location). As an extra safety measure, we paddle as a pair, my husband and I. We would have the support system of each other if something were to happen to one of the boats.

    Children's Life Vests
    Inherit life vest PFDs from friends or purchase at Costco for savings for kids who outgrow apparel & gear fast. The infant PFD is rated 8 – 30 lbs. Her child PFD is rated 30 – 50 lbs. Adhering to the minimum and maximum weight offers the most safety to your kids.
  1. Destinations: We paddle at extremely flatwater places: lakes, ponds, smaller reservoirs, where there’s no wake or waves. Generally these places prohibit non human-powered vessels. And, we paddle at places that are frequented by visitors, in the event we needed assistance or had an emergency. Read: not remote. We also tend to pick places where we are guaranteed to see a good amount of wildlife and/or take breaks to change diapers or go potty. We love Piney Run Park in Carroll County, Maryland, as a result. It’s currently (as of mid-2018) $10 per non-county resident vehicle entrance fee and also $8 per private boat to use this lake. The lake has several picnic tables only accessible by those paddling, lots of lilypads and forest, which tend to bring out all the wildlife. Learn more about Piney Run on My Favorite Mid-Atlantic Outdoor Recreation Destinations blog post.
    Sleeping Deer
    A sleeping deer flapped its ears. If I hadn’t been scanning the shore while paddling by, I would have missed spotting it.

    Sunbathing Turtle
    To have your best chances at spotting wildlife, keep still and quiet. Paddle close to shorelines and keep your eyes peeled.
  1. Sun Protection: We use Coppertone WaterBabies SPF 50 Lotion sunscreen (which as of this writing has a score of 95 from leading consumer-advocate group, Consumer Reports). And, we buy sun hats for the kids. Our favorites: SimpliKids UPF 50+ UV Ray Sun Protection Wide Brim Baby Sun Hat (purchased during the 2017 Amazon Prime Day for 20% off) and Sunday Afternoons Kids Play Hat – Kids’ (REI outlet for 50% off original price). Water shoes, though not needed until walking, we pickup at nearby Nordstrom Rack. They have our favored Keens at about 50% off original retail price. We originally needed sturdy full-day water shoes for our trip to Sesame Place, so they’ve come in handy all Summer. And, we buy long-sleeve rash guards at our local Old Navy outlet store or Bass Pro Shops.
  1. Drinks, Snacks, Diaper-Changes: Make sure to have a cooler with an abundence of baby bottles, water, milk, juice, etc. for the bigger kids, snacks, and a changing pad, extra diapers, wipes, and diaper disposal bags. You may even want to bring a change of swim clothes for your littlest, if they tend to blow out diapers with frequency. We use regular daytime diapers on our infant, since they aren’t expected to be in the water, and do a much better job of retaining messes than swim diapers.
  1. Photograph It: It’s important to me to capture our children as they grow and our fleeting moments, so I always remember to bring along my hand-me-down waterproof Nikon Coolpix camera and a brightly-colored camera floatation device.
    Kayaking with Babies, Kids, Children
    Our two-year-old insisted on helping me paddle our boat.


    Going for a Ride
    Our 7-month-old loves tagging along for his first kayak ride. Occasionally, I would take the kids’ hats off to get pictures of their heads or faces.


    Get Outdoors with the Kids
    There’s something so special about getting off of devices and getting outdoors with the kids. Submerge them in the great outdoors.


    Afternoon Nap on the Lake
    With a cushioned PFD and a comfortable chair, they can take a nap out on the water.


    Hyperlite PFD from Costco
    Our 2-year-old rocked her Costco Hyperlite PFD like a boss.


    SimpliKids UPF 50+ UV Ray Sun Protection Wide Brim Baby Sun Hat
    Our 7-month-old rocking his sun hat from Amazon Prime Day 2017.


    Kayaking Babies
    I think he enjoyed his first time out.

Did this post help you to get prepared for taking your little one out on the water? Any other tips you have? Are there other favorite outdoor activities that you like to do with your kids? I would love to hear. Let me know in the Comments!

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Mom of three littles, and a small business supporter, Amy Lynn, is the woman behind the Saving Amy blog, covering a broad range of topics with an ultimate goal to encourage and inspire you to save both money and time.Have a sunny day! Have a sunny day!