Paddling with the Kids

By Kate Kastelein

For many, summer in Maine means time on the water. From the gorgeous Atlantic coastline to our hundreds of paddle-worthy lakes, ponds, and streams, there?s ample opportunity for aquatic enjoyment. Families with small kids often wonder what is the best way to get their little ones safely into a canoe or kayak. Maria Jennes, Regional Stewardship Manage for Maine Island Trail, spoke with me about how she and her partner, Travis Jornagen, owner of Tidal Kayak in Boothbay Harbor, have had their son Roy paddling with them since he was 6 months old. Maria and Travis are both Registered Maine Master Sea Kayak Guides, as well as Wilderness First Responders, so they really know their stuff when it comes to paddling.

When getting your kids on the water for the first time, it’s important to pick a place you are comfortable with, ideally somewhere you have paddled before. If you are vacationing in Maine there are a number of kayak and canoe rental companies that can suggest some calm, easy locations to test out. Tidal Kayak, has had kids as young as 6 months paddling, but recommends rentals as opposed to Jennes stressed that if you are nervous or uncomfortable, your kids will sense it.

Life jackets are essential for everyone when paddling. There are a number of great options for kids. It?s important to find one that is Coast Guard approved, and most have a handle on the back so that you can easily pluck your child out of the water if they fall in. A quality life jacket can last a while, Maria’s son Roy has had the same life jacket since he was 6 months, he is now 2 ½. Sometimes kids are reluctant to wear their life jackets at first, but making the jacket part of the fun can really help. “When Roy sees his life jacket, he gets really excited, because he knows we are going paddling” said Maria.

When Maria and Travis first took Roy out on the water, they were in a canoe, Roy sat in the middle on a large pad. When asked if either canoes or kayaks are preferable when starting out paddling with a small child, Maria said, “Whichever the parent is more comfortable with is the best option.” She also mentioned that open cockpit type watercraft are often easier with kids because they have some room to move about. When I asked Roy if he liked canoeing or kayaking better, he said, “Both!”

If you plan on getting your kids out paddling regularly, buying them their own equipment is a great way to get them enthusiastic about paddling. In addition to life jackets, kid-sized paddles for both kayaks and canoes are available. Roy was very excited to tell me about his new wetsuit which, I was informed, he puts on any chance he gets.

When paddling with kids remember:

  • Choose an area you are comfortable with.
  • Select a watercraft you are familiar with.
  • Everyone wears a life jacket.
  • Be mindful of weather conditions.
  • Let someone know where you are going.
  • Bring snacks and water.

Kids as young as 6 months old can enjoy paddling with parents. With a little planning, and proper equipment, kids can acquire a life-long love of paddling, from early on. Get on your life jackets and get out there!


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