Guide to Kayaking with a Baby or Toddler in 2021

Last Updated on April 25, 2021 by KayakPro

Kayaking is an extremely popular water sport, rife with communities, competitions, and trends. There are many ways people practice kayaking from recreational and touring, to fishing, all the way to extreme white water kayaking.

Family kayakers are also part of the scene, and many parents believe that they can share their beloved sport with their babies. There are, however, some major safety and other logistical matters that parents need to consider before taking their babies onboard.

In this article, we’ll address all the details you need to know about kayaking with a baby. There’s a ton of tried-and-true tips here, so make sure to read all the way to the end.

happy family with baby kayaking

Can You Take a Baby on a Kayak?

The idea of taking a baby on a kayak is a scary thought to some parents and absolutely natural activity for others. If you’re apprehensive about the prospect of kayaking with the little one, you can postpone this trip till your child is older.

However, if you’re confident that a day out in nature is what you and your baby need, then go for it. But make sure it’s completely safe and well-planned. Here are a few considerations to ensure that your family has a wonderful time.

Get a PFD Suitable for an Infant

Some people aren’t aware that even babies can have their own lifejackets. In fact, there are various types of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets/PFDs currently in the market. The available sizes start from 18-pound babies.

Choose one that fits your baby snugly, and has sturdy head support. These PFDs are designed to keep the baby’s head out of the water. That’s the most important safety feature when you have a baby on board, but of course, vigilance and care come first.

Carry the Baby Safely In and Out of the Kayak

Many parents imagine how they would handle having their infant inside the kayak. But they somehow skip the part of the process where they get inside and out of the kayak.

Tripping and falling into the water while carrying a baby should be entirely out of question. So the best possible course of action is to have at least two other adults around. One of the adults should hold the kayak still, while another should be inside it and receive the baby from a point of total confidence.

Getting the baby out should follow the same procedure. The kayak should be stationary, held in place, while a grown-up gets out, and carries the baby from the parent still sitting inside the boat.

The kayak itself should be a tandem, and one of the adults should be completely dedicated to carrying the baby.

Sail in Calm Waters


kayaking in calm water

Capsizing is an event that should be avoided at all costs while having a baby on board. So make sure that the kayak is completely stable, and head off to the calmest body of water you can find.

A slow river might seem like a good idea, but it often has local currents, in addition to possible boating traffic. Pond and lakes are better options with an infant on board.

Use Sun Protection

A baby’s skin is so soft and a few minutes’ exposure to the direct sun could be quite harmful. Get a wide sun hat for your child, and apply a suitable sunscreen. If you can bring a small umbrella that would be great.

Don’t Use the Car Seat

This idea might sound brilliant, and it could’ve been, but unfortunately, it’s not. The car seat doesn’t have an adaptor to latch on any part of the kayak. And if you leave loose it without a solid harness, then its instability poses a high risk.

Furthermore, don’t use the kayak towing ropes to tie your baby in place. This too is an unsafe practice.

Don’t Go Solo

Kayaking solo with a baby on board might seem doable on paper, but it holds a lot of unnecessary risks. Even if your child can sit without your assistance, a baby or toddler needs full-time attention while sailing.

Besides, kayaking with a crowd is at least double the fun! A day out with family and friends is always a blast.

Can a 4-Year-Old Go Kayaking?

Some parents say that having a baby on the kayak is a lot easier than having a toddler! That’s because infants are a little less curious, so they would be less inclined to explore the water. Also, the younger ones aren’t as keen on jumping up and down the boat as four-year-olds.

While this might hold true to some extent, both age groups require a ton of vigilance. And there are certain safety regulations that should be followed whenever a child gets into a kayak. Here are a few things you should do when your 4-year-old goes kayaking.

Make Sure Your Kid Is Ready for Kayaking


kid enjoying kayak ride

Kids are ready for kayaking not just when their age allows it, here are a few pointers that your child is actually up to the trip.

  • Your child likes swimming and water activities
  • Your child is capable of sitting still for at least an hour
  • Your child doesn’t throw tantrums too often
  • There are no health issues that could pose a risk for your child
  • Your child would agree to keep the PFD on throughout the trip
  • You already practiced a lot of the basics with your child

Get an Appropriate PFD

The toddler’s PFD should be approved by the US coast guard. It should fit your kid’s frame correctly, as a larger one could slip off, and a smaller one wouldn’t have the required buoyancy. Not to mention that it would be quite uncomfortable, and your child would try to discard it all the time.

A colorful lifejacket is better than the dark ones, as it provides more visibility. Also, look for a PFD that’s not bulky and has a crotch strap to keep it in place.

Practice Swimming and Some Kayaking Rudimentary

Putting a child in a kayak with no prior familiarization could be a bit of a shock. It’s not highly probable that a child would have a great time, even though we’ve seen some who did. Few kids take to the water like little dolphins, but that’s not what we generally encounter.

Gradual acclimatization to swimming is a great first step. You can start at the community swimming pool, then move on to a pond or a lake. Using an inflatable kayak with little paddles is also a wonderful idea. You can give your child all the advice you need while engaging in this simple activity.

Revise All the Do’s and Don’ts Prior to the Trip

Kids learn by repetition. And if you manage to make the Do’s and Don’ts sound like a little quiz or game, your child will digest them even more.

You can also use storytelling to educate your child about the proper way to go on a sailing trip. Bring along the kid’s favorite toys to show what you mean exactly, instead of just telling.

Some cartoons are also great at encouraging kids to explore in a responsible manner. Maybe you can play a few episodes from Dora the Explorer.

Pack the Necessities

A well-planned kayaking trip means that you anticipate all your family’s needs ahead of time. This goes from a delicious meal to your kid’s favorite toy. Here’s a checklist you can build on.

  • Snacks and finger foods
  • Water, fresh drinks, and other beverages
  • First-aid kit
  • Neoprene boots and mineral oil to slip them on easily
  • A few toys that your baby can use in the water
  • A dry change of clothes
  • An extra heavy layer and a jacket
  • Sunscreen and cap
  • Dry-pouches for your belongings
  • Rope, compass, torch, …etc

Keep Your Child Entertained

Young children get bored easily, and when they do, they start fidgeting. That’s not the kind of mood you’d like to deal with while kayaking. So it’s best to keep your child occupied and entertained.

Songs, games, exploration, and even just talking are all nice ways to engage a child. A toy that wouldn’t spoil by getting is also a nice way to keep the boredom at bay.

Stay Near the Shoreline

Children need to go to the bathroom frequently, or they get quite cranky. A little kid might also have enough of all the kayaking and need to go back to the mainland. That’s why it’s best to stay close to the shoreline.

Follow All the Safety Guidelines

Safety comes first in anything involving children. Make sure that you know all the regulations and apply them as best as you can. In addition, you can get expert advice from other parents who’ve taken that route before.

Can Dogs Go in Kayaks?


Dog enjoying a kayak ride

Most dogs love to splash in the water! Some dogs are natural swimmers, and they’d be very much at home in any kind of water. Interestingly, there are other dogs who aren’t too keen on getting their coats wet. But, they’d still want to accompany you anywhere you go, even on a kayak!

You can actually take your pet with you on a kayaking trip, but there are a few points you should take into consideration.

  • Acquaint your dog with the kayak
  • Give your dog some obedience training
  • Get your pet a suitable lifejacket or PFD
  • Choose calm waters
  • Check your dog’s anxiety levels
  • Invite another adult on board

How Old Do You Have to Be to Kayak by Yourself?

Manning a kayak takes more than just being able to paddle. It takes a certain degree of maturity, in addition to physical capability, and a moderate degree of coordination.

Sailing is never 100% predictable, even in the calmest waters. There could be some unexpected currents, or the weather could suddenly turn. The child’s safety pivots on acting in a responsible and rational manner under such circumstances.

Kayaking with an Adult

In general, kids up to 10 years of age should share a tandem kayak with an adult. Preferably sitting in the front. The parent can offer guidance, protection, and a bit of tutoring, by taking the back seat.

In time, the children will become well-versed in the arts of kayaking, and gain more confidence around the water. At this point, they can go on an individual kayak. However, an adult should still be watching over them. And they shouldn’t paddle too far out of earshot.

Kayaking by Yourself

Around 14 years of age, your child might very well have gained sufficient training. This is assuming that you’ve been kayaking together regularly for several years. Make sure that your child would be a responsible kayaker and can handle tough situations.

Furthermore, choose safe destinations for your kid’s trips, make sure the coast guard is notified about the trip, and maintain communication with your kid at all times.

In Conclusion


Man and woman with a dog on a river trip on a kayak

That concludes our guide to kayaking with a baby. Hopefully, you now know all the answers to how you can plan a great day out in nature with your family.

Kayaking with a baby or a toddler might be a bit demanding, but getting your child to enjoy the sun and water is totally worthwhile. You can even bring along your pet dog, and it would be a day to remember!


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Ryan Stoltz

Ryan Stoltz

Avid kayaker and lover of the outdoors. Having been kayaking for over 7 years, I love sharing my experiences and learnings along the way. Currently kayaking in upstate New York and always open to new adventures!

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