May is one of my favorite months of the year, complete with great weather, good fishing and now that I have a child in grade school, a time to celebrate another school year passed. My daughter is 6 now and it occurred to me that I have yet to really get her immersed into to the world of paddling and what better time than now! It’s easy to want to get away as paddling provides an almost Zen like experience for those wanting to get away from it all. However, nothing compares to the enjoyment and satisfaction a person gets from spending quality time with their kids, nieces, nephews or grandkids in the great outdoors. For most folks, school is either out or preparing to let loose so now is the time to start planning your next family adventure.
Before you head out here are a few tips that may help you experience a safer more enjoyable trip. Start by deciding on using tandem (two person) or single kayaks. This really depends on a lot of factors such as personal preference, water and weather conditions and location but generally speaking if the child can swim, make sound decisions and is strong enough to get a kayak moving, they are probably ready to paddle their own boat. Despite what many adults think, even younger children are fully capable of paddling too. Through my own experiences, I’ve seen children get the hang of paddling quicker than a lot of adults. Paddling can come natural to younger folks because they focus more on going as opposed to making sure they are doing it correctly. So why not get them a paddle that is designed for kids? The key is in finding a paddle with a smaller diameter shaft such as the Bending Branches Kids Splash complete with graphics kids will appreciate. With smaller hands, they’ll have an easier time grasping the paddle. Whether paddling in tandem or on single kayaks, letting kids take control (even if it means that you have to work a little harder) you’ll keep them engaged and will keep them from getting bored.
Speaking of bored, whether 6 or 14 years old, children and teenagers need to be stimulated with experiences that will keep them focused on enjoying the great outdoors. If you plan to go on a 2+ hour paddling trip, it may seem like eternity to a child that is thinking about what the neighborhood kids are up to or teenagers itching to check their text messages. First off, leave their hand held video games at home and instead think of activities that will keep them excited about the next trip. Take a rod and reel and do a little kayak fishing or play a wildlife watching game and reward the person that can spot the most critters with a prize at the end of the trip. If weather and location permits, take periodic breaks to go swimming. And of course, make sure you have plenty of drinks and snacks!
Next you’ll want to make sure everyone is properly outfitted with a Personal Flotation Device or PFD. The number of lives that could have been saved if a person was wearing a PFD is staggering and keep in mind that children under the age of 13 are required by law to wear one at all times while on any watercraft. Make sure you utilize a PFD that is designed with children in mind such as the NRS Vista Youth PFD Life Vest. Planning to take infants? Consider the Stohlquist’s Nemo Infant Life Vest, which has unique wrap-around flotation that turns a child face up in the water. Key point to take-away here though is that a PFD is only as good as the adult that fits it on a child and educates them on what to do if a boat is capsized. In fact, before you launch and if conditions are appropriate, conduct a few tests in shallow water. Have all children get in the water with their vests and advise them on how to keep their heads out of the water.
Participating in any outdoor adventure with children and teenagers introduces some new dynamics. For instance if you were to capsize, its not just about you anymore, you’ll need to think fast to ensure that everyone is quickly accounted for. If you feel that you’ll be paddling fast moving or rough waters, consider carrying a throw bag with you. If see that a child or anyone for that matter is struggling you can try and assist by throwing the rope their way to help pull them back to shore. Another product you should always have attached to your PFD when paddling is a safety whistle. If conditions are rough or if it is after dark, a whistle can be a lifesaver. River or Dive knives are also handy for a situation where you or someone else gets caught up on a bungee or rope.
Make sure you children are wearing proper attire too. I’ve personally seen many kids get on a canoe or kayak wearing jeans on a hot summer day. Not only are they prone to heat stroke, if they do happen to fall in the water, movement is limited. This is true for adults too! Additionally, kids have sensitive skin. Aside from applying sunscreen, outfit them with apparel that offers protection from harmful sun rays such as NRS Kids HydroSilk Long Sleeve Rashguard shirts and Outdoor Research Rambler Sombrero Sun Hat for Kids. And of course, always keep yourself and everyone else hydrated. Sure you’ll end up with a few more pit stops but at least you’ll have some peace of mind!
Finally, do your best to prepare for any situation you may encounter. Start by creating an emergency plan of action. Create a “what if” checklist. Perform an off the water orientation by detailing what to do in case of an emergency. Pick a spot to meet if you should get separated. Identify specific tasks for the older kids to do and a develop a buddy system that pairs adults with younger paddlers. The chances of encountering an emergency situation are slim but it’s always best to be prepared!
So there you have it, a few tips that will help generate fun filled memories that will last a lifetime and will help beg the question, “when are we going paddling again?” Let us know if you have any tips you’d like to share by commenting below.
Have fun and be safe!