Kayaking with Kids

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Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream; but only if you have the life jackets, sunscreen, and umbrellas packed (in that order)! Otherwise, merrily down the stream is few and far between! (I don’t know about you, but I kept singing through that whole last sentence, it’s a catchy tune!).  A couple of summers ago in an effort to slow down and appreciate all the water we are surrounded by in Northeast Wisconsin, we decided to try something new, while still “adventuring”. That’s when we decided to take the plunge and go kayaking with our kids.

I was surprised to find out that purchasing kayaks is like buying a car (similar price point too if you go crazy-top-of-the-line); there are all different kinds of kayaks, colors, styles, quality, etc. It’ll be rare to be kayaking and run into someone with the same boat as you. For us, we ended up with some heavy-duty, double kayaks (with the intent of using one adult/one child per kayak), which was perfect for our family of four. For some people, this heavy-duty kayak wouldn’t be a good fit; they are so heavy that they require a special trailer (thank you amazon), and two adults to maneuver them…but for us, that works just fine. It’ll take some time to research what will be best for your family, but you’ll find so many options, there should be something to fit your needs.  At the time of purchase, my kids were five and seven years old, and neither of them were great swimmers.

Essential purchase number 1 (to go along with the kayaks) was finding them each a properly fitting life jacket/vest. This isn’t the place to skimp on the cost and bargain shop (take it from a should-be-professional thrifter)– make sure all life jackets are Coast Guard Approved and that they fit properly. Remember having to learn how to buckle your child’s car seat for the first time? Life jackets are similar– it takes some adjusting, a little swearing, lots of shimmying around, but then it’s set; *until your child grows* then they will require a new adjustment, and maybe even a new vest if they enter a new height/weight category.

I cannot emphasize this enough: If you are going to spend time on the water, then you absolutely have to purchase life jackets for yourself and your children and you need to wear them while on the water. If you can’t see yourself doing this, then maybe this isn’t the kind of adventure for you.

What we’ve found works best for us and helps the comfortability are these couple of things: wearing a well-fitting, brightly colored rash guard under the vest staves off friction and uncomfortable rubbing, and having ample amounts of sunscreen around the neck (almost to the point of being slippery)–anything else beyond that will be personal preference. We wear bright clothing to make it easier for other motorized boaters to see us.

As with driving on the roads, there are many different styles of “water drivers” and we’ve found that not all are courteous of kayaker’s space–don’t let that deter you from venturing out though. Learn your kayak, learn its response to different size waves (and wake) and it’ll be fine.

Essential number 2 (for adult paddlers) is purchasing a well-fitting pair of kayaking gloves. I learned the hard way and started my kayaking journey with twin Capital Blisters on my thumbs from paddling in the bay. What’s the saying, “If Mama isn’t happy, no one is happy”?–that was me paddling to shore with said blisters…The second time out, I recognized that I may need some assistance with my hands, and taped my fingers– that only ended up getting tape glue all over my paddle (goo gone to the rescue). I resorted to stopping in a local boat shop afterward, and asked about gloves– they had some! Again, many different styles and fits, but I found some that I really like, and they keep my hands blister-free.

Kayaking is a slow-moving and relaxing activity (and can also have the potential to be a great workout), in general. Riding in such a turtle-speed vehicle allows our kids the time to really be “one with nature” while we are out on the water. We’ve learned about the many species of birds, turtles, water plants, and fish native to Wisconsin (educational AND fun!? yes!).

However, it becomes entirely too difficult to enjoy our time out there when the sun shines its angry-hot rays down on a windless day; and being on the water amplifies the heat one hundred times (cue the essential SPF). Something we found helpful for our kayaking trips to alleviate the sunshine are umbrellas. They are light, easy to pack (especially the kind that fold up), and super useful on those excruciatingly hot days–it’s also a great size and brightly colored if we needed help from another boater (we’ve never needed to use this, but it’s there just in case).

Another piece of advice I can offer when kayaking with kids is to pack lots of water and snacks. I have two kids; one eats like a rabbit and the other eats like a garbage disposal.  Kayaking will take hours of our day, so we find that snacks like granola bars, meat jerky, fruit chews, dried fruit, crackers, etc– things like these work best because they don’t melt, they work for all kinds of fussiness and they aren’t heavy in our bags. Our kayaks actually have storage in them, so we’ve also gotten a lot of use out of carabiner clips (we clip most of our things to the kayak in case high waves from other boats rock us around).

Now that my kids are a few years older, and many pounds heavier, it was time for us to get them kayak paddles. Depending on the kind of kayak you end up getting, there are always options to accessorize your kayak (see, just like cars). We opted to get my son a kayak paddle that attaches to the kayak with a bungee cord, so just in case the beginning paddler loses his grip, we won’t lose the darn paddle. We also purchased a ladder that connects to the kayak, so if the kids want to swim in the water they can get in and out of the kayak without tipping us over (it’ll feel like you are going to tip, but if your kayak is the right size for you, it should be nearly impossible to do it).

Last but not least, we always pack a water sprayer jug full of clean water to rinse off any aquatic life that may have collected on the kayaks (the kind of jug that you can get for spraying fertilizer/pesticides, etc– but we just use water on the kayak). It’s important to always enter whatever body of water you will be kayaking in with clean boats so you aren’t accidentally contaminating an area with invasive species.

Kayaking with our kids has brought a new love of water to our family, which we are surrounded by in Northeast Wisconsin. It brought a new sense of adventure to us, and it requires patience from my kids to be reactive and silent at times (as to not scare off wildlife), to be inquisitive of new creatures and plants, and it allows us time to slow down and spend time together away from our screens and our normal day-to-day lives. Kayaking has brought us merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily into the aquatic outdoor life (did you sing it through the extra syllables?).

Do you go kayaking with your kids?  Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook Page!

If you’re looking for more summer fun, check out Green Bay Area Moms’ Summer Bucket List!

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