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Safe Family Paddling this Summer

With winter coming to an end and spring around the corner there has been a lot of interest in getting out and paddling this summer. Families are looking for activities to do together, and exploring a lake by canoe, kayak, or paddleboard can be a fantastic outdoor activity. Paddling, unlike activities that take place on land, carries with it an increased element of risk that parents and kids need to be aware of.

As a longtime Paddle Canada Instructor, and Instuctor Trainer, I get asked all the time to give advice on everything paddling related. What type of boat to buy, where to paddle, and over the last few years one of the most common questions has been, how do I teach my kids, or what trips can I take my kids on?

It’s never too late or a waste of time to take a lesson. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard, “We should have taken this course years ago”. When parents ask about paddling lessons I generally break it down into age brackets for my answers. As with anything kid related, there are exceptions to these guidelines but this advice will work for most parents.

  • If you have kids aged 4 years and under should just be going along for the ride and could be given a tiny paddle like a Grey Owl Owlette to begin to play with or learn to hold onto, but my experience is they should be just enjoying the scenery, wildlife, and most importantly becoming comfortable in the boat. Purchasing a kayak paddle leash can be a great investment and used to prevent them from dropping their paddle in the water and you having to turn around to pick it up. Parents of this age group should seriously consider taking a lesson or have previous training so you fully understand the risks associated with paddling such as capsizing. It’s tough enough to deal with capsizing a canoe with a couple of adults, but what are you going to do with your infant or toddler?
  • Kids aged 4-7 years old can be taught basic canoe paddling skills such as forward, draw and pry strokes, and if they are keen, some more moving water strokes such as cross draws and hanging draws. Formal lessons for this age group are still really tough due to attention spans, but parents of this age group should take a lesson so they can learn the skills to then teach their kids properly.
  • Kids aged 7 and up can be great paddlers, although keep in mind that paddling forward for hours on end is boring so if the kids can be involved in sideslipping past obstacles, drawing up to shorelines or floating docks, or assisting in steering from the bow with draws and running pry strokes, they will enjoy the paddle much more. The Parent and Kid Wilderness Course that we offer in northern Saskatchewan each year teaches this age group lake & white-water skills with great success.

Remember to always wear your PFD/lifejacket when paddling with kids and of course, they need to wear one too. Spend some money on a good quality PFD because they are much more comfortable to wear. If you are going to paddle with infants or really young kids make sure they have a PFD as well. Just make sure you are 110% sure you can reach them if you tip, and you can tread water and manage your situation. I personally recommend a babysitter instead because at too young of an age are you doing this for them or you?

I would like to caution everyone about getting out on the water too soon after the ice melts. I realize we are all eager but spring conditions add a huge risk to your outing and require extra planning & preparation.  (I have dozens of “stupid” stories from past experience I could share on some local waterways such as Wascana Creek.)

The last piece of advice I would pass on to parents looking to paddle with kids is that paddling is never fun or easy for kids sitting in the bottom of the canoe. Kids should get a seat in the canoe and be able to slide over to the side of the canoe next to the gunnel to paddle.  The bottom of the canoe gets wet with drips and splashes, and the kids arms are too short to reach the water. Canoes can be outfitted with removable seats in the centre of the canoe, which makes canoeing much better for kids. Two kids can share the same seat and just paddle on opposite sides of the canoe. Just remember to shift your weight in the stern to counter balance them.

We offer the basic canoe courses on Wascana Lake every spring and they are listed on our website,

The Parent and Kid Wilderness Canoe Course is listed on there as well, and new for this year I have added a Parent and Kid 3-day Moving Water Course (white-water) for kids aged 14 and up. This course is a great opportunity for a parent and kid to get away on a 3 day adventure and be able to learn some great camping & paddling skills.

Private courses for your immediate family, or for a couple of families together, has become a popular & convenient option. Both Colin Frey of Renewed By Nature and myself are available to teach private courses upon request. If your goal is to be a kayaker, canoe skills are transferrable and a great starting point. On some of my paddle outings I have my oldest daughter in a kayak while I paddle with my youngest but I also wear my quick release pigtail because I often have to tow my kayaker through a windy area, or when she tuckers out. Stand Up Paddle-boarding (SUP) is also a great option for families and canoe skills transfer beautifully to the paddleboard. Queen City SUP in Regina is a great resource for SUP specific lessons, rentals, and board sales.

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