I thought I would write about my strategies in canoeing with children. First off “Location, Location, Location”. But this is pretty hard to go to the best place because I haven’t been to many of the places I have listed as possible places to paddle so I have to do my exploring with my child. But that is where my trip reports come in to help other parents.
Distance from Home. First off, I think 1.5 hours from drive one way from home is about as far as I’m going to make my child sit in the car to go canoeing. So I look for places that are pretty close to home, but that is not the only consideration. The actual canoe paddle should be relatively short. I think about 1 hour total for my 6 year old. But that does not include time playing in the water, swimming or playing on shore at the put-in or take-out.
Bring a friend. My child is an only child. We try to always bring a friend. This is accomplished by either inviting another family (we have a guest canoe), or inviting a single friend to share our middle seat.
Food and water. It is important for everyone to have his own water bottle. I bring a couple extras and fill up our primary water bottles when we have drunk all the water in the first water bottle. I always ask families whom we go with to bring food and water enough for their families. I’ve got to say other families do a better job of bringing interesting and yummy food than I have and I’m going to have to step up my game. Part of the problem is my son is pretty picky and doesn’t particularly like to eat. If we bring just a friend for my child, I ask his parents to pack a lunch. I find that kids are so picky I want the guest child to have something he will eat.
Bring Toys. Bring toys canoeing you would not ordinarily bring. I bought a half of box of pool noodles at a yard sale. I bring one pool noodle per person and we play pirates with them. We have also brought a beach ball and other balls that float to pass back and forth between boats. And then there are squirt guns. My cousin gave us a super- soaker when we visited. We are going to get enough for the family. Of course there are rules like no squirting in the face. And because my child likes monster trucks, we usually have a couple with us either in the boat or in the car that he and a friend can play with the put in. I have a wind-up swimming frog that we can bring. We brought him when canoeing in the Adirondacks (before Danny), but he didn’t swim fast enough to keep up with us and wasn’t at all good in a current.
Dry Clothes. We have several dry bags. Sierra Trading Post usually has some pretty cheap. Get a large one. We take our dry clothes, towels, sun screen and extra bottles of water in a dry bag. It is especially useful to have dry clothes for the kids with you while you paddle so that if they get cold, they can change into warm dry clothes before you get back to the car. I always lend a dry bag to guest families so they have something to put their stuff in also.
The Weather. I recall that I started paddling because you can’t rock climb in the rain, but you can paddle in the rain. Yes this is all true, but the weather is going to make or break a paddling trip with children. It doesn’t have to be perfect weather, but it does have to be not too cold and not raining. If is is slightly chilly, make sure everyone knows what to wear.
Proper Clothes for Cool Weather. We went out May of 2013 and it was a little chilly. We were going to meet at 9:00 am but waited until 11:00 since it was so chilly. But most importantly we had the proper clothes and I had let our guest family know what proper clothes were. I’d doesn’t so much matter for the parents unless they tip the canoe and get wet, but the proper clothes for children are essential. I suggested nylon or polyester long pants and a nylon or polyester long sleeve shirt with a fleece jacket on top. No cotton, except for underpants. And you can avoid the cotton under pants by having the kids wear their nylon bathing suits under the long pants and long sleeve shirt. Do you need to go out an buy these clothes? Probably not, you probably have them in your child’s drawers. Football jerseys are polyester or nylon. Swim tops are nylon. My son has lots of pairs of polyester sport pants that he wears on a regular basis. If you don’t have them, time to hit Value Village or another thrift store.
Shoes. Water shoes are best and lots of children have them. Closed toe sandals are good too. (Think Keens.) Teva and similar sandals which are not closed toe are not so good. You really want to protect the feet more than just a pair of sandals. Old tennis shoes are just fine. I usually suggest this. But the most important thing is that they bring another pair of dry shoes to change back into at the end of the paddle. If it is cool, I suggest socks with the shoes. Make sure there is another pair of socks that are dry to change into later. Of course wool or polyester socks are best, but I have a hard time finding those in children’s sizes. Don’t use anything that you expect to last. I just use whatever old socks my kid has.
Proper Clothes for Hot Weather. Dress in a bathing suit and wear a short sleeve shirt on top of it. Wear plenty of sunscreen and have your child wear a hat with a brim. Parents also should heed this advice. You are going to wear a life vest all day and some people are not comfortable with life vests and no sleeve shirts. So for sun protection and feeling comfortable under a life vest, wear a short sleeve either cotton or polyester shirt. In the hot weather it doesn’t matter so much what you have next to your skin.
The Rule of 120. The rule of 120 is if the water temperature plus the air temperature is less than 120°, then a wet suit for each participate is recommended. If the water temperature plus the air temperature is between 100° and 120°, then a wetsuit is required. But seriously, these are rules for whitewater paddlers who paddle in all kinds of weather and all kinds of water. You need to very cautious paddling with children. I would not go out in the mid-Atlantic with children before May or after late September. But of course the water and air temperature play into those decisions.
Safety. If you screw up once and put your child’s safety (and comfort) at risk, chances are that child is not going to want to go canoeing again.
A family who we have taken canoeing just bought their own canoe (in January). And the dad was ready to go canoeing on a mild day in January or February. This is absolutely crazy. When canoeing with children safety should be the number one concern. And next should be fun and comfort. If you are unsure if is is safe or warm enough to canoe with children, it probably is not, don’t go. You can always go hiking or biking or something where the possibility of hypothermia is not as likely.
Life Vests. Everyone in your party should be wearing a life vest in the canoe. Children and adults. It sets the proper example, but Coast Guard approved life vests are required in Maryland for children (see this site). I could not find a web site that says adults must wear life vests in Maryland, but I have had a ranger at Patapsco State Park tell me that life vests are required for everyone. And I know they ticket paddlers on the Potomac River in Maryland if rangers find someone in a canoe without a proper life vest.
Seating. I wrote about creating a middle seat and gave a couple of different suggestions on one of my pages. You want to make sure your child is comfortable and not sitting in the water in the bottom of the canoe. At the least the child should be on a cushion on the bottom of the canoe. If you expect the child to paddle or if he wants to paddle then you are going to need to install a real seat for him or her to sit in.
Paddle. If your child likes to paddle, buy a child’s paddle. I got one in season at Walmart. Of course you can get a nice one at a canoe store, but the one we have suits us.
Now is the time to get the items which you don’t have to make it a safe and happy paddle when the spring comes along. You don’t want to spend a beautiful day in the spring hunting for stuff when you could be outside.