Canoeing With A Toddler

We took our daughter for her first canoe ride when she was 5 months old down the Bonnechere River.  It was pretty easy.  She wore her life jacket and sat on my lap while my husband paddled.  This summer was different.  She is now a very mobile toddler (15-17 months old in these photos) that doesn’t stay still for very long so we weren’t sure what to expect.  To prepare myself, I borrowed a book from my local library called Cradle to Canoe by Rolf and Debra Kraiker.  It was very informative and I found it very helpful.  It prepared me for a lot of what was to come.

Before we even took her in the canoe, we had her wear her life jacket around the house  to get comfortable in it (first step) and then we tested out her life jacket in the water.  Because that is the most important and the second step for canoeing with a toddler.



We started small, we started close to home, and we started when the water was warm.


The first few times went well, she seemed to love the canoe and she was starting to get very comfortable playing over the side of the canoe, splashing in the water.


All it took was a split second.  Like half a second.  Not even.  And she was in the water.  But all it took was a split second.  Like half a second.  Not even.  And she was back in the canoe (my husband apparently has reflexes like a cat).  I think what scared her most was how quick she went from the water to the canoe because she didn’t cry until Mike got her back in the canoe.


Our little one is pretty tough and was only sad for about a minute, until I offered her a cookie, then all was well with the world again.


We canoed a lot this summer.  I’d say 15+ times at least and she only fell out once (thank goodness).  There is always a chance that your child could fall out of the canoe, especially when they’re little, very mobile, and can’t sit still so I highly recommend waiting until the water is warmer.


One little trick we found handy that we learned from that book was to tie toys to the gunwales. She loves her plastic baby and it goes everywhere with her so we tied it to the gunwales of the canoe and she had fun chucking it out of the canoe and trying to pull it back in.


It didn’t take her long until she wanted to help us paddle so we got her a tiny little paddle from Bonnechere Provincial Park that she could use on her own.


A helpful tip for canoeing with a toddler would be to bring SNACKS.  Regardless of the length of your journey, you always want to have snacks.  Our daughter doesn’t get many “treats” so this is usually the time where we pull them out.  An arrowroot cookie, vegetable fries, or a granola bar are our go to special snacks for canoeing.  I made the mistake of giving her trail mix on one of our first canoe rides (cheerios, raisins, crackers) and it ended up all over the bottom of the canoe within seconds.


We are very cautious when it comes to sun safety with our little one and when you’re in the middle of a lake or a river there’s no shade.  In the book it suggested bringing a sun umbrella to use on longer trips which I could see coming in really handy.  We usually had Lux in her sun protective onesie from MEC and large brimmed Outdoor Research Hat.  The only piece of skin exposed were her hands and feet.  We still lathered her up with sunscreen and she wore her KEEN sandals that also work as watershoes.


Canoeing with our daughter created lifetime memories that we will cherish forever.   If you are an experienced paddler and are comfortable with taking your infant, toddler, or child in the canoe with you then there’s no need to wait until they’re older.



Just to recap…

Steps for Canoeing with a Toddler

Step 1: Have your child get use to wearing their life jacket/PFD around the house. Leave it out and let them play with it.

Step 2: Test out the PFD to ensure it works and fits properly.

Step 3: Go canoeing.

Tips and Tricks for Canoeing with a Toddler

  • Tie toys to the gunwales
  • Be sun safe (wear sun protective clothing, bring water, splash them with water if it’s really hot)
  • Bring SNACKS, lots and lots of SNACK
  • Sing.  Make up songs. Sing familiar Songs.  (row row row your boat, Michal row your boat ashore)