Everything you need to know to get your kid started in kayaking
Almost all 6-year-old children are able and ready to paddle a child-sized kayak on calm bodies of water. Six-year-old children can also enjoy kayaking in the following ways:
Six years old is a great age to begin paddling a small kayak
Here is what my experience having many kids try out kayaking on our river the past few years has taught me about starting kids on the little kid kayaks:
SOME four-year-olds are ready to try paddling a kid-sized kayak.
MOST five-year-olds are ready (are strong enough, want to, and will enjoy it).
ALMOST ALL six-year-olds can paddle a child-sized kayak with great success.
Five is the recommended age for starting kids on a child-sized (usually 6 or 6.5 ft) sit-on-top kayak such as the popular and inexpensive Lifetime Wave. This was the first kid kayak we started our children on and we own multiple of the same one so the kids can go out together with siblings and with their friends on the river.
These kayaks are very small and easy to manage. Virtually every kid within a mile of our house comes in the summer to play on these with my kids. We have had 3 six-year-olds learn to kayak on our child-sized kayak. All three were able to paddle successfully and had a great time. One of our little friends, a six-year-old girl named Imogen, paddled about a mile with my 4-year-old son as her passenger on only her second or third time paddling with us.
My 11-year-old still has fun with the same kid-sized kayak as well, so for the cheap price, you will get years of use. After a bicycle, I would say this is the best investment we have made for our kids. And unlike a bike, the same kayak can work from when they are 4 to about 12-years-old. At twelve they will be ready for a larger sized kayak.
Child-sized kayaks are definitely the easiest type of kayak for young kids age 4-7 to learn to paddle on. They are very stable, unsinkable, and easy to paddle. They are perfect for lakes and calm slow-moving rivers.
The kids can climb on and off easily to play in the water, and the kids very intuitively know how to paddle as soon as they get on with just a few minutes of experimenting. The small size takes away the intimidation factor and the kayak feels like it was made just for them.
For this size of kayak, they will need a child-sized paddle, approximately 180 to 200 cm with a narrow shaft, so they have a comfortable hand-grip for their little hands, and a scaled-down blade on the paddle so that paddling is not too difficult.
The paddle blade should not be the same size blade as an adult paddle with only a shorter shaft. This will make paddling much too difficult. It should look like a miniature paddle blade.
Not to worry though; most sit-on-top child kayaks come with a child-sized paddle.
To see a guide and suggestions of what size and type of kayak to begin with for each age read our kayak reviews.
Things to remember about 6-year-olds on their own kayaks:
If they are not ready to paddle alone, let them ride as a passenger first
A six-year-old can ride as a passenger with an older sibling on the back of a child-sized kayak, or as a duffer (in the middle of the boat as a non-paddling passenger) with a parent on a tandem kayak.
Riding Duffer in a Tandem Kayak
A six-year-old generally enjoys riding duffer (as a middle non-paddling passenger) with their parents. They are old enough to enjoy medium length river trips with parents who are competent paddlers.
At this age, they will only have enough endurance for very short trips paddling themselves, so unless you are willing to do a fair amount of towing, you will want to consider a tandem kayak or canoe if you are planning on taking your six-year-old on long touring river trips.
If they like to paddle but want to be with you, let them be the bow paddler (front of the boat in a tandem) for a short trip
If they are strong enough to hold and use a paddle, and the parent is a competent stern paddler, the child may be the bow paddler (front seat of the boat) of a tandem sit-inside kayak on calm water (or water that the parent feels 100 % comfortable with and that won't intimidate the child).
Success as the bow paddler will depend on the physical level of your child and the competence of the stern paddler. Start with easy paddling and very short trips. Give lots of praise and limit teaching.
This age is about exploring with the paddle and getting comfortable as they build strength, skill, and confidence. Parents tend to over-teach when they are in a tandem with a child. For this reason, I find kids love to paddle their own kayaks.
Make sure you have a child-sized paddle that is lightweight, has a slim shaft for little hands, and sized-down low angle blades for easy paddling. See our kid paddle guide page for suggestions.
Kids cannot successfully paddle a kayak with an adult-sized paddle. The blades are too big, causing the load to feel very heavy with each stroke and the paddle will be much too long.
Paddle a tandem sit-on-top as a family
A six-year-old may enjoy assisting with paddling a tandem sit-on-top kayak with competent older siblings or parents on calm water. They get to paddle but they don't have to be good at it yet and they get to be with others.
If your child is able and willing, I would ALWAYS recommend that you get them a little child-sized kayak SO THEY CAN EXPERIENCE THAT JOY AND DISCOVERY OF PADDLING ALONE.
It is amazing to give them that experience of independence and freedom. It is incredible what it does for the self-esteem of kids.
They don't get as many opportunities in this culture to do things on their own as most of us did as children. Not only do they have fun paddling around and jumping into the water only to climb back on and jump in again, but they are exploring nature, getting off of screens, and getting exercise.
I feel like I've been able to give them more freedom on the river paddling a kayak than I can by riding bikes because of living on narrow busy New England roads.
Watching my kids learn to kayak and what it opened up for them was truly impressive to me and won me over to the child-sized kid kayaks. That's why we decided we wanted to help other families get their kids started with kayaking early by trying a kid kayak when they are 4, 5 or 6-years-old.
So far we have multiple friends who went and bought kid-sized kayaks for each of their little ones after they came and saw their kids play and paddle on our kayaks!
Important considerations for taking six-year-old kids kayaking:
Six-year-old children benefit from going kayaking because it gets them out in nature and using their own body.
It's not important how much they can do. In the beginning, don't expect more than ten or fifteen minutes of paddling. Very soon it will turn into hours of delightful exploration.
Just let them do what they can and keep it very simple and fun and they will want to come back next year (and the next) for more!
Be safe, wear life jackets and take it slow and easy.
Have fun outside spending time in nature together.
Wishing your family many adventures on the water together!
Almost six years ago we moved into a little New England house with a river in the backyard and quickly discovered the joy of kayaking kids.