Sea kayaking with kids

What does Responsible Travel recommend?

Although you might think that sea kayaking with kids might be stressful, it actually has the opposite effect.
If you go with a professional guide, you hand over the parental reins completely and allow them to do what they do best. Which means you get to take a back seat and mellow out on the water, either in a double kayak with your child, giving you that bonding in a boat experience.
Or go for a single sea kayak, allowing you to chill out and enjoy the experience just for you, while also enabling you to sit back and watch your children revel in the joy of paddling. And nothing beats that feeling.

Health & safety

Travel safely when SEA KAYAKING with your kids


  • If you or your children have any particular health needs, always tell your guide. Sea kayaking can be strenuous so, for example, if diabetes is an issue, be prepared, and always tell your guide. If they are good, they will have glucose in their first aid kits.
  • Sea kayaking is not considered to be an extreme sport for insurance purposes. That is more white water river kayaking.
  • Carry bug spray as shorelines can have sand flies, midges and mosquitoes in some locations, especially if you are wild camping in the evenings or going on sunset sea kayaking outings.
  • Ensure that you have a back support in your sea kayak and that your foot rest is well adjusted to keep your body in a healthy position.
  • If you suffer from motion sickness, it can hit you out on the waves sometimes. But this is rare. If it does, look at the horizon and if you are going to be sick, donít panic. Just do it. It has happened to the best of sea kayakers. Better out than in.
  • Some people worry they might be too old for sea kayaking, but this is one of the most gentle outdoor activities you can choose, beyond walking. And it is much easier on the knees anyway.
  • It is deceptive because you are on the water. But you will get dehydrated, so it is important to bring water with you on a trip.
  • You will be very exposed on a sea kayaking vacation, so sun hats and sun cream with a high factor is vital. Bring an extra layer with you too just in case you start to get shivery at the end of the day, or if the wind picks up.


Ask who your sea kayakers are affiliated with. The British Canoe Union, Irish Canoe Union, Canoe Wales and European Paddle Pass are some of the respected bodies you want to look out for. A good guide will have a level 3 qualification. If they only have level 1 or 2, they should only paddle in very sheltered and non-moving water, and no more than 50m from the shore.
A good question to ask a sea kayaking company is "what are your sea kayaking guide's ratios?" In other words, how many people they will take out on the water for each guide. This applies to boats rather than people, and anything from one to eight boats per guide is acceptable. There is a bit more flexibility in a sheltered bay.
Good kit is important too and, again, if the sea kayaking company is associated with an official body, they are more likely to have that. Helmets are a must when rocks and choppy water are going to be on your itinerary.
On long-distance sea kayaking trips good kayaking instructors will have made contact with coastguards to tell them your route and the number of people in the party.
If you are a nervous parent when you take your children on the water, donít be embarrassed about that. It is normal. Donít be afraid to tell the guides what you feel your, or your childís comfort levels are. They are professionals and know how to deal with every situation. So, if you get the wobbles because you think your child has gone too far, then tell your guide. Good ones will have a beady eye on all of you, and especially the children. And the top guides will also quietly reassure you from time to time.

If you worry that your child might get tired and not able to cope, all guides carry a rope and can give you a tow if necessary. This is normal and prevents exhaustion on the water.

In cold water environments, be extra vigilant regarding safety. In severe cold, if you are not well equipped with dry gear, safety equipment and radio contact, the rescue time can be reduced to as little as five minutes.

Tips for families asks the experts

Maria Kennedy, co-owner of our supplier Atlantic Sea Kayaking in Ireland:

"Jim gently takes charge when families are on the water, so that everyone can relax. We like to make a fuss of the kids, so that adults can take a back seat and relax."

Vedat Vural, owner of Alternatif Outdoor, one of our suppliers in Turkey illustrates the way to relax from the stress of parenting on vacation:
"I call our trips mind relaxing. Because the conditions are so ideal, you are able to discharge all your negative energy in our beautiful turquoise waters. Even when we are in the middle of the sea, I encourage them to jump out of their kayaks and into the sea. To refresh and reawaken. Not many guides do this, but families love this and it gives them a good chance to practice their personal skills."
Jim Kennedy, co-owner of our supplier Atlantic Sea Kayaking in Ireland:

"The best thing you can do is phone the kayaking company in advance and ask some basic safety questions. They should be happy to answer your questions about the quality of their gear, the qualifications of their guides."
Catherine Mack, our travel writer, mum and sea kayaking regular:

"Rubber/Neoprene boots are a nightmare to get on and off for sea kayaking. One tip, bring a bottle of oil, almond or olive, and rub a little on the feet before putting the boots on. Guaranteed tantrum free bootie moment. Other parents will nab it, so bring plenty."
Sophie Hurst, owner Preseli Venture, our sea kayaking supplier in Pembrokeshire, Wales:

"Although it is great if the parents help the kids get all the kit and equipment ready to go in the water, once they are out there, it is really helpful if they, how do I put it politely, back off a bit? Leave the instructing to us, because it is hard for the instructor to do his or her job then. Same thing goes for the husbands who try to teach their wives!"

John 'Caveman' Gray is our man on the water in Thailand:
"South Thailand is warm even when it rains. Camping is safe and comfortable here in our 'Million Star Hotel'. Bring mask, fins, snorkel and paddling gloves. Leave your parkas and boots at home!"
Jon Kellie, kayaking instructor and guide at Preseli Venture, Pembrokeshire, Wales:

"There is a lot of faff that goes with kayaking, because there is a lot of kit. You have to load the trailer, and get the boats to the water, do the capsize drill and so on. So if people are late at the beginning of the day, you do run out of time a bit. So my main tip for families is be on time, be ready and donít faff."
Xania Wear of Wear Active, one of our sea kayaking suppliers in Croatia:

"Sea kayaking is great for families because itís inclusive for everyone. We have double and single kayaks, which means that younger paddlers can sit in front of the kayak and take occasional breaks while parents do a bit more of the work. Everyone therefore has a chance to close to nature."

Vanja Kelemen, Huck Finn Adventure Travel in Croatia:
"We always make sure there is a great mix of activities so daily itinerary usually includes some hiking, cycling and sightseeing. The Adriatic Sea is warm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling too. Our trips are a week long, which gives complete beginners enough time to get used to their kayak and develop kayaking skills. We use single and double kayaks so kids can make sure their parents know what they are doing and keep them from capsizing."
Photo credits: [Child kayaking: Catherine Mack] [Kids in the sea: AnneCN] [Snorkelling: Jonf728] [Sightseeing: Les Haines]
Written by Catherine Mack
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