Last week Kendra and I took 16 kids from our Outdoor Adventure Club canoeing in a local state forest. For most of the kids, it was their first time in a canoe. Like every other time we’ve taken kids canoeing, it was awesome! And thankfully, uneventful. I credit part of our good luck to these 5 tips for canoeing with teens.
We make sure to bring the group gear – dry bags, first aid kits, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, and extra water – and our outdoor adventurers bring their own gear, food, and water.
However, you can’t assume kids will know what to wear and bring, especially if they have never canoed before. We let our outdoor adventurers know our expectations ahead of time so they can prepare. What they don’t have, we borrow from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunity Program. (Including the canoes and paddles!)
What to Wear
- layers! base layer + insulation + rain jacket
- waterproof shoes if it’s cold, sandals if it’s warm
- a hat for sun protection
- gloves in colder weather, or if you are going to be paddling for a long time
What to Bring
- food and water – stay energized and hydrated!
- bug spray
- ziplock bags to keep things dry
- extra dry clothing
2. Cover the Basics
Before you push off onto the water, make sure you introduce everyone to the parts of a canoe, basic strokes, and safety expectations!
Parts of a Canoe
It’s important to teach the parts of the canoe, especially the bow, stern, port and starboard sides. This way if a boat gets too close to shore, or to another boat, they will understand any directions you give. One easy way to reinforce the parts is to hand each kid a sticky note labeled with a canoe part, and have them stick it on the correct place.
Again, covering the basics before you are on the water will prepare the kids for any mishaps. We start by covering how to pick out the correct sized paddle – put the blade on your shoe, and the handle should fall between your chin and nose. Then, we show proper grip – one hand on the top of the paddle’s grip, the other on the throat of the paddle (just above the blade). After everyone has chosen a paddle and mastered the grip, we cover a few basic strokes – forward, pry, and the J-stroke.
When taking lots of teenagers on the water, it’s important to cover safety expectations and rules!
- Everyone must wear a PFD (personal flotation device)
- No standing in the canoe
- Watch for debris and/or rocks in the water
- Be mindful of other canoes – no crashing into each other
- Keep far enough from the shore not to get stuck in the mud
- Stay with the group
- Don’t be so loud you wake the wild animals
We tend to canoe on ponds, but if you venture onto rivers or other waterways, make sure you know the traffic pattern before setting out on your adventure.
3. Practice Rescue Techniques
Sometimes canoes tip over. Ideally, this will never happen, but if it does, it’s important for the kids to know how to flip their canoe back over and get inside. We teach the T-rescue technique – using an upright canoe to empty a flipped canoe of water, and then help the swamped paddlers back into the boat. It’s especially fun on warm summer days when the kids want an excuse to swim!
4. Play Games!
Capture the Flag
Put a piece of duct tape on the bow and stern of each boat. Have the kids paddle after each other and grab the duct tape off the other boats, while protecting their own. The last boat with their duct tape intact wins!
Tug of War
Have two canoes face each other, and the front person in each boat hold onto a rope. Everyone else in the canoe tries to paddle backward as hard as they can. The first boat to pull the other over a predetermined mark wins.
Give the kids a soft, squishy ball they can toss. The boat with the ball is “it,” and they need to chase the other boats and toss the ball into another canoe. If they succeed, that boat becomes “it,” and the game continues.
This one is great for hot days when the kids want an excuse to jump in the water. Have each kid balance on the gunwales of the boat. The goal is to get boat people standing without one or both falling into the water.
5. Enjoy the Scenery!
Every so often, put the paddles down and just float. Have the kids look around them. If they are anything like our outdoor adventurers, the surrounding nature will be thrilling! We spotted one frog hidden along the shore and you would think we’d found a unicorn. They were all so excited by everything – the lily pads, the graceful blue herons sweeping across the pond, the flowers and plants, and the stillness of the water.
And don’t forget to bring your camera! (In a ziplock bag or waterproof case.)
Canoeing is an incredible way to get teens active and interested in the environment. So get out your paddle and head to the water! What tips and advice would you add?