How to Choose the Best Kayak for Your Family

7-minute read

Are you looking for the best kayak (or kayaks) for your family? Different options can work, depending on your season of life.

mom and son kayak together in a tandem sit-in kayak

(Photo courtesy of @blazin_paddles)

Do you have babies, toddlers or preschoolers? Active elementary or middle-school-aged kids? Teens?

Maybe you're an empty nester looking for the ideal setup to take your grandkids kayaking.

There are kayaks for all those life seasons! The perfect choice depends on your unique situation, your experience level, the waters you'll paddle and your budget.

Let's take each season one by one and look at the ideal choice for each:

The Best Kayak for Families with Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

For families with very young children, the best choice is a two-person kayak (known as a tandem kayak). Both parents can sit in one kayak with room for the youngest tikes to sit with you.

Preschoolers can sit in the front seat alone with a parent in the back. This is especially fun if they get their own pint-sized paddle to "help" move you along. Or give them a special "kayak bucket" with some floatable toys to keep them occupied (consider tethering it to the kayak in case it gets dumped overboard!).

Don't plan on long trips at first—keep them short and fun so your kids equate kayaking with a good time.

Tandem kayaks can get very long and heavy. So another option is for a parent to have a solo kayak with an open cockpit large enough for a small child to sit with you. A sit-on-top model gives a little more room, but is harder to keep an adventurous tot contained.

little boy paddles an adult size sit-in kayak

(Photo courtesy of Headwaters Kayak)

Ideal Kayaks for Families with School-Age Kids

Once kids are old enough to sit alone and handle a paddle, they can actively help in the front of a tandem kayak. Those who are confident in the water (swimming lessons are a big plus) and have some experience paddling will be ready to steer their own single kayak.

Kids as young as 4 and 5 can successfully paddle themselves in a safe water environment (small, shallow flat water is the easiest) with close supervision. It works very well to tether their kayak to yours so they can paddle or not during your time on the water.

Once they're in the upper elementary grades and into middle school, many kids will be able to handle adult-size boats.

Be sure to teach them the basic paddle strokes so they experience success. Stick to water that fits their confidence and skill level.

Of course, if there are just two of you going out, a tandem still works great with your school-age child. Switch positions occasionally for a change of scenery and to give your child stern experience.

NOTE: We'll mention here that if you'd like your entire family in one boat, consider a canoe instead of a kayak. A 16 or 17-foot canoe can fit two adults and 3-4 smaller children with ease, depending on the boat’s maximum weight capacity and the size of your family members.

Kayaks that work for Families with Teens

Teens can handle any kayak an adult can, especially ones who have grown up on the water. Some may prefer a tandem so they can kayak with a friend or sibling with independence from parents. Others are happiest in a solo kayak.

The number of people in your family, the amount of storage/transportation space you have, and your budget all determine how many kayaks you'll end up with. A kayak trailer may end up being a worthwhile investment at some point.

family on shore ready to kayak in a couple of tandem sit-in kayaks

(Photo courtesy of Evolution Expeditions)

Kayak Options for Grandparents

Grandparents, your options depend on the ages of your grandkids too. Review the preceding sections and decide what fits your family use the best.

An important factor to consider is how much storage space you have. Also, what options are there for easy transport and loading? Do you have a trailer or will need you to tie it/them on a vehicle top? Those are all questions to ask yourself to help you make your decision.

Another important factor is the weight of the kayaks you'll use. The older we get the more important light weight is. Consider inflatable models or hardshell models made with composite materials like carbon fiber for less weight to haul around.

Sit-On-Top or Sit-In Kayak?

A sit-inside and sit-on-top kayak each has its pros and cons.

Sit-inside kayaks are usually faster on the water and less cumbersome to maneuver. This is especially true when you get into mid-range boats. They're designed for performance and long distances.

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed for stability. They're a little wider than typical sit-insides and so are slower on the water. If your kids love to swim, sit-on-tops make perfect jumping platforms and it's easy for them to climb back on.

Another option is a paddle board that has a kayak seat. Some boards are designed as hybrids, and with others you're able to buy an after-market seat to strap on. This works essentially like a sit-on kayak but can also be used—by you and your kids—as a stand-up paddle board.

Should You Choose a Hardshell or Inflatable Kayak?

If storage space is at a premium, consider one or more inflatable kayaks. They require a few minutes to inflate with a hand pump and then deflate, but then can be stored in a closet and transported in your car's trunk.

Inflatables from reputable kayak makers will last for years. An inflatable tandem kayak works well for a parent and child or two older kids to paddle together.

(NOTE: Inflatables need space and time to dry thoroughly before they're stowed away.)

On the other hand, hard-shell kayaks require no maintenance, other than to store them out of direct sunlight. If you have the space to store, it doesn't take much to install a rack system. Cam straps make it easy to secure them on the top of your vehicle or kayak trailer.

It's important you know each kayak's maximum capacity before you buy. If you put more weight in than recommended (people and gear), the kayak will be more unstable and you risk a capsize.

a very little child in an adult sized sit-in kayak

(Photo courtesy of Headwaters Kayak)

What About Fishing Kayaks?

Are you a fishing family? A great choice for you are kayaks designed for fishing.

While you can fish out of any kayak, those designed for anglers have all kinds of handy features like fishing rod holders, a comfortable seat and areas to store tackle boxes and other fishing gear.

Kayaks designed for anglers are most often sit-on models and come in single or tandem. A tandem fishing kayak is ideal for parents who want to teach their youngest kids how to fish along with them. Once they're old enough to paddle themselves, consider buying them a mid-level fishing kayak they can grow into.

Family Kayaking Safety

The most important safety feature of any kayaking adventure is for every family member to have a PFD (Personal Flotation Device or life jacket) that fits them well and that each one wears every time you're on the water.

Stick to water environments that are within your paddling skills. Small lakes, shallow water and slow-moving rivers are the best to begin with.

Once younger kids can paddle on their own, consider a tether line between theirs and your kayak. This gives them the independence they crave while keeping them within reach in case they need help.

Kayaking is a wonderful, healthy and fun way for families to spend time together while getting outdoors to enjoy nature. We hope this has inspired you for many years of happy paddling!

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you...