Paddle boarding is a water sport that can be enjoyed by anyone – even toddlers and children! Taking your child out on the water can be a fun and exciting time for both of you; however, there are precautions you should take to ensure the safety of you and your child.
Some tips for paddle boarding with a child are:
- Make sure your little one is comfortable with the water.
- Have your child or toddler sit on the paddle board while it is on land.
- Only take them out on calm waters.
- Make sure that your paddle board is large enough to fit both of you.
- Have your child wear a personal flotation device at all time.
- Be sure that you are a competent paddle boarder.
Paddle boarding with children can be a thrilling experience as long as it is done safely and properly.
Make Sure Your Child is Comfortable with the Water.
Toddlers are often not able to swim. Because of this, it is important to make sure that your child is not afraid of the water.
Some ideas for getting your child used to water include:
- Dipping their feet into the edge of the water
- Sitting them on the edge of the water and letting them splash
- Walking them into the water to let them see that it is not dangerous
Some children may not immediately take to the water. If that is the case, do not put them on your paddle board. They can become agitated in the middle of the open water and it can put them at risk of falling off the board. Once you know that your child is comfortable with the water, it is okay to take them out on the paddle board.
Have Your child Sit on the Paddle Board While it is on Land.
Before bringing your child out in the water on the paddle board, you should have them sit on your paddle board in full safety gear and let them get a feel for the balance they will need to stay in place. It’s just as important for the infant to feel safe on the paddle board as it is that they feel safe in the water.
You can even hold the paddle board in shallow water once they are used to it to let them experience the movement of the board in the water. This can help them develop the coordination they need to remain stable on the board.
Only Take Your Kids Out on Calm Waters.
When you take any of your young offspring paddle boarding with you, it is imperative that you only go out in calm waters, like lakes or ponds. Do not venture into rivers, surf breaks, or other areas that are known for having strong currents and choppy or rough water conditions. In Brighton, where I’m from, the water can be choppy even on sunny days, so the SUP families are mostly found at inland lakes like Hove Lagoon or Horsham watersports.
But, before you set out, make sure to check the weather. This is because, even if there is a lot of wind in the forecast or a rainstorm is headed your way, it can even cause these inland lakes to be too rough for paddling with infants and children.
Make Sure That Your Paddle Board is Large Enough to Fit Both of You.
Paddle boards only work properly if there is a particular amount of weight on them. Check to see if the board is large enough to fit both you. Then, make sure that it supports the weight of both of you.
Sometimes, the weight can be too low or too high. It is wise to also check the buoyancy of the paddle board with the combined weight of you and your child. Not enough weight on the board can affect steering, and too much weight on the board can affect balance.
Have Your Infant Wear a Personal Flotation Device.
While adults may choose to not wear a personal flotation device (PFD), it is not an option for children – children, especially infants and young children that cannot swim, must wear a PFD (personal flotation device) while paddle boarding.
There are a few different styles of PFDs that you can choose from.
- Front zip jackets zip in the front and have foam on both sides of the zipper and in the entire back.
- Side zip jackets zip on the side and have full foam plates on the front and back.
- Over the head vests are a quick foam buoyancy aid that goes around the neck.
You can try to different styles on your infant to see which one fits the best. Infants also have swimsuits available so that foam can be inserted into, to make them into flotation devices. While style and type of PFD you choose are up to you, the decision to put your child in a PFD is not. Infants and toddlers must always wear a personal flotation device.
Be Sure That You are a Competent Paddle Boarder.
If you are planning to bring your infant out on your paddle board with you, you must be certain that you are competent enough at paddle boarding for keep the two of you afloat and safe while you are on the water. Paddle boarding adults that are still beginners should not bring their children on the water with them.
Be aware that your muscles will be working a bit harder paddling the extra weight, and you may tire faster. Make sure that you have mastered your paddling technique, your foot placement, and your bracing stances.
Child Safety Scenarios and Why They are Important
Another helpful tip that parents should consider before they paddle board with their child is to run through multiple scenarios in their head to gauge whether they are ready to deal with any random danger that could happen.
Some scenario questions you can ask yourself are:
- Your infant has fallen off of your paddle board and is drifting away in his life jacket. Are you able to paddle to your child, or is the weather too windy? If you feel that the weather is too windy, you should not go into the water with your infant.
- Are you coordinated enough to get your infant back onto your paddle board without falling off into the water yourself? If you do not think you can pull this off, you may not be ready to paddle board with an infant.
- If you aren’t wearing your own PFD and your child falls into the water, can you swim to rescue him? If you cannot swim and are out on the water with your child, you must also wear a PFD at all times.
- Look around the entirety of the water. If there a surf break, rough water, or rip current nearby that your paddle board can enter into? If not, you should be okay.
- Are you physically fit enough to handle paddling the extra weight for the amount of time you plan to be out, or will you become too tired and unable to assist your infant in an emergency situation? If you are not fit enough to remain strong and focused, it’s not wise to bring your child into the water.
There are a number of scenarios that can happen while you and your infant are out on the water – many of them you may not even think of. However, it is wise to cover your bases and make sure that you are able to handle typical risky scenarios that may happen while you are paddle boarding.
Dressing Your Infant (and Child) for Paddle Boarding
Not only should your infant be equipped with a PFD before he or she heads out onto the water with you, but there are other things your child should have before paddle boarding, like sun protection and proper coverings for the temperature.
PFD – The Most Important Clothing Item
Personal flotation devices have already been mentioned in the initial tips for paddle boarding with your infant, but they are so incredibly important that mentioning them again is necessary. PFDs are the one item that your infant or child should never go without while on a paddle board or in the water.
In fact, the U.K and U.S. Coast Guard mandate that all children wear PFDs on a paddle board because it is classified as a water vessel. Adults are not required to, but all children must. In addition to know the Coast Guard’s mandates, you should familiarize yourself with your state and local rules regarding PFDs as well.
Choosing a PFD is up to your child’s weight and preference. Your child’s ability or inability to swim may also affect your choice of PFD. There are a large variety of PFDs to choose from.
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Most SUP paddle boarders wear standard PFDs. These are flotation devices that typically use foam for buoyancy and look like a vest.
- They are low-maintenance. Just keep it dry and out of the sun when not in use.
- They are always buoyant. They do not need to be activated to work.
- They are versatile. Standard PFDs are great for many other water sports as well.
- They normally have pockets. You can stash things like sunscreen or snacks in them.
- They can get hot. If you are paddle boarding in a very hot area, you may want a cooler PFD.
- They are bulky. They can feel restrictive and may affect paddling.
Inflatable PFDs are a newer form of personal flotation device that can be used for SUP paddle boarding as well. They remain uninflated until they need to be inflated for buoyancy. There are two different kinds of inflations – manual, which requires that you pull a cord to inflate it, or automatic, which inflates when it is submerged in water.
- They are very comfortable. Because they remain uninflated until needed for buoyancy, they do not restrict movement and are comfortable to wear.
- They are cool. These types of PFDs aren’t thick and don’t cover so much of your body that they heat you up.
- They must be inflated to be an effective PFD. Manual inflation could be impossible if you are knocked out. Automatic inflation can mess up and not work.
- They require maintenance. You must make sure that the carbon dioxide cartridge in the PFD is replaced after every single inflation.
- They are not suggested for children under 16, non-swimmers, or high-impact water sports.
Choosing the Right Size
PFD size for adults is determined by your chest size. However, PFDs for children are chosen by their weight.
- 8 to 30 pounds will wear an Infant PFD.
- 30 to 50 pounds will wear a Child PFD.
- 50 to 90 pounds will wear a Youth PFD.
PFDs boast many different features. Some features that are helpful for paddle boarding adults and children are:
- Pockets – PFD pockets can hold your sunscreen, snacks, or even your keys!
- Color – Bright colors help your child remain visible in the water and on land.
- Tabs – Tabs can allow you to attach lights and safety whistles to your child’s PFD.
- Reflective Tape – This is helpful for visibility when you are in a low-light scenario.
- Ventilation – Ventilation is very important in hot locations – especially for infants and children, so they do not overheat.
Your infant should not only be outfitted in a PFD, but he or she should also be fully outfitted in water-resistant gear that is suitable for the temperatures you are paddle boarding in.
Items that your infant can wear for paddle boarding include:
- Reusable or disposable swim diapers
- Wetsuits made just for infants
- Rash guards
- Infant board shorts or swim shorts
- Water shoes
- Hats or caps
- Sunglasses or goggles
- A regular swimsuit
Safety Items – Leash, Light, and Whistle
You should be tethered to your paddle board with a leash; however, your child should not wear a leash if he or she is under 5 years old because of a tangling hazard. As long as you are properly tethered to the board, you can get your infant and yourself back to safety in the case of falling off.
A light and whistle may not serve much purpose for an infant, but as your infant gets a bit older, they can use these to help them be located easy in the case of falling off of the paddle board. Even toddlers can be taught to turn on a safety light and blow a whistle.
Protecting your infant from the sun is incredibly important. Infant skin is not as resilient as adult skin when it comes to ultraviolet rays, and they can suffer extremely bad sunburns if their skin is not protected.
Some ways to protect your infant from the sun are:
- Apply sunscreen on your infant before the outing and then throughout the outing – usually once every hour or hour and a half.
- Purchase paddle board or swim clothing that includes SPF protection. There are wetsuits and rash guards that boast sun protection.
- Keep a hat and sunglasses on your infant while they are on the water.
One tip for easy sunscreen reapplication, especially when you are out on the water, is to purchase a high-quality spray sunscreen for reapplication purposes.
Choosing a Paddle Board Suitable for You and Your Infant
As mentioned before, it is imperative that you use a paddle board that is able to work properly with and support both you and your infant’s combined weights. Most basic, beginner paddle boards will support up to 200 pounds and may be able to support both you and a child.
However, it is much wiser to opt for a paddle board that can hold much more weight. Some paddle boards can hold up to 500 pounds and are able to ride an entire family! Lighter boards tend to be almost too easy to steer, and heavier boards can be more challenging to steer.
Some other details about paddle boards that you should be aware of are:
- There are two types of paddle board hulls (or fronts). One is the displacement hull for leisure paddling, and the other is the planing hull for racing.
- There are also two body types of paddle boards. One is a stiffer and heavier (but more durable) foam and fiberglass body, and the other is a lighter and easier to manage body made of PVC.
- Boards can be as little as less than 9 feet in length to over 12 feet in length.
- The fins on your paddle board will affect the speed and stability of the board.
Knowing these details about paddle boards, there are 4 things to mention when it comes to riding a paddle board with an infant, specifically.
- A displacement hull would be the best for riding with your baby because it is designed for leisurely paddling.
- Infants may rather the PVC paddle board because it is softer on their bodies. However, this may differ with preferences.
- You want to make sure your board is long enough to comfortable fit a sitting infant and a standing or kneeling adult.
- Purchasing a paddle board with fins could be helpful for the added stability it gives to the paddle board.
Some great paddle board ideas are:
Bluefin SUP 10’10” Voyage Stand Up Paddle Board Kit
Bluefin calls this their “ultimate stability board.” At just under 11 feet long and 38” wide, it is large enough for an adult and child. The kit is complete with paddle, leash, pump, and carry bag. Blue boards are well-regarded in the space, and we covered more of their line in this review article.
Bluefin boards are a little pricier than many you will find on Amazon, but, like most things in life, you do get what you pay for. Higher quality and durability will result in greater longevity and higher tolerance for bumps and scrapes.
FunWater Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board 11’ – (4.3/5-stars on Amazon)
This paddle board is made from an ultra-light construction dual layer PVC with an extra layer of PVC board rails that are strengthened for extra durability, inflates up to 11’ by 33” by 6”, holds up to 330 pounds, is great for all skill levels, and comes with a 60 day money-back guarantee, a 1 year warranty on materials, and a 30-day risk return. The board is packaged with an adjustable aluminum paddle, a high pressure pump, a backpack, a coil leash, a repair kit, a 10L waterproof dry bag, and 3 removable fins.
How to Launch Your Paddle Board Safely with an Infant or small child
Typically, solo paddle boarders will wade out into knee-deep water, pull themselves up onto their paddle board, paddle into deeper water with their arms, move into a kneeling position, and then move into a standing position during their board launching and body stabilization – in that order.
However, having an infant with you changes the way you will launch your paddle board. You now have another passenger that is seated right where you would normally pull your torso onto during a solo launch.
To launch your paddle board with your infant on board, follow these steps:
- Seat your infant on the board first. Let your baby get a feel for where he is for a bit. He may move from a kneeling to a sitting position over and over for a bit getting his balance.
- Once your infant is seated and relatively still, you can slowly move your paddle board into water that is about mid-calf to knee-high.
- Reach your leg over the board and straddle the board – remain standing. Slowly lower yourself onto the board, adjusting yourself as you feel the balance of the board shifting. Once you are fully seated, let the board regain its stability.
- When you feel that the board and your infant are properly balanced, slowly move each leg up one at a time and get into a kneeling position behind your infant. Again, make you, your infant, and the board are completely stable.
- Some parents may choose to paddle board while kneeling with their infants, so you can stay in this kneeling position if you’d prefer.
- If you want to move into a standing position, raise each foot one at a time and place them flat on the board. Make sure your chest stays low and your back stays bent. Then, slowly raise your chest up and straighten your back. Once your chest is almost upright, raise yourself by the knees to a standing position.
- When you’ve successfully reached the standing position, allow the board, your infant, and yourself to stabilize, then you can start your paddling adventure!
Important Safety Tips to Always Remember When Paddle Boarding with Your Child
Paddle boarding with your infant should be a mesmerizing and beautiful experience, but it can only be amazing if you are safe!
Safety tips you have to remember when paddle boarding with your children are:
- Make sure your child has a properly secured PFD on, and wear a properly secured PFD yourself to set a good example.
- Always check the forecast before going out onto the water.
- Storms can happen with little to no warning at time. If you are caught in a storm with wind, do not paddle against the wind. Sit on your board and hold your child securely. Paddle when the winds change in your favor.
- Always double check that the weight of you and your child does not exceed the weight limit of the paddle board. Additionally, you must make sure that you and your infant don’t weigh too little for the board to be properly paddled. (For instance, if you and your infant weigh a total of 185 pounds and the paddle board is built to hold 500 pounds, it may be too hard for you to steer because of lack of weight.)
- Leashes are not recommended for children that are under 5 years old. However, some children may be able to handle leashes before 5 years old. If you feel that your child would benefit from a leash and does not pose a high tangling risk, it is up to you if you tether them to the board with a leash or not.
- Paddle board with a group of people or at least another paddle board of people. There is safety in numbers.
- Always make sure that your child is properly dressed for the temperature of the air and the water you are going into. Understand that the water may be significantly colder than the air around you.
Paddle boarding with children requires a pretty lengthy checklist in order to ensure safety so you and your child can enjoy an exciting outing together.
Remember the two most important things before going out on the water with your infant – never put your infant onto a paddle board without a PFD and make sure you are a skilled enough paddle boarder to keep you both safe.
Being able to properly prepare your infant and yourself for paddling and knowing how to protect and recover you both from paddle boarding accidents is absolutely invaluable information.