A Guide to Paddleboarding Safely with a Child on the Board

Paddleboard
Jennifer Morrow / Getty Images

If you’re a parent who enjoys standup paddleboarding, you know the conflict between wanting to enjoy your hobby at the high level you're used to, and the wish to introduce your young kids to the sport. Unlike many outdoor water sports, paddleboarding is really a solo endeavor, and it becomes a different activity when you bring your child onto the board with you. Some parents simply don't bring kids along until they are old enough to paddle on their own boards, but others do set aside time to bring kids along, acknowledging that these are "play times," not the same kind of paddleboarding they usually enjoy. 

It is quite possible, though,  to take a young child onto your paddleboard and still have fun—provided you follow certain habits for safe and comfortable paddleboarding.

01
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Make Sure You Are a Competent Paddleboarder

Autumn Paddleboarding
Sunset Paddleboarding. © by Getty Images / Paul Hawkings

Before bringing a child onto the board, you should be an experienced and competent paddleboarder yourself, stable on the board in all kinds of conditions. Adding an extra 40 to 50 pounds will dramatically affect the balance of the board, and you'll have trouble if you don't yet have the skills to manage your own weight. 

Make sure you learn to paddleboard proficiently before you take a child on the paddleboard with you.

02
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Use a Paddleboard That Is Large Enough and Buoyant Enough

Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Sign
A Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Sign across from Causeway Islands Park. Photo © by George E. Sayour

Paddleboards are rated for a certain paddler weight, and being mismatched to your board causes problems. If you’re too light for the paddleboard, turning and steering will be affected; if you’re too heavy for your board, balance will be an issue.

When paddling with a child, make sure you choose a board appropriate for the combined weight of you and your child.

03
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Choose a Safe Place to Paddleboard

Paddleboarding with Child
Paddleboarding in between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island off of Causeway Islands Park. Photo © by George E. Sayour

This should be common sense: choose protected water conditions when paddleboarding with a child. Small lakes, calm beaches, and protected bays are all great options when taking your child paddleboarding.

Small, protected body of waters make it possible to quickly locate and reach your child should a fall occur. Stay away from places with waves and currents when paddling with your kids.

04
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Make Your Child Wear a PFD

Child PFD
A parent puts makes sure his child is wearing his pfd. Photo © by Susan Sayour

Because standup paddleboarding evolved from the sport of surfing, it's fairly common for adult paddleboarders to practice their sport without wearing a PDF (personal floatation device). For adults, this is a personal choice. But when it comes to your children, there should be no choice at all: make sure they ALWAYS WEAR A PFD while paddleboarding. 

Even for a child that swims well, emergencies can happen while paddleboarding with an adult. In the event of a fall, the board can hit the child on the head, or the child might become momentarily trapped under the board. Or you might accidentally hit the child on the head with your paddle. Or the child might accidentally swallow water. 

Any of these, as well as other events, can create an emergency situation for the child, and a PDF can prevent such as situation from becoming a tragedy.

05
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Make Sure Your Child Can Swim

The Pelican Sport Solo Kid's Kayak
The Pelican Sport Solo Kid's Kayak. George Sayour

Unlike kayaking or canoeing, paddleboarding comes with an inherent risk of falling into the water. It is essential that your child has good swimming skills before they join you on the paddleboard.

A PDF can sometimes fail to float kids in an upright position, or it may become loose in the water. Your child should be comfortable in the water and be able to demonstrate good swimming conditions before they are allowed on your paddleboard.

06
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Seat Your Child on the Board First

Paddleboarding with Child
Paddleboarding in between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island off of Causeway Islands Park. Photo © by George E. Sayour

It's very difficult to bring a child onto a paddleboard if you're already on it. Instead, seat the child on the paddleboard first. If you want, give them some time to practice getting comfortable on the board, moving from a seating to a kneeling position. Let them get familiar with the balance of the board, then get the child seated firmly, just to the front of where you normally stand on the board. 

07
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Begin Paddling From the Kneeling Position

A Child Kneels on a Paddleboard
A Child Kneels on a Paddleboard. © by George E. Sayour

After the child is firmly seated, climb on the board from the back and move forward to where you will eventually be standing. Begin paddling from a kneeling position to ensure that you and your child are comfortable with the balance of the board.

It will take some experimentation to determine the proper balance point. Your standing position will be slightly behind where you usually stand, in order to balance the extra weight of your child. Every board will be different, however.

Once you are comfortable paddling from the kneeling position, you can move to a standing position. Once standing, maneuver slowly and steadily, in whatever manner is practical and safe for the circumstances. 

08
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Have Fun!

Child on Paddleboard
A child learns to paddleboard. © by George E. Sayour

Enjoy these moments together. It won't be long before you are teaching your child to paddle their own board.