Can you canoe in a little boat build for two?

The title of this blog is the first song on the “Can You Canoe” album by the Okee Dokee Brothers. Great outdoor musics with witty texts to sing along to!


So, how did the canoe outing with a now 21 month old go? Splashy! Much better than 10 months ago. First, J does not mind wearing his Stohlquist Nemo life jacket, which is a bog improvement over the previous model. Part of it may be that he is really into figuring out buckles these days. When we took the canoe out of the garage, he was immediately climbing into it.

Once in the water, he did not mind joining us in the boat and immediately started to check it out. Dad was paddling in the stern. I had a strained back muscle and was not planning to paddle anyway. My seat in the bow facing toward the stern was perfect for supervising J directly in front of me. After 10 minutes of Dad paddling and J seriously observing proceedings, my little guy decided to start sticking his hand in the water. I corralled him in as best as I could. Same goes for J’s attempts to climb across the boat to Dad.

My paddle boarding colleague had already told me that all of his kids fell of the paddle board a couple times before they got the idea why it is a good idea to stay on board. All the more reason for us to test J’s life vest before one of his swim lessons in an indoor pool. We used that time to make sure we had all straps and buckles  tightened. Getting dropped into the warm pool water a few times from all kinds of positions is a good idea to check for good functionality, and often great fun for kids if they are familiar with the pool environment and being in and under water.

Anyway, the inevitable happened. As a recap, we were on the to us very familiar Russian River near Guerneville, which on that day had low water flow and a nice swimming temperature. While I always supported J standing in the canoe (he did not agree to sitting down) with at least one hand, I did take my eyes off of him for two seconds at most. I think I was checking out the shifted location of the shallows for Dad. With an amazing sense for timing, J chose this precise moment to bend over to look into the water. His heavy toddler head combined with the bulk of the life vest provided the perfect lever to pitch him headfirst into the roughy 68F/20C water.

The vest functioned as intended and tested. It immediately flipped J on his back and floated him toward the water surface. I could see J had held his breath and was staring up with eyes wide open. The forward momentum of the canoe had carried Dad to be right at J’s side when he reached the water surface. Dad lifted J into the boat, and that was that. What surprised me most was that  was not even crying. He was whining a bit, I think from the combination of an unexpected event and the invigorating dip. For the rest of our 20 minute trip, and also the next day, he stayed safely in the middle of the boat without my intervention. Once at the beach, J hopped out of the boat and right into the shallow water. There were rocks to throw into the water, ducks to chase, and parents to splash! J hopped right back into he boat when it was time to leave. The next day, he kept asking to go downstairs to the water, and was quite happy to go on another canoe outing with us. Hurray!

What went well:

  • J’s motor skills were at the stage where he had much better balance on the canoe. He runs now, when on our last outing he was still learning to navigate door threshold.
  • The better life vest design made J much more comfortable.
  • We went out right after nap and snack.
  • Fellow paddler parents had prepared us for the high likelihood of a kid-over-board event, and we had our safety ducks in a row to be prepared.

What can be improved:

  • I should have tested the fit of J’s sun hat before we left home. Toddler heads grow fast.
  • J needs quick-drying  swim trunks for sun protection. I have a hard time finding ones for under 4-year olds.


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