A Family Ocean Kayak Adventure In Canada

The time with your kids outdoors can be really magical. Integrating them into the natural world is good for them and can be rewarding for you as a parent as well. Some parents wonder just how far to go in leading young children out on trips, especially overnight trips. Trying to figure out those boundaries and come up with places that are safe and appropriate for children can be challenging. Ultimately, the decision comes down to your comfort level as a parent, so having some basis for challenging your comfort zone can be helpful. We will look at some of the issues and relate them to kayaking in the Broken Group Islands on the west coast of Canada.

What is the best age to start taking your kids out? I have met families that take their wee infants out on multi-day canoe trips. The families had a lot of experience in canoes, so they had enough knowledge and skill to be able to deal with any emergency. Being able to give the needed amount of time to your children is critical. If you have no experience, you will be putting all your attention on figuring out what you are doing. I have taken my 9 and 11 year old kids on a five day trip to the Broken Group Islands in single kayaks. To many, this would be uncomfortable, but I have enough paddling experience to be able to give them a safe trip. I will go over what I did to prepare them and myself for this great trip.

  1. Do you know the abilities of your kids? Although I had no original plan to take my kids to the Broken Group, it was a good natural progression for them. I made sure to take them out a number of times in kayaks, pushing their progress along the way, so they were well prepared for this trip with me. I started them off as the second paddler in double kayaks to give them the feel of paddling and being in a kayak. My partner and I were the main paddlers in each double kayak, so we had no problem getting around. This was a three day trip, with two nights out, all along the eastern shore of Vancouver Island in the Johnstone Strait. The next progression was to get them into single kayaks. After a couple of day paddles, they took a week long kids kayak camp to learn some basic skills. They paddled a couple of more day paddles, picking up more skills before we took our trip. By the time we went to the Broken Group, they were very comfortable in single kayaks and used to carrying a bit of the gear around. My kids and I want to hike the West Coast Trail together, and this may be a next progression, however, kayaking requires more ability on my part to look after them in the possible scenarios that can develop on the water. Hiking requires more stamina from the kids.
  2. Do you know your own abilities and skills? You will need to be able to bring a good set of skills to bear on your trip with your kids. I was comfortable taking my kids into the Broken Group, even with a couple of 2 nautical mile crossings. I knew their paddling abilities, I knew my rescue skills, and my ability to deal with on-water emergencies. Even if I had not had a good amount of training for my own benefit, I would have taken a good multi-day kayak skills course to prepare myself to take my kids out on my own. If my partner had come along, we could have stretched things even further because I could have shared the load and attention on the kids. So, one of my considerations was whether I could deal with everything on my own. You may have to get yourself up to speed with an activity before taking your kids out. I paddled the Broken Group with my partner before this trip, so that I knew what to expect. You may want to consider asking someone else who has the skills whether they will come along to help out with areas where you are weak. When I consider the West Coast Trail for my kids, I am only reticent about their ability to hike the long days with a good amount of weight on their backs. I know their camping skill levels are high and my abilities are good.
  3. Where can you take your kids? Areas that are appropriate for your kids and your family abound. The biggest question is what level you will conquer in your quest to take your kids out. A big part of managing this consideration is limiting the activity and area to what is appropriate. You may not be comfortable kayaking with your kids in the Broken Group. There are water taxis, float plane services, and guide services in the area, so you may want to head off to a base camp with kayaks and paddle close by with your kids, then get picked up again at the end. Being well aware of both their abilities and your abilities will help you decide this. I chose the Broken Group because they have a great many islands grouped well together, providing sheltered paddling; they have a sheltered starting point in Toquart Bay; they have good communication access by cell phone or VHF radio; and they have a tremendous amount of sea life to fascinate the kids. I knew I would probably avoid the outer islands, but once in the group, we could try out some different challenges, such as travelling in fog, making small crossings, and peaking out into a little ocean swell.
  4. What activities can you do with your kids? Part of picking an area is also picking what you do there. If your kids cannot handle a pack, then go on day hikes in the area. Maybe you pick an area as a precursor for a more challenging trip in the future. If you have prepared your kid, then find an area where you can do the activity at their level. There are trails with short distances between campsites that would be great for kids. There are also a great many paddle destinations that can fit any family?s skill set. Canoeing is a good experience for kids. Day trips or shorter multi-day trips work with kids if the structure, skills and support are there. Just be aware that your kids may whine about how long you travel, but can usually cover a lot more ground than they let on. In the Broken Group, we had three 4 mile days and they whined every mile. We stayed at one site for two days while it rained on us incessantly. On the third morning, they protested and urged me to take them back home to dry out. I warned them that it was an 8 mile trip back. They totally rose to the occasion, did not whine, and ended the trip by helping put three kayaks onto the van and load up all the gear. Of course, I had some backup plans along the way just in case, but they completely surprised me with what they could do. If you are committed to an activity or to getting your kids out into the wilderness, then you will do what it takes with them to progress them into it.

Many of the benefits of taking my kids into the Broken Group are intangible. I cannot measure them or see them, only feel them. I certainly forged a new, stronger bond with my kids on this trip. Being able to forage in the tide pools with them, pulling out shells, moon snail casings, crabs, and interesting driftwood was really magical. Watching them challenge themselves paddling their own kayaks in more open waters was truly awe-inspiring. I left that trip with a deeper love for my kids having connected with them in a new, intense, and intimate way. They finished the trip with a much higher sense of their own abilities, of their skills at handling difficult situations, and a closer connection to me. The Broken Group Islands are a great family ocean kayak destination on the west coast, if you are prepared. If you take small steps with your kids and plan how to increase your skills, introduce skills to them, and find great places, you can also have the kind of incredible experience with your own kids like I did with mine.