Life on the water changes when children are added to the equation. Once we accept that hard truth, we can move into the practical phase of figuring out exactly how to meet the outfitting challenges posed by aquatic family life.
Young families who still fit in one boat will best be served by big-volume, stable, high-sided expedition boats. High sides tend to keep the kids inboard, steadiness is key with shifting cargo, and roominess is necessary. With older kids who can actually wield paddles, you can consider a boat for each parent, paired with offspring. In this case, a somewhat smaller, all-purpose boat will meet your needs. Another option is the family flotilla, a strategy that employs a mother ship (raft, cataraft, etc.) and a bevy of kid-size kayaks.
A roomy tent with enough floor space for everyone, big windows, and height to stand in makes camping with kids luxurious. Once the kids get older, you can split up the accommodations with several smaller and more compact tents. Kids under two can sleep between their parents, or even with parents in zipped-together sleeping bags.
Several factors affect the way you split up and carry gear. Using a number of small packages has several advantages. It is easier to make use of every cranny of available space. You can give each child a duffel with their personal items. You can easily shift small parcels to adjust your boat trim line. If you aren’t on a trip with many portages, try using storage boxes. While their seals/latches aren’t absolutely watertight, they are good for carrying the more fragile items (stove, utensils, etc.) and double in camp as table/prep surfaces or chairs.
Kids are more likely than their parents to get wet, feel the effects of hypothermia, need extra changes of dry clothes, and be tough on equipment. For kids, look for clothing that is quick-drying, slightly large in size, and durable at the knee and seat. Make sure they have good water shoes, and an extra pair of shoes to change into at camp. Get good quality rain gear for them accompanied with a lightweight, quick-drying wind shell to protect kids from the elements. Protect your kids from the sun with a good hat and plenty of sun screen.
Kids need to be comfortable, content, and safe in the boats. Put them in comfortable seats; this will keep them off the floor and elevate them so they can paddle and see. Get them in the habit of wearing their PFDs at all times.
Being prepared and accepting the constraints and revelations of outdoor travel with kids can make paddling a fun experience for you and them.