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Fun Kayak And Canoe Games

Mark Armstrong
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Looking for a way to add some excitement to your next kayaking or canoeing trip? Why not try out one of these fun family kayak games. 

These activities are great for all ages and can help keep you entertained while you’re on the water. So, grab your friends and get ready to have some kayak fun!

Kayakers are playing water gamesPin

11 Fun Kayak & Canoe Games For The Family

1: Kayak Football

Paddlers playing football in a lakePin
Courtesy: Robert Varadi on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kayak football can be a little different from regular football but it follows the same general idea. You’ll need to come up with a designated end zone for each team. You could use a net or similar item to mark out a goal line if you have sufficient equipment.

A point is scored when a player catches the ball inside the end zone.

Video: Kayak Football

The ball can be passed between team members by throwing. You can’t hold the ball while paddling but you can dribble the ball in the water by throwing it in front of your bow and paddling to it or by using your paddle to move it along. Members of the opposite team can intercept a pass by using their paddles to block.

You might want to color-code your teams so that the players are easier to identify.

What you need:

  • Kayak and a paddle
  • Soft football (that floats)
  • Whistle
  • Vests, helmets or colored stickers to determine teams

2: Paddling Race

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most fun. And racing can be fun for all ages and abilities. A paddling race can also be one of the easiest games to set up, with minimal extra equipment required. You don’t need to have specialist canoes or kayaks, unless you’re looking to compete at national competition standard or Olympic level.

First, determine where the race will begin and end. Depending on the body of water where you plan to race, you could mark out a straight section of water to race along, or you could map out a more elaborate route.

For straight-line races, you could add in an obstacle as a looping point to double the distance if you only have a small amount of space to work with.

For larger areas, you could include paddling around small islands or racing between two separate beaches on a lake.

Have someone blow a whistle to start the race. Alternatively, you could use a stopwatch to time each person in the race and the paddler with the fastest time wins. A stopwatch can be useful for longer races where the paddlers are traveling along a specific route.

What you need:

  • Kayaks or canoes
  • Whistle
  • Stopwatch

3: Relay Race

relay race tends to work best when you have plenty of participants. Remember, you’ll need to have at least two teams with at least two kayaks or canoes in each team.

For example, if you have four teams, you could have four boats in each team. Some of the players could be in tandem vessels if you have an odd number of people. But as long as the number of boats in each team is the same then it can still work.

However, your tandem paddlers may have an advantage, so you might want to take that into account when pairing people up.

Identify an object that can be passed between teammates, such as a floating bilge pump. It can be best to choose something that floats and is easy to pass between paddlers at a distance.

You’ll also need to communicate the route of the race to all the paddlers involved before someone blows the whistle to start the race. You could opt for a looped route around a buoy, rocks, or little island, for example. Or you might prefer a straight out and back route.

One boat will complete the lap before passing the chosen object to the next boat. The boat that receives the object can then complete the route and pass the object to the next boat and so on. The first team to have all their boats complete the route is the winner.

What you need:

  • Kayaks or canoes
  • At least four vessels
  • Floatable object to act as a baton
  • Whistle

4: Race To A Dozen

This can be a fun paddling game to play if you have two paddlers in each vessel. It can work with either tandem kayaks or canoes. The winner is the first team to win 12 points.

This game involves 12 challenges or tasks, with one point allocated for each complete task. An allocated leader can come up with the 12 tasks or you can decide together as a group.

Some of the challenges could include flipping your kayak and re-entering; paddling to a certain point and back; turning your kayak in a circle; if you’re in a canoe, switching seats with each other. You could also include paddling using only your hands as a task.

The challenges could be as entertaining or as educational as you want them to be. You could also involve other items, such as paddle floats, throw bags, or floating balls.

After the first team completes the first task, they win the point. The leader can blow a whistle or use an air horn to let the other teams know that the point has been won. Teams then move on to the next challenge and so on, continuing the “race to a dozen” points.  

What you need:

  • Tandem kayaks or canoes
  • Whistle or horn
  • At least two vessels

5: Gunwale Bobbing

This can be a fun game for the summer when the weather is hot and can be best played with canoes. The object of the game is to get your opponent to fall in the water. And the winner is the last one standing on their canoe.

Video: Gunwale Bobbing Cottage Championship

This can be a bit of a risky game so it might not be for everyone. And you’re almost guaranteed to end up splashing into the water, so if you don’t want to take a swim, this is probably not for you.

You might want to make sure you’re far enough away from any hazards, such as jetties or rocks. It can also be a good idea to keep your paddles somewhere safe and not nearby – you don’t want to get hit by a paddle during the process. It’s also a good idea to keep your life jacket on for this game.

The two opponents should climb onto the gunwales of the canoe, with one at the bow and one at the stern. Each player should wobble and bob in an attempt to shake the other player. The player who manages to stay on the longest wins.  

What you need:

  • Canoe
  • At least two players

6: Sticky Situation

This can be a really fun game if you have a lot of players but you’ll need at least three solo paddlers or three teams for it to work well.

Each boat is given two foot-long pieces of duct tape, with a few inches folded over at one end so that it can be easily grabbed. One piece of duct tape should be stuck to the bow of your kayak and the other piece should be stuck to the stern.

It’s best to survey the area beforehand so that you can set boundaries for the game. You don’t want to have to cover a huge area but, on the other hand, you don’t want to make it too easy by playing in a small area.

The amount of space you’ll need will likely depend on the amount of players and kayaks you have participating, as well as the paddling abilities of the players.

Once everyone is in their kayaks, with their pieces of duct tape attached, it’s time for everyone to spread out on the water. Once the whistle is blown, each team or solo paddler has to try to take as many of the opponents’ pieces of tape as possible. The winner is the one who has the most pieces of tape at the end.

To make the game more competitive, you can use a stopwatch and set a time limit to see who can gather the most pieces of tape in five minutes, for example. 

What you need:

  • Kayaks or canoes
  • At least three vessels
  • Duct tape
  • Whistle 
  • Stopwatch (optional)

7: Ultimate Kayak (Or Canoe) Frisbee

This can be an excellent game for larger groups. Ultimate kayak frisbee can be a great way to practice your skills, including your basic paddling strokes. The game is pretty similar to kayak football, but using a frisbee instead.

You will need to identify and mark out a “field” and an end zone at each end. You can use markers on land or buoys on the water to highlight the four corners of your playing area. Around six players or six boats can work best for each team but you can have more or less depending on the size of the area you have.

Each team starts the game on their own half of the field and the frisbee is placed in the middle. A non-player/referee blows the whistle to start the game and players can paddle to grab the frisbee. You’re not allowed to paddle while in possession of the frisbee, so the frisbee needs to be thrown to another teammate before you start paddling.

However, you can also add a three-paddle-stroke rule to make it easier, so no player can paddle more than three strokes while in possession of the frisbee.

Other players can intercept the frisbee in the air by using their paddles. The object of the game is to catch the frisbee in the end zone. For each pass/catch in the opposing end zone the team gets a point.

What you need:

  • Kayaks or canoes
  • Floating frisbee
  • At least two teams of players
  • Whistle

8: Clowns

This can be a really fun canoe game for warm weather on calm water. The object of this game is to see how many people you can fit in your canoe before it flips.

Start from the water. Each player should climb into the canoe from the water. The players who have already made it into the canoe have to keep the canoe balanced as each additional person climbs in.

If you want extra fun and you have a lot of people, you can use two canoes and two teams and see which team can get the highest number of people in their canoe. The winning team is the one that can get the most people on board without flipping.

All ages can and abilities can play this game but you might want to make sure everyone is wearing a suitable life vest. It can also be better to choose water that’s shallow enough for most people to stand in, especially non-swimmers, and make sure there are no hazards around, such as rocks or currents.

What you need:

  • Canoe

9: The Waiter Game

This can be a really fun game for all skill levels and it can help develop paddling skills and balance for all ages of paddlers. It can also be great for team building.

The game involves teams paddling with a full cup of water on the bow of their kayak from one point to another and then transferring the water from the cup into their designated team bucket. The first team to fill their bucket is the winner.

You should have at least two teams for this game, with at least two players in each team. The more teams, the more fun, and the more players per team, the better. You can use tandem kayaks with two paddlers in each, or you can use solo paddlers and work like a relay team.  

The distance you need to travel while carrying the cup of water should be determined and agreed beforehand.

What you need:

  • Kayaks or canoes
  • At least four players
  • Large cup (one for each team)
  • Bucket (one for each team)

10: Red Light, Green Light

This can be a fun game for kids and families, as it can help to build on existing paddling skills, helping to improve both starting and stopping speeds.

There are no set teams, so each paddler or vessel is playing for themselves. Kayaks or canoes start at a distance from the group leader, but still within earshot. When the group leader shouts “green light”, everyone needs to paddle as quick as they can toward the leader.

When the leader shouts “red light”, everyone needs to stop their vessels. If a player doesn’t stop paddling and fails to stop their boat when the red light is called, they are out of the game.

The winner is the first person to get to the leader.

Instead of shouting, you could also use a whistle or horn, with a single blast meaning the green light and a double blast for the red light.

What you need:

  • Canoes or kayaks
  • Whistle or horn

11: The Paddle Game

This game does not require you to actually be in a kayak or canoe. But it does require you to have a paddle. Each player needs their own paddle to play this game. It can be a good camp game for kids and family groups.

All the players stand in a circle holding their paddle in front of them. One end of the paddle should be on the ground and the other end should be in your hand. One person (a group leader) shouts a command, for example, “move to the right” or “move to the left”.

Each player in the circle then follows the command. The player lets go of their paddle and catches the next player’s paddle before it hits the ground. If a paddle hits the ground, both the player who tried to catch it and the one who let it go are eliminated from the game.

As the numbers begin to dwindle, the commands should change. For example, each player has to let go of their paddle, spin around once before catching their paddle. The winner is the last player remaining.

What you need:

  • One paddle for each player

Make Sure You Stay Safe

Wear A PFD

Whenever you take part in any sport or activity on the water it can be important to always wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device). Your PFD, or life jacket, should fit you comfortably and should be suitable for the type of environment that you plan to be in.

If you’re playing a kayak or canoe game that will likely end up with you being splashed or falling in the water, it’s best to wear a standard foam life jacket rather than an inflatable. An inflatable life vest will inflate when it comes into contact with water, which may mean it will inflate when you don’t want it to.

For families and groups with children, in most cases, it’s a legal requirement for kids to wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD while on any vessel, which includes kayaks and canoes. 

Set Up Your Boundaries

Before you play any game, it can be a good idea to get the lay of the land (or water, in this case) so you can lay out boundaries for your field of play. This means you may need to use landmarks on the shore, such as trees or rocks, or buoys or markers on the water.

For racing games that are more complicated than a simple straight line, you should map out the designated race route so that everyone taking part can follow the correct path.

For games, such as kayak football or kayak frisbee, you might want to opt for a smaller area over a larger one, so that it’s easier to keep an eye on all the boats. This can be particularly beneficial for groups of younger children who need to be supervised at all times while on the water.

Remember to make sure your area of play is safe enough for your particular game. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to have a game of Clowns or Gunwale Bobbing in a moving river. You should also scope out the area to make sure there are no underwater hazards that could cause a problem in the event of a capsize.

Have A Time-Out

As with most games that are not on the water, it can be useful to have a designated trigger for a time-out. Everyone in your group should know how to signal a time-out so that play can be stopped temporarily. This can be beneficial in emergencies, for example, if a member of the group gets injured or needs a minute to re-group. 


There are plenty of fun kayak games you can play whether you have two people or 30 people. Many of these games can help to boost confidence on the water, particularly for kids and beginners, and can help paddlers to improve their skills.

Remember to stay safe while you’re having fun, keep your life jackets on, and stick to waters where you and the rest of your group feel comfortable.

Maybe you have some inventive kayak games of your own that you want to share? Tell us about them.

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