10 Fun Kayak And Canoe Games On The Water

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Kayaking and canoeing can be great fun in and of themselves. But if you’re spending a full day on the water, having a few kayak and canoe games in your back pocket can add some friendly competition to your day.

Kayak and canoe games are especially useful for camp counselors or anyone working with youth groups. If you want to avoid the almost-inevitable “splash war” with your group, study up on these 10 fun kayak and canoe games you can play on the water!

Fun Kayak and Canoe Games On The Water

  • Race To A Dozen
  • Sticky Situation
  • Animals Galore
  • Kayak Frisbee
  • Scenery Sums
  • Gunwale Bobbing
  • Tea Party
  • Kayak Basketball
  • Relay Race
  • Swap It

Jargon Buster

In this section, we’ll detail a few important terms that will help you better understand the ten fun kayak and canoe games we’ve detailed below!

Bow

The bow is the front of the canoe or kayak.

Stern

The stern is the rear section of a canoe or kayak.

Gunwales

Gunwales are the fancy term for the sides of a canoe or kayak.

PFD

PFD stands for ‘personal flotation device’. Some of us came to know these as “life jackets” when we were young.

Kayak Safety Tips

Kayak and canoe games make being on the water super fun. But it’s still important to follow these kayak safety tips so that everyone goes home healthy!

Wear A Properly-Fitted PFD

Wearing a properly fitting PFD is a must when kayaking or canoeing. This is true no matter how accomplished paddlers are as swimmers.

There’s simply no reason for kayakers and canoers NOT to wear a PFD. And your PFD should be properly tightened and secure at all times.

The vast percentage of injuries and fatalities that occur when kayaking or canoeing happen because the paddler wasn’t wearing a PFD (or wasn’t wearing a PFD properly). Make sure all game participants have their PFD properly fitted before getting out on the water.

Establish Clear Boundaries

As a facilitator, you should be very clear about the boundaries of the area in which the game will be played. This will, of course, vary slightly depending on the game you’re playing.

Nevertheless, you’ll want to be able to keep an eye on all of your paddlers as they engage in one of these kayak or canoe games. Establish clear boundaries so that you don’t have to keep your eye on paddlers in an impossibly-large area.

Create A Freeze Word

This can be thought of as a safe word that alerts all game participants to a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. It’s important for you to be able to communicate any safety issues with participants when they do arise.

And if you don’t take the time to communicate how you plan to get participant’s attention, it will take longer to do so than it should. Whether you create a freeze word or use a long whistle blast, establish a clear way to pause the game at hand and get everyone’s attention.

Fun Kayak And Canoe Games On The Water

1. Race To A Dozen

This game is best played with canoes or two-person kayaks. Some supplies that you’ll need for this game include your boats, paddles, a whistle, and a number of balls that can float.

With everyone on the water in their respective canoes or kayaks, each vessel is a team. Each team should be given a floaty ball and a clear “game master” should be identified.

The object of the game is to be the first team to accumulate a dozen points. Teams accumulate points by completing tasks assigned by the game master.

Before each round begins, the game master explains the task that teams must complete. Upon the blast of the whistle, teams compete with one another to be the first to complete the task.

The tasks used in this game should have the underlying goal of teaching paddlers new skills that they can use on the water in the future. Here are some examples of tasks you can assign:

  • Switching positions in the kayak or canoe without falling out
  • Throwing the ball to hit a stationary object or another kayak/canoe
  • Paddling their vessel in a complete circle
  • Flipping out of their kayak/canoe, righting it, and climbing back in
  • All teams throw balls into the water and retrieve a different team’s ball

2. Sticky Situation

This game works with either three solo paddlers or six tandem paddlers. You’ll need your canoes/kayaks, paddles, a whistle, and a full roll of duct tape to play Sticky Situation.

Setting the boundaries of the area is really important for this game. Get creative to set reasonable boundaries so you don’t have to oversee an exceptionally large area.

Next, cut four twelve-inch pieces off the roll of duct tape and give two to each team. These pieces of tape should have about four inches of adhesive still exposed so that paddlers can attach them to the bow and stern of their vessels.

Once each paddler (or team) has a piece of tape on either end of their boat, ask them to paddle in opposite directions to create space between them. On your mark, get set, and blow the whistle to start the game!

The team that collects the most pieces of duct tape from other boats is the winner. As a facilitator, you can either set a time limit for this game or declare a winner once a certain number of tape pieces are collected.

3. Animals Galore

This is a great game to play as your group is taking a break from paddling. Get everyone together to a reasonable distance for everyone to hear you before explaining the rules.

This game starts with one person saying the name of any animal. The second person must then say the name of another animal that starts with the last letter of the first animal’s spelling.

For example, if the first person says “kangaroo”, then the second person must name an animal that starts with the letter “o”. Continue taking turns until no new animals can be named.

The last person to name an animal is the winner of the round and can then start a new round with a new animal name. For variety, you can add adjectives describing the animals for an extra challenge.

4. Kayak (or Canoe) Frisbee/Football

This game is a water-based adaptation of Ultimate Frisbee played on land. It’s a great game for larger groups of paddlers, but it’s generally recommended to limit teams to groups of 10 or less.

To play this game, you’ll need kayaks, paddles, a whistle, and a frisbee or football that floats. Make sure you set clear boundaries for this game so that paddlers don’t get too far apart and cause the action to slow to a crawl.

A good distance for this game is to have “end zones” that are about 100 to 150 feet apart. Separate the group into two teams and have them gather on either side of you, the facilitator/referee.

The goal is to pass the ball back and forth amongst your team members until you reach the end zone. When the ball is on your canoe or kayak, you should be limited to a small number of strokes before you must pass it again.

The facilitator can set this “paddle stroke limit” and it should be clear that the ball must be caught inside their kayaks. If the ball drops into the water, it is turned over to the opponent.

Opponents can intercept the ball as it is being passed between boats, but clear rules about what their paddles can (and can’t) be used for should be established. Points are awarded every time a team reaches the end zone and the facilitator should set a point total that signals a clear overall winner.

5. Scenery Sums

This game is a kind of variation on the age-old “I Spy” game popularized on road trips. It’s another good game to play with larger paddle groups and doesn’t require any additional supplies.

To play this game, pick an object that you can see frequently along the banks of the waterway you’re paddling along. Examples of objects include fish, birds, and certain species of trees.

This game works best with teams of tandem paddlers. The person in the bow of the canoe or kayak can count objects off the right side of the vessel while the person in the stern counts objects off the left side.

For an added challenge, the facilitator can pick an object labeled as a “taboo.” This can be any object but should be something that occurs much less frequently than the object the participants are counting.

When participants see the “taboo” object, they can call it out and, in doing so, wipe out the running tally for the other team. Distraction plays a large role in this game to add a level of mischief.

6. Gunwale Bobbing

This is a great kayak and canoe game for hot days! It also comes with a higher risk than some of the other games, so be sure to follow our safety tips above before facilitating this game.

This game is played with two players in one kayak or canoe. It can, of course, be played by multiple teams at once, but players are competing against their paddle partners.

It is best to remove paddles from the equation for this game so that there are fewer moving parts. The object of the game is for paddlers to be the last one standing on their vessel, so everyone should be prepared for a refreshing swim.

Set this game up by having the paddlers stand up on their kayak or canoe, balancing on the gunwales, and face each other. One should be in the bow and the other in the stern.

Their goal is to bob, wiggle, and do anything else to get their partner to fall into the water, aside from actually touching or shoving them. The winner is the paddler who can remain standing the longest.

As a facilitator, you can feel free to create additional rules and establish a point total at which a clear winner will be declared. This is a great canoe or kayak game to teach paddlers how to balance and fall into the water properly, as well as how to climb back into their kayak or canoe once they’re in the water.

7. Tea Party

This game is best played in a canoe. Your participants will have to be prepared to swim, as the first instruction for this game is to turn the canoe or kayak upside down in the water.

This traps an air bubble underneath (and inside) the canoe. Participants swim under and hold onto the gunwales as they experience what it’s like to be inside an air bubble.

This is a more educational canoe game and it’s really important to set a time limit of no more than 90 seconds for this one. For an even safer version, tip the canoe in shallow water where you can stand and simply duck under to experience the air bubble phenomenon.

8. Kayak Basketball

This fun kayak and canoe game is great if you’re paddling with a fleet of canoes and kayaks. The canoes will be identified as the “baskets” and the rest of the kayak paddlers are the players.

You’ll also need some sort of floating ball (such as a tennis ball) to play this game. For an added challenge, you can even have multiple balls in play at once during the game.

Much like Kayak Frisbee, be sure to establish clear boundaries for this game. Separate kayakers into two teams before starting gameplay.

The object is to get as many balls into the basket(s)/canoes as possible within a certain time limit. As the facilitator, make sure to clearly set rules for how paddles can (and can’t) be used, as well as whether or not kayakers are allowed to leave the cockpit(s) of their vessel.

For an added challenge, the “baskets” can remain in motion throughout the game. This way, kayakers are competing against other kayakers, as well as against those pesky moving targets!

9. Relay Race

This canoe and kayak game is a great time-filler. It’s also a great way to challenge paddlers to see who will take home the award for “fastest paddler on the water” for that day.

If you have a number of buoys available to you, it’s nice to set up a clear course that kayakers and canoers have to complete. Relay races can be set up in a down-and-back format or a loop circuit.

Separate the group into two teams and clearly explain the layout of the course. Rules should include where they need to turn around, how they can “tag” their next boat to begin, and anything else that pertains to your unique setup.

Make sure you have something handy to time the event, whether it’s a phone or waterproof watch. For an added challenge, you can set up a shorter course and have paddlers complete the race without using their paddles (hands only!).

10. Swap It

Our last game requires the most props of any game on this list. It’s also best played with larger groups so that there’s plenty of game action.

To play this game, you’ll need a number of objects that participants are going to collect. Some examples of objects include sunglasses, rocks, pool noodles cut into pieces, and extra PFDs.

For the best results, you’ll want a collection of each object that numbers the same as the number of paddlers in your group. For example, if you have six kayaks or canoes in your group, you’ll want to start with six of each item.

Each kayak or canoe is its own team and each is assigned to a specific object. One team will collect sunglasses while another collects rocks, and so on.

The first team to collect all of the items to which they’ve been assigned is the winner. This is a game of strategic trades and a great way to help paddlers hone their maneuvering skills.

Paddlers must maneuver their vessels next to another vessel and negotiate trades. Each exchange should be a one-for-one trade.

The kicker for this game of maneuvering and trading goods is that kayaks or canoes must not make contact in order for a trade to be completed. If vessels touch as teams try to set up for an exchange, they must attempt a trade with a different team before circling back to the team with which they made contact.

Our Pick – Kayak Basketball

Kayak basketball receives our top nod because it’s one of the best games to keep a large group of paddlers preoccupied for a solid chunk of time. It also doesn’t require many additional supplies.

Another advantage of kayak basketball is to give paddlers exposure to maneuvering kayaks and canoes. As the game unfolds, you can have paddlers switch from kayaks into canoes (and vice versa) so that multiple groups get the chance to be the “baskets.”

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