What Is A Tandem Kayak & How To Use One: The Ultimate Guide

by Jason | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
What Is A Tandem Kayak & How To Use One: The Ultimate Guide


If you’re new to kayaking, there’s a chance that you don’t know what a tandem kayak is. You may have heard the word tandem before, or you may have seen people riding tandem bikes through town.

You may have even walked past a lake and noticed two people paddling on a kayak and wondered what the hell it is.

So, in this article, I wanted to spend some time explaining “what is a tandem kayak?” By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what it is, how to use them, and what the pros and cons are of having one.

Sound good?

Great, let’s get started:

What Does Tandem Kayak Mean?

tandem fishing kayak

Before we get into the ins and outs of tandem kayaks, it’s probably a good idea to explain what they are. Okay, what does tandem kayak mean?

In the simplest way possible, a tandem kayak is a kayak that can hold two people inside. This means you can have two people paddling the kayak, which can make things a little trickier (but more on that later)!

They tend to be between 18 to 24 feet long, making them more challenging to store and transport (learn more about transporting kayaks in a truck). But, if you don’t like being on the water by yourself, a tandem kayak is an excellent option for you.

Are Tandem Kayaks Hard To Use?

This is a question I hear a lot from people thinking about buying a tandem kayak but have never been inside one.

And it’s an important question to ask. Tandem kayaks can be pretty expensive, and you don’t want to spend all that money on something you struggle to use.

In some ways, using a tandem kayak can be more challenging. Things like paddling can be tricky to get the hang of, but you can actually pick up a lot of speed once you work out the synchronization.

The other thing people struggle with is maneuvering double kayaks, and this is due to the length.

So, in the following few sections, I’ll explain how to get inside the kayak, paddle the kayak, and steer it.

Sound good?

How To Get In A Tandem Kayak

Getting into a tandem kayak works in a very similar fashion to a traditional single-person kayak. And in many aspects, you could find it easy to get inside the kayak thanks to having an extra person to keep the boat steady.

But as with anything new, there are a few subtle differences we need to talk about when entering a tandem kayak. And that’s mainly because you need to get two people in the boat instead of one person.

So, how do you get two people in the kayak:

The person planning on sitting at the bow of the boat should be the first to get inside the kayak. While the person is getting in the front of the kayak, the stern paddler should be holding the kayak steady.

Once the bow paddler is in place and secure, it’s time for the stern paddler to get in position for the departure. 

The bow paddler should show the same courtesy by holding the kayak steady, so the stern paddler can easily get into the kayak.

Once both of you are in the kayak and feeling secure, you can push away from the bank and start paddling…

But how do you paddle a tandem kayak?

How To Paddle A Tandem Kayak

One of the things people struggle with when starting to tandem kayak is paddling. The thing is:

Paddling in a single kayak is very different from paddling in a tandem kayak. So, if you and your partner aren’t paddling correctly, you’re going to find it extremely difficult to continue in a straight line.

When paddling a tandem kayak, there are two things you need to think about:

  1. Paddle In Unison: The only way you’re going to be able to paddle a tandem kayak is to work together in unison. Doing this will help prevent the paddles from clashing while you’re moving forwards and generate more power. To paddle in unison, you’re going to have to practice paddling to the same rhythm.
  2. Strongest At The Back: If one of the paddlers is physically stronger, you should have them sitting at the rear of the kayak. The person at the front of the kayak should dictate the pase because it’s easier for the person at the back to modify their strokes.

Just these two tips can make your tandem kayaking experience a lot easier and help to avoid any falling out between paddling partners.

For a more visual tutorial, check out the following video:

Who Steers In A Tandem Kayak?

One of the biggest problems people face when using a tandem kayak is steering and turning the kayak. So, in this section, we’re going to be talking about who has to do what, so you’re under no delusion when you get out on the water.

When steering the kayak, you need the person at the stern (rear) of the kayak to do the work. They’re in the position with the most control of the kayak, so it requires less effort to get the job done.

NEVER have two people trying to steer the kayak; it’s going to make it a terrible experience!

But…

What about turning the kayak?

Tandem kayaks are never easy to maneuver when compared to single-person kayaks. They’re so much longer than traditional kayaks, making it a difficult task.

Luckily for you, there are two people in the kayak to do the job; and if you both know what you’re doing, you might find it easier to maneuver than a traditional kayak.

To make things better:

Some tandem kayaks come with a rudder, which can make your life much easier when it comes to controlling your kayak. But the rudder is only good for making some minor adjustments and helps you stay in a straight line.

So, if you want to turn your kayak around, it’s going to require some teamwork between you and your partner. 

To turn the tandem kayak, you’ll need the front paddler to paddle in a forward sweep on one side while the rear paddler performs a reverse sweep on the opposite side.

Check out the following video to see how it’s done:

If you both work together you can turn the boat surprisingly quickly, which is great for recreational paddling.

The Pros And Cons Of Tandem Kayaks

Tandem Kayak Pros and Cons

Okay, you know what a tandem kayak is and how to use them, but you don’t know anything about the pros and cons of owning one.

So, in this section, I want to talk a little bit about the advantages and disadvantages of owning a two-person kayak:

Pros Of Using A Tandem Kayak

There are many reasons why owning or using a tandem kayak can be very beneficial, so I’m going to list a few of them:

Better For Beginners

If you’re paddling with someone that’s never been kayaking before, then going tandem is an excellent option.

It can make someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in the water more comfortable than starting alone. 

Using a tandem kayak, you can safely and comfortably introduce people to the paddling experience. And it’s great to have someone being able to teach them how to paddle correctly without them having to worry about balance.

Perfect For Bonding Experiences

One of the great things about tandem kayaks is that you’re not by yourself. And this makes the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with friends, family, or colleagues. 

This gives you the chance to choose people you want to have fun with or learn more about, making it an excellent bonding experience. 

More Space For Gear

One thing people find tricky with single kayaks is the lack of packing space in the kayaks. And this is where a tandem kayak can be pretty beneficial. 

Tandem kayaks have a lot more space inside the kayak, which allows you to make a more precise packing arrangement.

Easier To Store

This might sound strange when you consider tandem kayaks are so much larger than single kayaks.

But you need to think about it this way:

If two people in the house regularly go kayaking with each other, you’re going to need two single kayaks to accommodate them. And it can be pretty tricky to find enough space for two kayaks in a garage.

But with a tandem kayak, you only need one kayak, which means you need less room for storing the kayak.

Excellent Speed And Stability 

Tandem kayaks are wider than most solo kayaks, making them extremely stable in the water. And this is great for people that don’t feel comfortable on wobbly kayaks.

And thanks to them being longer, they tend to cut through the water. And when you add that with two people paddling, you can really pick up some speed.

Cons Of Using A Tandem Kayak

As you can see above, there are some great things about owning/using a tandem kayak. But unfortunately, there are some disadvantages with them that we need to talk about.

Let’s take a look:

They Are Heavier

One problem people will find with them is that tandem kayaks are a lot heavier than single kayaks, making them harder to transport.

Good quality tandem kayaks can weigh around 80 lbs, so you’ll have to make sure you have someone to help you carry it. Because tandem kayaks are so heavy, it’s worth learning how to load a kayak yourself so you don’t hurt your back.

You Don’t Get Them Cheap

Another thing you should think about is that a quality double kayak doesn’t come cheap. So if you’re looking at it from a price perspective, then a tandem kayak might not be the best option for you.

That being said, buying two solo kayaks isn’t cheap either, so you need to think about what will work best for you.

They Provide Less Freedom

In a way, tandem kayaks provide less freedom than solo kayaks. It’s so hard to control a tandem kayak by yourself. And this really limits your freedom if you can’t find a partner to paddle with.

It’s A Learning Curve

Another con could be the learning curve you need to go through to control the tandem kayak. The two people need to work together to move forward, and it’s hard to understand how each other’s actions affect the boat.

The Dreaded “Divorce Kayak”

One of the last things is that they are jokingly known as “divorce” kayaks. And this is because tandem kayaks have the ability to make two people fight and argue about paddling and maneuvering. 

If you don’t want to “divorce” from your partner, you’re going to need a lot of patience and practice to get yourselves synced up with each other. 

But until then, it’s guaranteed you’re going to argue at some point, so be prepared for that before you go out.

Can You Paddle A Tandem Kayak By Yourself?

I mentioned earlier that it’s not easy to paddle a tandem kayak by yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

So, in this section, I’m going to give you some tips to help you paddle your tandem kayak without any assistance:

Try And Go With The Current

Paddling a tandem kayak by yourself isn’t an easy task, and one way you can make your life easier is to go with the current.

You shouldn’t have too many issues paddling against the current in a solo kayak. Even with two people in your tandem kayak, you should be okay.

But unfortunately, it’s too much to ask from one person in a tandem kayak.

Before you go out, make sure you check the local water conditions to see what’s going on with the water.

Adjust Your Seat

If you have a kayak with an adjustable kayak seat, you’re going to have to move it around a little bit to help you find the perfect position.

You need to try to position the seat close to the center and in a way that lowers your center of gravity. This will ensure you can maneuver the kayak easily without nose-diving or fish-tailing in the water. 

Use A Bigger Paddle

Paddling a tandem kayak by yourself is challenging, and one way you can make your life a little easier is to use a large kayak paddle. The larger paddle will help increase the power of your stroke and make up for the heavier hull weight.

Work On Keeping Your Core Tight

Core strength is a vital part of kayaking, but it’s even more important when you’re trying to solo a tandem kayak.

When you’re controlling a larger kayak by yourself, each stroke can displace your weight and lose your center of gravity. And the best way of dealing with this is by using consistent and powerful strokes while keeping your core tight.

You can learn how to improve your kayaking core strength with these simple exercises.

Make Sure You Use Short Strokes

When you’re paddling a tandem kayak by yourself, it’s best to use short, powerful strokes. You’re usually off-center when you’re paddling, which affects how your kayak performs in the water.

And this is why using short, quick, and powerful strokes is the best method of getting you gliding through the water.

Tandem Kayak Vs Canoe

kayak vs canoe

When people are thinking about buying a boat for two people, they are usually debating whether it’s best to get a canoe or a tandem kayak.

And without knowing anything about the two boats, it can make it a difficult decision to make, and that’s what this section can help you with.

So, in this section, I’m going to explain some of the differences between them and the pros and cons of the two styles:

Differences Between Tandem Kayaks & Canoes

Understanding the differences between the two crafts is essential when deciding which one you should purchase. So, let’s take a quick look:

Storage 

If you’re looking for maximum storage space, your best option is to use a canoe. They have much more space inside when compared to a tandem kayak.

The only benefit of using a kayak is that they usually have bungee rigging/tie-down points to secure your stuff if you capsize. And this is something some canoes don’t offer, so you need to have a think about that before you purchase a canoe.

Stability

There’s definitely a difference in stability you need to think about before making your purchase. But it really depends on what style of tandem kayak you’re thinking about getting.

Sit-inside kayaks tend to feel less stable, which can put newcomers to paddling off in open water. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be more stable, making them better suited for beginners.

And finally:

Canoes also tend to have less primary stability because the hulls are rounded at the bottom; this can make them feel very unsteady when you’re getting inside.

Paddle Efficiency 

There’s quite a large difference between paddling a tandem kayak and canoe, so it’s definitely something you need to understand.

One of the main differences you’ll notice with the paddles is kayak paddles has two blades, and a canoe paddle comes with one blade with a T-shaped handle on the other side.

This means the way you paddle the boat is entirely different, so you need to think about which method is going to suit you and your partner the best.

Many beginners will find it easier and more efficient to paddle a kayak. But, if you become experienced with a canoe paddle, it’s really just as efficient.

Tandem Kayak Pros & Cons

Pros
  • They feel very efficient 
  • Sealed storage spaces on some models
  • Tie-down spots for gear
  • Lighter & smaller
  • More comfortable
  • You have the chance of using a spray skirt
  • Easy for beginners
Cons
  • Less storage space
  • Less durable
  • Requires a lot of coordination between paddlers

Canoes Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Higher top speed
  • You sit higher out of the water
  • More protection from splashing water
  • Very Durable
Cons
  • More difficult to flip over when capsized
  • Less tie-down points
  • Harder to transport 
  • More technical to paddle correctly

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand what tandem kayaks are and how you use them. One of the best things about tandem kayaks is that they are so fun when using them with friends or family members.

Even when you end up disagreeing with who is paddling incorrectly, you can still look back at them with great joy.

If you’re looking for some buying options, check out these inflatable tandem kayaks and/or tandem fishing kayaks reviews if you are into fishing from a kayak.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Difference Between A Tandem Kayak And A Kayak?

The biggest difference you’ll notice is that a tandem kayak has two seats, so you can paddle with two people. They are also slightly heavier and longer than solo kayaks, making them harder to transport. 

Are Tandem Kayaks Stable?

You’ll find tandem kayaks are usually very fast and pretty stable, which makes them great for beginners to try out.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.