Are Tandem Kayaks Hard to Use? (Everything You Need to Know)


Kayaking is one of the most popular water sports out there, so it’s no wonder that paddlers want to enjoy this experience with a partner on a tandem kayak. First time paddlers are often curious as to how difficult it is to paddle a tandem kayak with a partner. They want to have a basic idea of what to expect before heading out on the water.

Paddling a tandem kayak is manageable, but generally harder than paddling a single kayak. It’s common for tandem kayak paddlers to encounter difficulties synchronizing paddle strokes with a partner, identifying mistakes in their own paddling technique, and maintaining stability while solo paddling.

These complications, along with several additional difficulties, are discussed in greater depth below. However, it’s important to recognize that not everything about tandem kayaks is hard to use. The easy things to use about tandem kayaks are also described in the latter portions of the article.

Things that Make Tandem Kayaks Hard to Use

To start off, we’ll first analyze the exact reasons as to why tandem kayaks can be fairly difficult to paddle at times, especially when compared to single kayaks.

Synchronizing Your Paddle Strokes with a Partner Can Be Complicated

Tandem kayaks are specifically designed for the purposes of paddling in pairs. From an outside perspective, kayaking in tandem seems easy enough. It can almost appear as though seasoned kayakers encounter no difficulty at all when they paddle on the water in a twosome.

Unfortunately, sustaining a proper synergy between your paddling partner and yourself is a lot easier said than done.

If you’re a first timer, you’ll inevitably run into some bumps in the road when attempting to match pace and steer in sync with your partner. You might accidentally collide your paddle with your partner’s, or unknowingly paddle against your partner’s intended direction (source). This issue is especially prevalent with kayaking partners that are at contrasting fitness or experience levels.

Those that have developed a habitual fitness routine will have a much smoother time adjusting to the rigors of kayaking. People that don’t work out on a regular basis are not conditioned whatsoever to the physical stresses of paddling, so they’re far more likely to fall behind.

As far as experience goes, it takes time and patience on the part of a veteran paddler to help a novice paddler establish a set rhythm on the water. It’s irrational for a veteran paddler to expect a beginner to keep pace with them right from the get-go.

Novices simply haven’t had enough paddling exposure to set a steady tempo for themselves. They’re also completely unaware of exactly how the kayak reacts to basic paddle strokes, like the sweep stroke or draw stroke for instance.

The best way to combat this issue is through repetition. By continually venturing out with the same kayaking partner, you’ll eventually develop a strong chemistry with them. It may take some minor mishaps along the way to reach this point, but that’s the price you have to pay to make tandem kayaking near effortless.

Hard to Pinpoint Where Your Paddling Technique is Going Wrong

In addition, riders in tandem kayaks don’t receive immediate feedback on their paddling strokes, which makes it harder for them to steadily refine their paddling technique.

Since single kayaks only permit one rider at a time, riders have the benefit of knowing exactly how the watercraft reacts to their paddle strokes. This instantaneous feedback allows first time paddlers to better learn the paddling mechanics, since they’re granted the freedom to experiment through trial and error and understand which paddling techniques are effective and which aren’t.

First timers that venture out with a partner on a tandem kayak don’t have this luxury. If they make a mistake while paddling, their kayaking partner can cover up their mistake. Since the kayak is reacting to both of the riders’ paddling strokes, the watercraft’s movement is far less receptive to the first timer’s paddle strokes.

In a way, it may seem like this is supporting the first time paddler since their partner has the ability to compensate for their unpolished paddling form. Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite effect when it comes to learning. This overcompensation effect enables a beginner paddler to develop bad kayaking habits, leading to more paddling efficiencies and greater energy expenditure in the long run.

Once a first time kayaker cultivates bad paddling habits, it can be extremely difficult to undo the damage that has been done.

Solo Paddling on a Tandem Kayak is Possible, But More Challenging

Some kayakers only have tandem kayaks available to them and, as a result, must paddle solo in this bigger, clumsier watercraft. Due to the fact that tandem kayaks are designed exclusively with a paddling pair in mind, it can be somewhat complicated for solo paddlers on tandem kayaks to navigate through uncooperative waters.

Fortunately, there are ways to make tandem kayaks more conducive to solo paddling, such as adjusting the rear seat position forward more toward the kayak’s center of gravity. Even with clever adjustments such as this, however, tandem kayaks pale in comparison to single kayaks when it comes to solo paddling.

There are multiple reasons for this, with the foremost being a lack of stability.

Since there aren’t two riders available to equally distribute the kayak’s weight along the water, it’s considerably harder to maintain a proper boating trim. Often times, the bow lifts up and out of the water because the majority of the solo paddler’s weight is concentrated toward the kayak’s stern.

This may not seem like that big of a problem, but the less contact that the bottom surface of the kayak makes with the water, the less stable it will be.

Moreover, substantially more energy will be required for a solo paddler to travel long distances in a tandem kayak as opposed to a single kayak. Not only will the trim of the tandem kayak be an issue, but the added weight and length of a tandem kayak can complicate maneuverability. To combat this issues in mobility, paddlers are almost always forced to compensate by plunging into their valuable energy reserves.

Transporting a 75-100 lb Tandem Kayak is Exhausting

The supplementary weight and length of tandem kayaks don’t just complicate things on the water. They can make things harder on land as well.

To put things in perspective, single kayaks generally weigh anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds. Contrast this with tandem kayaks—which typically weigh in the range of 50 to 75 pounds—and you’ll immediately feel the difference when lugging that extra mass around (source).

Given, tandem kayaks are meant for two paddlers, so you’ll likely have someone available to give you a hand. On the off chance that you’re in charge of transporting the tandem kayak on your own, this definitely can be a major hassle.

Investing in a proper car rack system and physically ferrying a 50 to 75 pound tandem kayak to shore is doable, but it’s certainly more inconvenient than carrying around a single kayak. Although this may not interfere with the actual paddling itself, it’s something you may want to consider before committing to a tandem kayak.

Finding a Reliable Partner to Paddle with is Harder than You Think

Lastly, it can be hard to uncover a paddling partner that shares your level of enthusiasm for kayaking.

When you go off on your own, you don’t have to worry about planning out an expedition beforehand and aligning your free time with your partner’s free time. You can be as spontaneous as you want to be, venturing out on solo kayaking trips whenever you feel like it. Sadly, tandem kayaking trips require at least some semblance of planning to properly coordinate with a partner.

Even if you do manage to put some plans in place, you or partner may not feel like kayaking on the particular day that you scheduled. With all the time you spent planning and coordinating, your kayaking fever may have already withered away. Sometimes, it’s easier to take advantage of your kayaking fervor on a solo mission.

On the actual kayaking trip itself, you and your partner may want to split up and explore independently after a few hours. Tandem kayaks limit your options in this regard, making it difficult for paddlers to adapt their plans on the fly.

Although tandem kayaks do offer paddling partners some quality bonding time on the water, occasionally this time can be a bit too extensive. In fact, tandem kayaks have earned the infamous nickname of “divorce boats” in the paddling community because of the petty disagreements that periodically arise between the front paddler and the rear paddler (source).

Obviously, disharmony between a paddling pair can make tandem kayaks rather difficult to use, so make sure your partner is a good fit for the type of kayaking journey you have in mind.

Things that Make Tandem Kayaks Easy to Use

Luckily, there are several positive elements of tandem kayaks that help to counteract the negative aspects we’ve just discussed. Although these user friendly aspects aren’t enough to outperform single kayaks in their ease of use, they’re still worth considering.

Tandem Kayaks are Generally More Stable than Single Kayaks

If you compare a tandem kayak and single kayak side-by-side, you’ll observe a tangible difference in the length and width between the two kayaks. This difference in structural specifications contributes to a subtle difference in the stability between these two types of kayaks.

Since tandem kayaks inherently make more contact with the water, they’re less likely to flip over as a result of abrupt changes in weight distribution. Its wider base makes tandem kayaks solid and secure in calm, flat water conditions.

As a quick reference, the majority of tandem kayaks exceed 30 inches in width. Most single recreational kayaks only have a width that falls between 26 and 30 inches (source).

Ultimately, the level of stability may vary slightly from one tandem kayak to another based on the hull design and manufacturing material quality. However, paddlers can safely make the assumption that a tandem kayak will have more stability in flat water compared to a single kayak.

Allows Novice Paddlers to Team Up with Veteran Paddlers

Another thing that makes tandem kayaks easier to use is the fact that beginning paddlers can join forces with more experienced paddlers. This affords novices a rare opportunity to get helpful pointers from a savvy veteran who’s been in their position before.

Many people underestimate the importance of this, as they automatically assume that kayaking is an intuitive skill. Although the kayaking basics are somewhat easy to grasp, first time kayakers can still learn a great deal on how to improve their paddling efficiency and maintain a straight, direct course.

To maximize this benefit, the least experienced paddler should be placed in the front while the most experienced paddler should be placed at the rear. This way, the rear paddler can keep a watchful eye on the front paddler and offer constructive criticism as needed.

Plus, this also allows the weaker paddler to set the pace of the kayaking trip. It’s much more convenient for the rear paddler to let the front paddler take the lead in this regard. If the rear paddler were to establish the pace, the front paddler would have to look back constantly to stay in sync. This particular seating arrangement benefits all paddlers involved, which makes for an easier paddling trip as a whole.

Extra Space Allows for Additional Cargo Storage

Furthermore, another useful aspect of tandem kayaks is the excess storage space available for long kayaking expeditions where additional gear is necessary.

First and foremost, you should know that most kayaks have a limited amount of storage space available (source). This is especially true of single kayaks. For this reason, paddlers in single kayaks have to be very strategic as to what to bring along and how to pack it in the storage compartment as efficiently as possible.

Sometimes, single kayakers are forced to abandon items simply because there isn’t enough space available. Not only can this be irritating, it also has the potential to make your kayaking trip slightly harder if you have to leave behind accessories like paddling gloves, sunglasses, or water bottles.

On most occasions, you may only need a tad more storage room to dramatically increase the quality of your trip. You never know when a few extra energy bars or a repair kit will come in handy. Plus, it’s definitely reassuring to know that you have these things in tow if there’s an emergency.

Only One Passenger Needs to Paddle to Keep Moving

In single kayaks, you have to keep paddling at a constant pace to reach your desired destination, particularly if there are no currents to carry the kayak along. This sustained effort can be draining if you’re paddling for long hours.

With tandem kayaks, only one paddler is needed to propel the kayak along. Given, two paddlers working together simultaneously will move the kayak at a much faster rate than a single paddler working alone, but sometimes one paddler needs to take a small break.

This fact makes tandem kayaks much easier to use, especially for adolescent or senior paddlers that tire quickly. If paired with a strong paddler, their partner can help pick up the slack and keep the momentum of the kayak going in the right direction.

These temporary rest periods may not seem like much, but they can make a big difference over the course of an extended kayaking trip.

Paddlers don’t have this option in a single kayak. If they stop paddling, the kayak will come to a dead stop in flat water conditions.

Adequate Room to Bring Your Dog Along for the Ride

Lastly, tandem kayaks are far easier to maneuver if you want to bring your dog as company. Those of you that don’t have a dog may overlook this fact, but the dog lovers out there reading this will definitely take this reason into account.

Since single kayaks are designed to be compact, so there’s typically not sufficient room for another passenger to tag along, even if that passenger is a dog. Tandem kayaks, on the other hand, have a lot more open space where dogs can rest.

For instance, dogs can settle themselves in the area in between the bow seat and the stern seat. This way, they can enjoy the sights just like you without actually interfering with your paddling strokes.

This occurrence may be attainable in a single kayak, but it’s definitely a lot less comfortable. Having your dog sit on your lap for the first five minutes of a kayaking trip may be bearable, but after a while it can eventually be troublesome to deal with.

The Bottom Line

Tandem kayaks are fairly simple to manage, but they’re definitely harder to navigate than single kayaks. With persistent effort, you should be able to develop a steady rhythm with a paddling partner within just a few kayaking sessions. If you’re patient and come in with a positive mindset, your first tandem kayaking session is bound to be a good one!

Sources: 1 2 3 4

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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