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What is a tandem kayak?

What is a tandem kayak?

When you're deciding to invest in a kayak, there are a number of choices to be made. One of these is whether you're going to be kayaking alone or with a partner. If it's the latter, you may want to consider a tandem kayak. As the word "tandem" suggests, these types of kayaks are for two people paddling together.

In this blog post, we take you through some key questions about double kayaks, beyond what is a tandem kayak, and why you may want to choose one over a single kayak.

Pros and cons of tandem kayaks

Firstly, let's explore some of the pros and cons of a tandem kayak rather than two solo kayaks.

Tandem kayak pros versus single kayaks

There are many pros to choosing tandem kayaks, so let's explore some of them:

For beginners

While we will discuss some of the challenges of controlling a tandem kayak below, they can still be a great option for introducing newcomers to kayaking.

Tandem kayaks are a great way to help beginners gain confidence on the water

If you have a new paddler who is not confident alone, tandems are a great way to help them gain some confidence, and begin to enjoy the experience.

Also, a tandem kayak is longer, and maintains its course more easily than a solo kayak. This can be very helpful for a beginner kayaker still getting used to the motions.

For storing

It might seem counterintuitive that storing a tandem kayak is easier than two one person kayaks. But handling one single tandem kayak is easier, even with the extra size involved.

Regardless, you will only have to store one kayak rather than two, making it a space-saving option.

Think about your storage space when choosing between tandem and single kayaks

For packing space

Tandem kayaks have more space for packing gear than a solo kayak, which is great for activities such as camping. This extra space is very convenient, whether you're paddling solo or with company.

For company

A tandem kayak is a good option for bonding with a paddling companion. Some paddlers find they enjoy the company of another, whether for confidence or closeness.

Working together to efficiently paddle the kayak is a great bonding experience.

Working together to efficiently paddle the kayak is a great bonding experience.

For your family

Tandem kayaks are a great option for your family - not only can your little ones join you, but the vessel is more stable than one person kayaks. They are also paddling with you, making it easier than solo kayaks to keep an eye on your child while on the water.

kayaking tandem kayak with a dog

A double kayak can handle a furry friend paddle buddy

If you don't have kids, what about taking your furry friend? It's a safe way to allow your dog to enjoy the adventure with you, too.

For stability and speed

While the extra speed isn't a given (we'll come to that!), the stability certainly is.

Tandem kayaks are wider, so simple physics tells us that they are more stable than their solo equivalents.

The larger contact area with the water makes it less likely that the boat will tip. The different centre of gravity means that you can even stand up in a tandem kayak without it tipping over!

Even larger one person kayaks aren't as wide as a tandem, meaning that they can't compete in terms of stability.

Turning to speed, because tandem kayaks are wider, you may be thinking they are slower than their solo siblings. However, the tandem kayaks are longer, often making them more aerodynamic. The hull shape also makes them more able to cut through the water, with less resistance.

Tandem kayak cons

However, there are also important cons to consider when deciding between solo kayaks or a tandem.


You may think that buying one tandem kayak rather than two one person kayaks would be cheaper, however that's not always the case.

A good quality tandem kayak will often have a rudder, making them more expensive than their single kayak counterparts. So, don't buy a tandem for the savings!


A good quality tandem kayak is heavy, and you will likely need two adults to help carry it. Depending on your planned adventure, this could cause problems with a single paddler or one with a child or furry friend.

Carefully consider what the extra weight means for your planned journeys.

Consider the type of adventures you'll be going on when choosing your kayak


Less freedom

Depending on what you plan to use your kayak for, a tandem kayak may offer you less freedom. If your paddle buddy doesn't want to join you one day, you may end up struggling to control the kayak alone.

If you want to maintain flexibility, you may enjoy an individual kayak.

Different learning to solo

Controlling a tandem kayak is a very different feeling to being able to control a single kayak. Because you're not the only one controlling the boat's action, it can be harder to understand how your actions affect the boat.

This is a particular issue for beginners, who might learn faster in single kayaks.

Negatives of team work

Finally, the team work involved in a tandem can really cause some challenges. Learning to work together effectively in a tandem boat, and enjoy it, can prove a challenge for couples and friends alike.

You may end up arguing more than you're paddling, and regretting not picking that single kayak!

Carefully consider the stresses of team work before choosing a tandem kayak

Sit on top or sit inside?

If you've decided that a tandem kayak is for you, there is another choice to weigh up - whether you want a sit-on-top or sit inside kayak.


Sit-on-top kayaks have an enclosed hull with the cockpit being completely open and exposed.

The design is easy to get in and out of and won't fill up with water if it capsizes. The style is particularly good for recreational kayaking, leisurely cruising on a sunny day, and for jumping on and off the kayak as you please.

Sit inside

Sit inside kayaks have an enclosed cockpit. They are generally much faster and have better glide in the water.

This style of kayak is good for a regular paddle in the ocean, cold water or rapids. They are often used for kayaking as a sport due to their speed.

Some considerations for fishing

Like an ordinary fishing kayak, there are a few things to look for when buying a tandem kayak:

  • Comfort: comfort is obviously important for avoiding arguments when kayaking with your partner.
  • Rod holders: with a companion, you'll need multiple rod holders, unless your partner doesn't plan on fishing.
  • Stability and tracking: stability is vital, and this isn't normally a problem with tandems.

If you're not sure your companion will always want to come with you, or you have someone who doesn't pull their weight when paddling, then you may want to buy a single kayak instead.

Learn more in our kayak fishing guide.

Learn to paddle a tandem kayak

As we noted earlier, learning to paddle a tandem kayak is very different from a single kayak.

So, here we share some of our top tips:

  • Paddle in unison: the most efficient way to power the kayak is to work in unison. This helps the kayak move forward quickly, but also avoids paddles clashing. This is where the practice comes in, to learn to paddle strokes together in the same rhythm.
  • Strength in the back: if you have one paddler who's physically stronger, they should sit in the back seat, while the weaker paddler sits in the front and dictates the pace. It's easier to modify your strokes from the back to keep pace, and also puts them in a position of control if the person up front wants a break. This is especially true for a family, with an adult in the back and child in the front.

If you have one paddler who's physically stronger, they should sit in the back seat, while the weaker paddler sits in the front and dictates the pace. 

  • How to turn: many tandems are equipped with a rudder, unlike single kayaks, which can help to keep the boat running on a straight course. However, you're better off working as a team to turn rather than using the rudder. Try having the front paddler take a forward sweep on one side, while the partner performs a reverse sweep on the opposite side. Working together, this can turn the boat surprisingly quickly.

Ready to get going?

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