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The Pros and Cons (mostly cons) of Tandem Kayaks

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Many beginners buy or rent tandem kayaks thinking “I don’t know how to kayak, so if I get a tandem. someone will be in the boat with me and I’ll be better off.” In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Putting 2 experienced paddlers into a tandem (let’s say my wife and I), and the troubles begin when leaving the dock. First off, most recreational tandem kayaks are the same length as a single seater (think one kayak with a super long cockpit). Because of this, if the 2 paddlers are not 100% in sync with their paddling rhythm there will be some blade-banging, and then the arguments ensue.

Tandem kayaks take teamwork to simply move straight, and even more teamwork to maneuver.

There’s also the physics of turning a paddle-powered vessel. A solo kayak, properly trimmed, has the center of mass in the middle of the boat, so you can think of turning that boat like the spinning needle of a compass. Once the paddler understands the physics, it’s pretty simple to turn and navigate the creeks and narrow channels in the marsh. A tandem boat has 2 centers of mass, and turning is more complex.

There are definitely situations where a tandem kayak would be beneficial, but that mostly involves expedition paddling, with double cockpits, lots of storage, and competent paddlers comfortable with long hours in the cockpit. My wife and I jokingly call short recreational kayaks “divorce boats”* after our (very short) experiences with trying out tandem rec kayaks and banging paddle blades, trying to do a J-stroke turn with a kayak paddle, and landing without one of us dumping the thing.

But hey, that’s just my opinion, man. The best way to test this out is to try a tandem boat, but I can assure you that even the most basic beginner kayaker will be better off in a single-seat boat and a little bit of instruction on how to manage the craft.

* at the time of this writing, my wife and I have enjoyed over 21 years of marriage, and our short time in “divorce boats” has not diminished our love for each other. We enjoy each other’s company while sitting in our own individual boats

Paddling a tandem boat can be challenging - bot on the operational skills of the participants and to their relationship!
Seemingly Happy Couple in a Recreational Tandem Kayak

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