What Is a Tandem Kayak?

Do you enjoy extended excursions out on the water but dread the idea of doing so alone? If you answered yes, perhaps a tandem kayak would be the right choice of vessel for you. Now you may be wondering, what is a tandem kayak?

what is a tandem kayak

What Is a Tandem Kayak?

While most people know what boats are, few people are familiar with a tandem kayak. Nowadays, there are so many models, options, and variations when it comes to buying a kayak. This can be overwhelming and even challenging for someone new to kayaking. A tandem kayak is a type of two person kayak that measures between 18 feet and 24 feet. This type of kayak is designed to hold two or more people. The clue is really in its name, “tandem,” meaning it can conveniently carry two (or more) people, with each person paddling and enjoying a water adventure.

You have a few different options when buying a tandem kayak from a store. You can choose between a sit-off or sit-on design. Sit-off kayaks allow you to paddle without having to find an anchor point, while sit-ons enable you to anchor up to a point.

Regardless of whether you choose a sit inside tandem kayak or sit-on model, you shouldn’t take the kayak out in cold weather because doing so could cause it to freeze up. When a tandem kayak freezes up, it becomes quite difficult to maneuver.

When it comes to purchasing a kayak, there are so many factors you have to consider (more on that later), such as weight and size, and this will depend on the number of people you plan to have in the kayak at any given time. It goes without saying that you should buy a tandem kayak that can fully support the weight of everyone using it. For optimal comfort, you will need a tandem kayak that supports at least four people. If only two people are looking to use the tandem kayak, you might want to consider purchasing a sit-off option. These types of kayaks tend to have a wider cockpit, making them great for carrying large parties.

Brief Backstory of the Tandem Kayak

One of the earliest iterations of a tandem kayak was during the early 1800s. Mountain men and explorers wanted to get to the Colorado River, a river full of rapids. While some were able to cross using canoes, others used kayaks. The most effective way to cross the rapids was to sit in a tandem kayak that connected two people with a rope. It didn’t take long before the tandem kayak gained popularity and was adapted for various water uses, including fishing, commercial transportation, military purposes, and whitewater rafting.

Some experts claim that the first boat types created by man were tandem kayaks, and these kayaks have been in existence since the Stone Age. The very first tandem kayaks made were constructed from wood or bark.

Types of Tandem Kayaks

There are various tandem kayak types today, and what you choose will depend on how you plan to use it. The main types include:

Inflatable Kayak

An inflatable kayak is designed to offer convenience during storage or transportation. They can be deflated to make it easy to move them to the water’s edge. This makes an inflatable kayak easy to store and carry in a backpack or suitcase.

By design, inflatable kayaks aren’t hard-hulled or stiff like other kayaks. Unfortunately, this makes them unsuitable for choppy or rough water conditions. You can find a tandem inflatable kayak or a single rider inflatable kayak.

Folding Kayak

A folding kayak is designed to provide efficient performances similar to rigid boats but with one major difference; they are easier to carry.

These types of tandem kayaks are more expensive, but they make a great purchase for people who don’t want to compromise on performance. Folding tandem kayaks are great to carry around because they can fold up easily.

Touring Kayak

Touring tandem kayaks are best suited for those who want to carry a lot of gear, such as dry bags, lines, hammocks, and more, while covering vast distances. In addition, a touring kayak is a lot more efficient and faster compared to recreational boats.

While touring tandem kayaks can track straighter, they are a lot less stable, making them prone to rolling and may not be suitable for a novice paddler.

Whitewater Kayak

Whitewater tandem kayaks are best suited for paddlers searching for adventure on fast-moving rivers. These kayaks are generally compact and easier to maneuver. While this makes them ideal for choppy waters, they aren’t suited for touring or camping.

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Recreational Tandems

Recreational tandem kayaks are best suited for short sessions on less challenging and calmer waters. They are perfect for those new to kayaking, especially those who have no intention of touring, racing, or camping.

What Is a Tandem Kayak: Buying Considerations


Generally, tandem kayaks are narrow and long, making them fast and excellent for long-distance water travel. They do come in a variety of designs, and some options are prone to instability, particularly on choppy waters.

Shorter and broader tandem kayaks are best suited to choppy waters because they are more stable. Their design ensures they don’t turn over easily. However, what they gain in stability, they lose in efficiency and speed. This is why they require more energy to paddle.

what is a tandem kayak
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The perfect tandem kayak is made from materials that positively affect its weight, rigidity, efficiency, and strength. This means you should pick a kayak that is going to be useful to you.

Usability depends on the construction materials. Some popular materials used to create kayaks are ABS, wood, composite, vinyl, PVC, and polyethylene. Make sure to choose the most efficient, durable, and cost-effective kayak for your purpose.


The perfect tandem kayak offers comfort while you are out on the water. You should be able to go on long excursions on the water without experiencing any discomfort or pain on your legs, butt, or back because that would spoil the fun.

The tandem kayak should also not hinder effective paddling, as that could increase fatigue levels. This is especially true when paddling with children.

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Pros of Tandem Kayaks

Generally, the most effective tandem kayaks come with various advantages over a solo kayak. For one, you don’t have to go solo on your next water adventure. Here are a few more advantages of tandem kayaks:


A tandem kayak lets you carry almost twice as much gear compared to a solo kayak. Its additional storage room is quite convenient. While you can take as much stuff as you want, you should be careful not to overload your kayak as that could cause it to become sluggish and also increase the risk of overturning it.

Additional Seat

One of the biggest advantages of a tandem kayak is that it seats more than one person. This gives you a backup paddler. When you are out on a long adventure and one person tires out, the other person can pick up the slack as the paddler and continue on the adventure. This is not usually the case with a one-person kayak as there are no other paddlers to help out.


Compared to one-person kayaks, tandem kayaks are faster, given that there are at least twice as many people paddling them. The hull of the kayak is typically long. This means the vessel can get along the water much faster. It also enables you to go across the water at your own pace, taking in the wonderful scenery while achieving your perfect paddling rhythm.

Increased Stability

One of the most important features of a water vessel is its stability, particularly if the kayaker is not an experienced paddler. Going out onto the water with someone requires a sufficiently stable kayak.

Stability is also important when on choppy waters because it can help you move the kayak quicker. In addition, having a tandem kayak that comes equipped with pedals and a rudder can provide more efficient performance.

Cons of Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks are not without some pitfalls. Here are some of the drawbacks to consider:

No Independence

The greatest strength of a tandem kayak is also its weakest point. With a solo kayak, you simply need to head to the water and go when you feel like exploring the waterways. This isn’t the case with a tandem kayak.

A tandem kayak requires at least two people to operate, and there might come a time when one person wants to go out to the water while the other person doesn’t. This might even create some sort of friction between the two parties.

Storage and Transportation

Before buying a tandem kayak, you must consider how you intend to store it and move it around. It is important to consider the kayak’s dimension if you plan to transport it using your vehicle. Make sure that it will fit onto your car’s roof rack.

Considering that tandem kayaks convey more than one person, a two person kayak will be a lot bigger than a single kayak.


Tandem kayaks are suited for those who love taking adventures with their families or friends. But first, you should consider whether you have space for the type of tandem kayak you want. Your mode of transporting the tandem kayak is also important when choosing one.

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