How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak

A tandem kayak—a kayak built for two—can be a great way to get out on the water both for a recreational paddle and for a longer touring excursion.

how to paddle a tandem kayak

Why Tandem?

There are many reasons why you might choose a tandem kayak over a solo one.

1. To introduce a new paddler to the sport of kayaking, especially if he or she is also new to paddling. Going out in the same boat with an experienced paddler is sure to ease any first-time nervousness and make it more enjoyable.

2. To take a non-paddler on a kayaking adventure. Maybe that person is a very young child, or an elderly grandparent…or even your dog!

3. You only have room to store and transport one kayak, but there are two of you. The tandem kayak is the perfect solution.

Types of Tandems

Tandem kayaks come in both sit-on-top and sit-inside models. A sit-on-top will be best suited for recreational kayaking, while the sit-inside kayak better for touring.

Tandem Kayak Paddling Technique

Here are a few key points to keep in mind so your tandem kayak treks are as enjoyable as possible:

1. Paddle in unison. Not only will you avoid clashing your paddles, you’ll move along the water faster. It’s about developing your rhythm as a team.

2. Put the stronger paddler in the back. The stronger, more experienced paddler should sit in the back. That paddler is also responsible for steering. The front paddler will dictate the pace, which the rear paddler will match.

3. Turning your tandem kayak is a fun and easy skill to master. The front paddler employs the forward stroke at the same time the back paddler uses a backward stroke on the opposite side. Voilà! (There's a video link at the bottom of this page. It will demonstrate for you.)

How to paddle a tandem kayak

4. Tandems are wider and therefore very stable. While it’s unlikely you’ll capsize, if you’re with anyone who’s not a strong swimmer it’s a good idea to stick close to shore. And, of course, always wear a PFD.

Whether for a short jaunt around a lake or a long touring day on the ocean, give the tandem a try! It just might become your favorite kayak.

More posts for you:
Kayak Paddles 101
How to Choose a Kayak Paddle
Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide

For more pros and cons of tandem kayaks, take a look here:
Why We Love Double Kayaks (from Southeast Sea Kayaks in Alaska)
10 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Tandem Kayak (from Sherri Kayaks Outdoors Programs in Wisconsin)

Our friends at Paddle TV and the American Canoe Association produced this short video, How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak: