Paddling Tandem Kayaks

by Ken Whiting and Alex Matthews

What is a tandem kayak?

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Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks or "doubles" are a great way for two people--who may have very different paddling experience or skill sets--to get out on the water and share the joy of kayaking together. Typically wider than single kayaks, tandems have awesome stability, which makes them ideal platforms for introducing to the sport of kayaking those who may be a little nervous about being out on the water. You can take almost anyone kayaking in a tandem, whether it's your kids, your parents, your grandparents, or even your dog. A great thing about tandems is that your passengers don't even need to paddle if they don't want to. Just sit them in the bow and take them on a tour of the bay!

Tandem Teamwork for Quick Travel

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Although tandems provide a great opportunity for taking a passenger for a ride, if both people are paddling, tandems can travel surprisingly quickly. The most efficient way of paddling a tandem is for both occupants to paddle in unison. Not only will this drive the kayak forward the quickest, you'll also avoid the clashing of paddles. If there is one paddler who is physically stronger than the other, the weaker paddler traditionally sits in the bow and dictates the paddling pace. The "motor" sits in the back of the boat and modifies his or her stroke rate to keep the bow paddler's pace.

Something to keep in mind is that the size of your paddle blades is like the size of chain rings on a bike, so if there is a weaker paddler, he or she should ideally be using smaller blades in order to keep a similar paddling pace to the stronger paddler. It is also preferable (although not crucial) to use slightly longer paddles for a tandem than you would for a single kayak, because of the boat's added width.

Turning the Tandem

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Some tandems are equipped with a rudder, which aids greatly in maneuvering the kayak and making small course corrections. The best way to turn a tandem kayak while stationary involves a little teamwork. Ideally, the front paddler takes a forward sweep on one side, while the stern paddler performs a reverse sweep on the opposite side of the kayak.

Tandems are Terrific for Families

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If you think that tandem kayaks won't be as much fun as singles, think again. In fact, sit-on-top tandem kayaks are so stable that you could consider them to be high-performance floating docks, which makes them terrific for families. Watching kids play with a tandem kayak at the lake, you'll see the boat transform in seconds from a pirate ship, to an aircraft carrier, to a diving platform. Tandem kayaks can be so many different things to different people, and this is what makes them one of the most versatile and fun watercrafts from the cottage to the coast.

This is a segment from a new book by Ken Whiting and Alex Matthews, called 'Recreational Kayaking - An Essential Guide'. For more information and to see a sample of the book, visit The Heliconia Press website -

Ken Whiting is a World Champion Kayaker and the author and producer of an award winning series of instructional kayaking books and videos. In 2000 he was recognized by Paddler Magazine as one of their 'Paddlers of the Century'. For more information, visit