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Tips for Paddling a Tandem Kayak

Tandem kayaks can get a bad rap. The collaboration needed to get them going has spawned nicknames like “the divorce boat” if the paddlers struggle to be in sync. While there is a slightly steeper learning curve for paddling in a tandem kayak, they are actually great boats to learn kayaking and grow your connection with a friend or loved one.

Tandem Kayak Paddling Tips

Tandem kayaking is actually a lot of fun and can be quite rewarding. The large boat allows you to better connect with the person you’ve chosen to take with you, and the width and stability of these kayaks makes them sometimes easier to teach in if you’re with someone who is just getting started with kayaking. Here are some paddling tips to have ‘smooth sailing’ on your tandem kayak adventure:

Be Intentional About Seating

To start, deciding who sits in the front or back of the kayak should be an intentional choice. The person in the front typically sets the pace and rhythm of paddling strokes. It’s helpful if they’re able to be consistent with this rhythm, as the back-seat paddler will need to keep up with them.

Some find it helpful to place the more experienced kayaker in the front to boat and for the learner in the back. Typically, the less experienced kayaker sits in the back so they don’t overexert themselves matching the rhythm of someone who’s more experienced in the sport.

Paddle in Unison

Because you’re closer together and your paddles are still double-ended, there is a tendency for your paddles to collide if you’re not careful. The back-seat kayaker should watch the timing of the front-seat paddler to avoid this happening. Since they have a better view, they’re able to keep pace with the person in front easier than the other way around.

It does take a little bit of getting used to, especially when the paddles dip into the water. You’ll want to be intentional about the speed and breadth of the paddles in the water so they come out at the same time and aren’t too close together. This is best learned through practice.

Steer and Course Correct from the Back Seat

While the front paddler handles pace and paddling form, the back-seat paddler will have the most impact on your course and any directional changes along the way. You can pivot and shift the course of the tandem kayak by more forcefully paddling downwards in the direction you want to go in--this motion acts like a rudder in correcting your course.

It’s easier for the person in this position to perform these maneuvers from where they’re positioned in the kayak and the view they have. What will cause trouble is if both seats try to steer. This leads to the dreaded zig-zagging that can spark anger in tandem kayakers.

Communicate and Take Breaks if Needed

Both parties will undoubtedly be making adjustments throughout the kayaking trip, and the best way for these tweaks to not have a negative impact on your course or synchronicity is to communicate it clearly to your partner. If one person needs to slow down, or you want to steer a different way, voice that intention (or need) to your fellow paddler! This is the truly collaborative piece that helps any tandem kayak trip go smoothly and avoid arguments.

Especially if you’re new to kayaking, your stamina might not be as developed as the person you’re paddling with. It’s also helpful to sometimes pause to re-assess technique and strategy along the way if you find yourself having to over-correct your course. Take it as slow as you need to and work in breaks to ensure no one is burning out or struggling.

Paddling Solo on a Tandem Kayak

Did you know you can paddle alone on a tandem kayak? Yes, one-person can use a tandem kayak by sitting in the back seat and distributing weight evenly in front and throughout the kayak. So even if you don’t have a kayaking partner, you can still enjoy a kayaking adventure on your own!


Now that you’ve got the basics of tandem kayak paddling down, you’re ready to embrace the adventure! Patience is key, as are the tips mentioned above, so read up, take a deep breath, and get out on the water!



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