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How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak (Solo or With a Partner!)

How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak (Solo or With a Partner!)

Is it difficult to paddle a tandem kayak? It may appear so, but with the proper technique and skills, it becomes much more manageable.

Paddling a tandem kayak may appear complicated at first, but it is actually quite simple. You must strike a balance between paddling, switching sides, and communicating with your partner. The experience of sharing an activity you enjoy with someone else, on the other hand, makes it all worthwhile. I recently decided to take on this challenge and kayak in a tandem kayak for the first time!

This blog post will show you how to do exactly that.

With a bit of guidance and practice, you’ll be able to successfully navigate waterways!

Are you eager to find out more? Continue reading!

Understanding Tandem Kayaking

Understanding Tandem Kayaking

Tandem kayaking is an excellent option if you’re going to have two people join you and kayak in the same vessel. It’s simple to paddle and is always recommended to novice occupants in an upper position for steering. However, when weight, height, practicality, and various other factors are taken into account, the sitting position is also essential. Though this will be difficult for another person, it is the most efficient way of travelling together and as a group effort.

It is still a great way to paddle and travel with your partner, especially if you are in the front of a kayak rather than behind! After all – where would you rather sit?

I decided I wanted my first tandem kayaking experience to occur on Lake Powell. Seated, facing front, I decided that the right paddle was better for me. However, my partner did not agree! He prefers to sit in the back of a kayak because he feels his weight is more distributed, and there is less pressure on his wrists.

The most common mistake when paddling with a partner is switching sides too often unnecessarily. Always communicate with your partner to figure out what is the best place for each person.

You and your partner must be synchronised on this. Having a plan in advance will help your kayaking experience a great deal. If you aren’t in a canoe or another kayak, it may be difficult for one person to manoeuvre it when there is wind or current against you.

Tandem Kayak Paddling Technique

Tandem Kayak Paddling Technique

Responsibilities of Bow and Stern Paddlers

The art of paddling in tandem kayaking is to always communicate with each other. That being said, it’s important that you know who will be in the bow and stern positions.

In the stern (back) seat: This person takes full responsibility for tracking where the kayak is going, making sure the path is straight. They must also keep an eye on any upcoming obstacles and steer clear of them. The stern paddler also keeps a firm grip on their paddle at all times.

The Bow (front) seat: This person needs to balance themselves forward and backwards to move through the water effectively! Not only must they use their paddle for steering, but they should also hold onto some part of the boat for support – this will help prevent overturning!

In order to travel in a straight line, you must keep both hands on your paddle.

Both people should make an effort to communicate with one another consistently as well as the other river users. It’s vital that everyone remains safe when kayaking! After all, safety first!

How Does One Get Into A Tandem Kayak?

The technique for entering a tandem kayak is nearly identical to the technique for entering a single kayak. If you can get in a single kayak, you should have little difficulty with a tandem!

Paddle into the shore: During your approach, keep an eye out for any rocks or other hazards. You may need to adjust your trajectory slightly if there is something directly in front of you.

While one person holds onto the boat and waits at the water’s edge, another person lifts their foot up and places it on top of the seat – allowing themselves to easily slide into place! The easier way to do this is by sitting upright, putting your paddle down between your knees and lifting yourself into position! If that doesn’t work for you, then simply sit down while leaning forward slightly (this will help put less pressure on your knees)

Once you’re settled comfortably into your seat, pull yourself forward with the foot resting on top of the kayak. Then carefully place your other foot in its spot as well!

Place your paddle right in front of you, where you can easily access it at a moment’s notice! Now, if necessary, adjust your seat and fin to whatever positions are most comfortable for you – now you’re ready to go!

How Do I Steer While Kayaking Tandem?

When steering a tandem vessel such as a kayak with another person aboard (either in front or behind), be aware of how much leverage each person has over their paddle. The bow paddler has more control than the stern paddler, which means they have to compensate the other person for a lost paddle length.

When paddling together, follow these guidelines – if you are in the back seat (stern), steer on every stroke when your partner takes a break. Your strokes should be about half as long as most people’s since you only have one paddle! When it’s your turn to rest, simply let your paddle hang loosely by your side.

If you’re in the front seat (bow position), then you need to go against convention a bit and take longer strokes than usual when it’s your partner’s turn to rest. You still want them to control the direction of travel, though, so don’t overdo it! When it’s your turn for a break, simply let your paddle hang loosely by your side.

Changing positions: Role of A Rear Paddler

If you’re paddling together with someone else and you want to switch seats, then there are a few things to keep in mind. You both need to adjust how much power you use when paddling so that you both remain steady. The person in the rear seat and the person paddling from the front need to do this!

As you paddle, you will notice that the person in front of you may start to fall behind. That’s because they are now using less power than usual, so if you’re going from the back to the front seat, then use slightly less force. If you are moving from the front to the rear seat, then use more power! You also need to remain balanced in whichever position you’re sitting, so don’t be shy about reaching around to adjust yourself.

Maintain The Rhythm In Tandem Kayaks

When the back paddler adjusts its own speed, the front paddler controls the rhythm. The main challenge at the back is that the paddler can paddle and steer the boat simultaneously. With different forces, the ship’s nose would have shifted to the side. The clock must remain in sync. If you paddle in the same stride, the kayak will keep a straight line by following a zigzag course, but you will not lose power. When the kayak moves to the right, you must use more force to push back on the paddle to the left. On the back, he must paddle more forcefully on his right side. The constant and intensified paddle strokes to keep the kayak on course are a great strain. For this reason, the rear paddler should be the stronger member of the team. The front paddler will dictate the pace, which the rear paddler will have to match.

The Significance Of Timed Forward Strikes

Tandem kayaks have the same propensity to become disoriented when swept across the stream and lake. Because of the close proximity of the paddlers within the kayak, it is easy to hit either paddle or tandem paddle if strokes are not timed correctly. Mastering a forward stroke is one of the first things most new paddlers learn, and for a good reason!

The best way to avoid a paddle collision is to learn how to time it correctly. Because each paddler in a kayak has a double-bladed paddle, it appears that the same difficulties that befall tandem paddlers in a canoe would not be experienced by those in a kayak. That is not the case, however. Tandem kayaks have the same tendency to zigzag across the lake and river when paddled by two people.

Forward Sweep Stroke: When the front paddler is about to take a stroke, all they need to do is ensure that their paddle blade is straight in front of them and level with the surface of the water. It might be tempting for the front paddler to turn their blade upstream at an angle, but that’s not necessary! After this stroke is mastered, the front paddler can make a slight forward sweep of their blade. This takes some practice to do with perfection but should be easy enough for anyone to get the hang of fairly quickly!

Backward Sweep Stroke: When the rear paddler is about to take a stroke, they need to ensure that their paddle blade is straight out behind them and directly in line with their kayak. The rear paddler will want to keep an eye on the front paddle, too, to make sure that it is not coming down onto their own paddle blade. This stroke takes a fair bit of strength because the rear paddler has to move their blade against both the stream or current and any wind resistance.

Backstroke: This stroke is very simple. All the front paddler needs to do is keep their blade straight out behind them and along with the kayak as they paddle forward. The backstroke is also an excellent way to rest after taking several forward strokes in quick succession!

When both front and rear paddlers need to change positions, it’s essential for both paddlers to ensure that their paddle blades do not hit each other. The best way to avoid this is for the rear paddler to stop paddling, turn around and face forward while the front paddler backs up slightly and faces backward.

The forward and backward sweeping strokes are used to keep the nose of your kayak pointed in a straight line and to maintain an even pace on the water. The backstroke, however, is used to rest your arms and upper body. It’s also an excellent way to slow down when you’re in a hurry!

While these techniques can be easy to learn, it is important to remember that they take time and practice to master. I would recommend practising these strokes with a friend or family member if you are new to the sport. Even an experienced paddler would start slow before internalising proper technique.

Tip: To avoid clashing paddles, the rear paddler should sweep their blade as they come back towards the kayak, while the front paddler sweeps their blade as away from them.

How Do I Stop While Kayaking Tandem?

How Do I Stop While Kayaking Tandem

While you can use the same tricks as a single kayak, you will probably want to keep your paddle in hand (just like a single kayak) since it may make any rescues much easier! Remember that you will have to compensate for their added weight due to having an additional person aboard, which is why you must know how much force they are using with their paddle at all times! When your partner wants to come to a complete halt, then simply relax and let them take over the steering duties and handle most of the paddling load when stopping.

When one of you is ready to stop paddling, be sure to signal them! An excellent way to do this is by reaching up with your paddle and locking it into place. This will immediately alert them that they need to start steering and slow down.

If you are the one in the back seat (stern), you should have little difficulty with a tandem! Simply wrap your hand around the end of your partner’s paddle. When they are ready to come to a complete stop, get ready for them to let go of their paddle – now you have control over how fast or slow you want to go! If you’re at an intersection where there is traffic nearby, simply rest your arm on top of theirs so that they understand what direction you want to turn!

Tandem Vs Solo Kayaking

Tandem Vs Solo Kayaking

Single kayaks are smaller and more agile than double kayaks. Tandem kayaks can accommodate a second and possibly a third (lightest) person. However, this can result in a less nimble and slow-moving kayak.

Solo kayaking is often more relaxing because there is less distraction. Some people find that tandem kayaking with friends or family can be more fun, especially when you have a whole group of people in the boat with you.

Tandem kayaking can be a lot more difficult than solo kayaking because it takes teamwork and coordination. It also requires the person driving the boat to have excellent paddling skills and knowledge of navigation on the water.

Solo kayaking is more common. It is safer, and it is easier to navigate a solo kayak. The person paddles the boat with their hands, and they steer it with their feet. Tandem kayaking requires two people to operate it in sync.

A tandem kayak is easier for beginners to learn because they have a partner who can help them learn how to balance and steer the boat. While tandem kayaks are difficult for experts because one person has to do everything while the other does nothing.

A longer boat also tracks straighter, and many touring kayaks have rudders or skegs to help with tracking. A longer kayak is more streamlined, which means it will move faster through the water. It has a long cockpit length that is large enough to be comfortable and stable. A long kayak is more durable than the average width, shorter kayaks. You can take them on rougher waters without risking injury or boat damage. Tandem paddles are more challenging for beginners because they are quite a lot larger and are more difficult to manoeuvre at the same time.

You also have an extra person you will need to manage in tandem kayaking, which can be challenging for the beginner who is still learning how not to tip over! However, even experienced paddlers find tandem kayaking more challenging because of the many different ways you can move through the water and lakes.

Can I Paddle A Tandem Kayak Alone?

Because tandem kayaks are exclusively designed for a paddling pair, solo paddlers on tandem kayaks may find it challenging to navigate uncooperative waters. You could argue a stronger paddler can operate as one paddler on a tandem kayak, but due to weight distribution, two paddlers will always provide more stability with relatively less effort. It certainly is not impossible but definitely not recommended.

What Exactly Is A Divorce Boat?

In fact, due to the petty disagreements that occasionally arise between the front and rear paddlers, tandem kayaks have earned the infamous nickname of “divorce boats” in the paddling community. Discord between paddling partners can obviously make tandem kayaks challenging to use, so make sure your partner is a good fit for the type of kayaking adventure you have in mind.

Do Tandem Kayaks Tip Easily?

Although tandem paddling by both a stern rear paddler and a front paddler seems heavy enough to avoid tipping, it is a good idea to be cautious when you are out on the water.


Tandem kayaking is an excellent option if you’re going to have two people join you and kayak in the same vessel. You can take even your dog! It’s simple to paddle and is always recommended to have novice occupants in an upper position for steering. However, when weight, height, practicality, and various other factors are taken into account, the sitting position needs a bit more thought and is decided between the two paddlers well in advance.

Now that you have learnt how to paddle a tandem kayak, how long would it take you to jump onto the bandwagon of tandem kayaking? This is a great skill to have and will enable you to share the fun of kayaking with your partner or close friend so let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Trust us, utilised and planned carefully, tandem kayaks can be a great bonding time!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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