Are you thinking about getting a tandem kayak? I would caution you to consider this option very carefully if this is going to be your first kayak. While tandems do have their place, in most cases I don’t think that they are the best option when you are first getting into the sport. Here are some important points to consider before taking the plunge.
- Tandems are heavy, usually anywhere from 75-100 pounds. Even with two adults, lifting and carrying this much weight, especially if you have to lift it on top of a vehicle, can be a significant obstacle to using the kayak. It is much easier for two people to make two trips carrying two 45-60 pound solo kayaks than to make one trip carrying a heavy tandem. If you are buying a recreational tandem with the idea that you can use it as a solo kayak as well as a tandem, keep in mind that you will have to lift and carry all that weight by yourself. Even if you spend the money to get a fiberglass or kevlar kayak, you most likely will not see much, if any, weight savings. Manufacturers can only make plastic tandems up to about 18 feet long. Many of the composite tandems are 19-23 feet long. Whatever weight savings you may reap from the lighter material is lost because of the added length of the composite boats.
- Avoid buying a shorter tandem to reduce the weight. Shorter tandems are less stable than longer tandems. The shorter a kayak is, the less water it will displace, and in most cases the less stable it will be with two adults in it, especially if they are heavier than average adults. Shorter tandems also create more problems because the two paddlers are sitting closer together and may end up hitting each other’s paddles if they do not keep their strokes in sync. Shorter tandems are also less useful if you want to go camping with your kayak. The short tandems have much less storage space when compared with two solo kayaks. Although it may be easier to store some bulkier items in a tandem because it is usually wider than a solo, the total cubic capacity is much less than two sea kayaks.
- Would you be willing to consider getting a trailer to transport your kayak instead of cartopping? If you have a taller vehicle, it may not be feasible for you and your partner to lift the kayak up onto the roof of your car or SUV. Even compact cars can be used to pull a small kayak trailer, but it is more expensive to get a tow hitch mounted on your vehicle and buy the trailer than it is to simply put a rack on the roof of your vehicle. (Don’t get me wrong, though, despite the expense a trailer is a great way to carry kayaks whether you end up with a tandem or singles)
- Contrary to what you may think, buying a tandem may not provide you with any cost savings over buying two solo kayaks. Especially with recreational kayaks, you can potentially buy two solo boats for the same or less than you will pay for a recreational tandem with a rudder. While I normally don’t advocate getting a rudder on a solo kayak, I would strongly recommend that you get a rudder on any tandem kayak. A rudder will be a huge benefit in a tandem making it easier for you and your partner to maintain a consistent paddling rhythm and avoid clashing your paddles when your strokes get out of sync. This leads to my next questions. . .
- How well do you get along with the person you plan to paddle with in the tandem? There are many people that should not be in a tandem together. Kayak guides and instructors euphemistically refer to tandem boats as “divorce boats”. This incompatibility can be made even worse when the paddlers are just learning how to kayak. It is always much easier to blame the other person in the boat for any difficulties when you are struggling to learn a new skill.
- Are you looking to improve your kayaking skills? The learning curve in a tandem is much slower. You don’t get the immediate feedback in a tandem that you get when you paddle a solo kayak. In a solo kayak, you usually know right away when you are doing something wrong. The boat doesn’t go where you want it to go. When you make a positive change in your technique, you instantly know that the problem has gotten better. In a tandem, when the boat is not responding as you wish, it can be hard to know if the problem lies with you, your paddling partner, or both of you. Even if you improve your technique, you may not be able to perceive any improvement in the handling of the kayaks, and skills like edging can be more difficult to learn when you have to work together as a team to accomplish them. Do you want to learn how to roll your kayak? While tandems can be rolled, it is virtually impossible to learn the skill in a tandem. You will need both paddlers to learn how to roll individually in solo kayaks, and then you will need to learn how to coordinate your movements to roll the tandem.
- Owning a tandem as your only kayak can be very limiting if your paddling partner does not want to go out kayaking as often as you do, or is not able to go out as often as you. A solo kayak gives you the option of going kayaking any time you want. While my husband is the person who got me started in kayaking, it turned out that I did a lot more paddling than he did. I would have been seriously limited if I had to depend on going kayaking when he could come along.
- Do you have kids and think that a tandem is your only option for paddling with the family? Most kids can begin paddling their own kayak somewhere between ages 5-8. Naturally, they will not have a lot of stamina at that age, but you can hook up a towline to your child’s boat to give them an assist whenever they need it. Most parents don’t take their kids on long, strenuous paddles even in a tandem. Tandems tend to be very wide and deep in the cockpit areas which can make them very awkward for children to paddle. Regardless of whether you opt for a solo or tandem in this situation, I would strongly suggest that you buy kid-size paddles for any children in your family. It will greatly increase their paddling stamina.
- Tandems are generally very stable, but if they do capsize, they fill with a lot of water and can make it much more difficult to perform rescues and re-entries. Once again, this problem is much more pronounced in the shorter tandems because the percent of the kayak that is walled off for flotation is much less than in a longer tandem kayak.
- If you decide after awhile that the tandem you purchased wasn’t the best choice for your situation and you want to get solo kayaks instead, you will most likely find it harder to sell your used tandem. Most people in the market for kayaks are looking for solo kayaks. It will probably take you longer to find a buyer and you will have to come down more on your asking price than if you were selling a solo boat.
While I know that this list may make it seem like I am “anti-tandem”, that is not really the case. My husband and I own a tandem and enjoy paddling it together at times. It has been useful in situations where we were taking out a friend or family member who was uncomfortable on the water. My husband took me out in the tandem for my first kayaking trip after abdominal surgery in case I found that I wasn’t able to paddle. We took the tandem out to Colorado several years ago instead of our two solo kayaks so that I could fit my whitewater kayak on the roof rack. While we enjoy having a tandem on occasions, I’m just glad that we got solo kayaks for our first boats.
If after seriously considering all of the above points and evaluating your own personal situation you decide that a tandem is still the best option, go for it. I just know from personal experience selling kayaks for almost nine years that most people who thought they wanted a tandem ended up opting for two single kayaks after thinking about it more carefully.