10 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Tandem Kayak

by Sherri ~ June 10th, 2010. Filed under: Kayaking Equipment, Kayaks, Paddling Safety, Rolling, Skill Development, Uncategorized.

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.

The "Big Blue Whale" - our Necky Amaruk tandem on the Fox River

The "Big Blue Whale" - our Necky Amaruk tandem on the Fox River

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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. . .
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Sherri

96 Responses to 10 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Tandem Kayak

  1. MonsterJack

    My friends and I always call Tandem Kayaks “relationship killers”. The last thing you want is having your partner yelling at you all day on how to paddle. That is no fun. Tandems are great fun just as long as you have your own single kayak as well. You do not want your only option to be the tandem. They are also great for families that live on lakes.

    Thanks for the fun article.

  2. Sherri

    Thanks for adding your perspective. Tandems certainly have their place. Like everything, they have their advantages and disadvantages. They just aren’t for everyone.

  3. Richard

    My wife and I have been riding a tandem bicycle for almost 30 years. We are interested in getting a tandem kayak. We don’t have the “relationship issues” you refer to here…. What exactly is a shorter tandem kayak? I like the idea of a trailer but I haven’t seen any. I notice that the last responses are over two years old…. If you see this, please send your response to my e-mail address if possible.

  4. Sherri

    Richard, shorter tandems are generally the recreational tandems that are 16 feet or less. However, even in some longer tandems you can have issues with paddles bumping into one another if the seats are positioned close together. For that reason, a rudder is generally a useful tool for tandems, even recreational ones, since it allows the stern paddler to make minor course corrections with his/her feet and the two paddlers can focus on doing good forward strokes in sync with each other. As far as trailers, check the links in the resources section of my website, http://www.sherrikayaks.com/our-links/paddling-equipment/. Yakima makes a small trailer that you should be able to get through any Yakima car rack dealer.

  5. Mike

    I have done a lot of canoeing and am looking at buying a kayak for exploring the Islands of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan (I live in Wisonsin) I am trying to decide between a 20′ tandem or a 17′ solo.

    I plan to use it mostly for camp/kayaking. My wife doesn’t go camping with me very often, but when she does, I just consider that anything she contributes to paddling is a bonus and I do most of the paddling. I know that a lot of my camp/kayaking will be done alone or with my dog.

    Anothing thing is that if I don’t camp/kayak with my wife, I would usually like to bring my dog. He is a pretty big 65 lb animal that I thought could ride when my wife isn’t with us.

    With these considerations, would a tandem be the way to go?

  6. Sherri

    I have not kayaked with a dog, personally, so I can’t speak to that issue from personal experience, but you would most likely not be able to take your dog with you in a 17′ solo sea kayak. However, there are some concerns that I would have with getting a tandem. First of all, tandems are quite heavy and you are not going to have anyone to help you with lifting and carrying. A cart is going to be strongly recommended. Paddling a tandem solo for day trips without your dog would leave the boat rather unbalanced fore and aft and the boat would likely ride pretty high in the water making it tougher to handle in the wind. If you kayak with your dog, the tandem will balance better due to the added weight, but you will have to have complete voice control of your dog as you will not be able to reach out and touch your dog when he/she is in the front cockpit. Your dog also needs to be very well-behaved since any sudden changes in position and center of gravity could easily cause a capsize, which brings me to my biggest concern. If you capsize, how do you plan to get you and your dog back into the boat from the water? I can tell you from personal experience that it is VERY difficult to lift a large dog up into a kayak or canoe from the water when you are sitting in the boat holding on to a stationary sea wall from support. (I’ve had occasion to rescue two dogs from an urban river) I can’t imagine trying to do that with no support. I assume that you would have to bring the dog into the cockpit with you which is going to be a problem, as well. I would think it would be equally difficult to get the dog into the front cockpit first before you re-enter the kayak, and the dog in the boat would make it harder for you to re-enter since you may likely experience sudden shifts in the balance of the kayak as you are executing your re-entry. Frankly, I would advise against sea kayaking with a dog.

  7. Megan

    I just bought a 14′ Wilderness Tsunami, but we would also like to get something for my husband and 2 year old to kayak along side me. Ideally we would like a solo with a large enough cockpit to sit a kid seat and therefore my husband could use it on his own, too. I would appreciate any opinions. We plan to use it on calm rivers and canals, but also on Lake Erie (along the shore, but can get some good waves). Thank you for any help you can provide!

  8. Sherri

    There are plenty of recreational tandem kayaks that would fit the bill for the calm rivers and canals allowing your husband to use the boat both as a solo and a tandem. However, these would not be good boats for Lake Erie and waves. The only tandems that I would feel comfortable recommending for those conditions would be tandem sea kayaks with separate cockpits and bulkheads. In waves, you really need to be using a sprayskirt to keep those waves out of the kayak. That means you can’t really have your 2-year-old in the cockpit with your husband and you can’t put 2-year-olds in their own cockpit with a sprayskirt as they are too young to be able to perform a safe wet exit on their own. I would suggest that you get a short recreational tandem to use on the calm rivers and canals and stay off Lake Erie with your child for the time being. Many of these shorter tandems allow you to move the front seat back to the center of the kayak when you want to paddle the boat solo (Perception Prodigy II 13.5). A rudder can be a helpful convenience for your husband when trying to paddle the tandem with a child. You could try getting by with a large cockpit solo rec kayak like a Pungo for your husband and child, but your child may outgrow that option as s/he becomes heavier between now and when s/he is old enough to paddle a kayak on his/her own.

  9. Megan

    Thank you. Your comments were very helpful. The Perception Prodigy was actually the one we were considering. I certainly understand about the risks of the lake growing up with parents who sailed. I hope my boy loves the water like I do but also respects its power. Thanks again.

  10. James

    Hi Sherri,

    My fiancee and I are planning to buy a tandem kayak this week. We are happy enough with our decision to buy a tandem as opposed to two solo kayaks (we will get those in good time I expect).

    My concern, however, is transporting the kayak.

    We own a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It has the factory installed front to back rails and I will be getting the sport utility rails added this week. However, what kayak carrier would be best suited for a 21’8″ tandem Nimbus Skana kayak?

    I am considering this one:

    http://www.mopar.com/part/TC883KAY?s=335682&i=276322&b=jeep

    Any advice on the most appropriate rack/carrier would be greatly appreciated. Also, I should advise that we are in Canada.

    Great article, thanks!

    James.

  11. Sherri

    Thule makes good products for kayak transportation and I think your choice should be fine. The main concern will be in making sure your vehicle’s crossbars are set as far apart as possible since your boat is so long. The only other possible concern that I can think of as far as the saddles go would be that having saddles with more surface area would potentially spread out the weight of the boat a bit more, but since most saddles do not conform perfectly to the shape of a kayaks hull, you may not get any more surface area in contact with the hull with other manufacturer’s saddles even though they may be larger in size than the Thule. Obviously, it is imperative that you have secure tie-downs on both the bow and stern of the kayak to prevent it from torquing itself off your rack when driving in wind and at highway speeds.

  12. James

    Thanks for your comments Sherri!

    James.

  13. G

    I am looking for a kayak with features for fishing inland lakes and rivers in the midwest; great lakes excluded. I would also like to take my 3-year old son with me from time to time. The tandem kayak seems to be the way to go given that my son is already 3’6″ and is off the charts for height at his age. However, I am second guessing after reading your post. Can you recommend a large single person or small tandem with rod holders etc. that is managable on my own (< 80lbs) and suitable for the occasional morning fish with my son? Thanks.

  14. Sherri

    I first of all wouldn’t worry about buying a kayak with rod holders already installed. You can buy all those rod holders, anchors, etc. separately and install them yourself on any kayak, and most likely at a lower cost than you will pay for a fully outfitted fishing kayak. Scotty is one brand of rod holders that is most often found on kayaks and they have at least 3 different styles of rod holders. As far as the kayak, you could look for some shorter sit-inside tandems like the Perception Prodigy II or you might still be able to use something like a Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 solo rec kayak for the time being until your son is older. If you go the tandem route, you could get a cart to help you move the boat around on shore since your son may be too young to help out with that right now. I would recommend one of the folding carts that go under the center of the kayak, not on the end. The pneumatic tires that pop on and off easily and a kick stand are also nice features. Check out Wheeleez brand for examples of this style of cart. Other brands are also available.

  15. Steve

    Hi Sherri, I can roll (and re-entry roll) my solo seakayak easy. Will it be hard to roll a tandem kayak with novice partner in front seat who’s not able to roll?

    And if roll fails what’s best procedure for re-entry? (Rental Tahe marine 22″ width).

    Thanks for your reply

  16. Sherri

    It will be harder to roll without the assistance of the second paddler. If your partner is considerably lighter than you, you may be able to roll the tandem without the assistance of your partner, but you would want him/her to tuck forward and hug the kayak to keep his/her weight close to the center of rotation. If you have to wet exit, the two paddlers should position themselves on the opposite sides of the kayak. If both paddlers are similar in weight, both may be able to pull themselves up across their respective cockpits simultaneously. This may not be as successful with a narrow tandem kayak. Otherwise, you would want the bow paddler to stabilize the kayak from the water while the stern paddler climbs in. Once in, the stern paddler can perform a sculling brace to stabilize the kayak while the bow paddler re-enters. If you don’t have a strong low brace scull, you can put a paddle float on your paddle to stabilize the kayak while the bow paddler re-enters.

  17. Robin

    All things being equal boat merchants would rather sell two solos than one tandem.

  18. Sherri

    Having worked in the retail paddle sports industry selling kayaks for almost nine years, I’m not sure why you say that. Customers will end up needing all the same accessory gear regardless of whether they buy a solo or tandem (2 paddles, 2 life jackets, 2 sprayskirts, etc). Profit margins on kayaks are generally set by the manufacturers and are pretty much the same tandem or solo if you are talking about boats in the same category of quality and usage and from the same manufacturer. Since tandem kayaks are harder to sell (smaller potential market), most stores want to unload a tandem from stock if they have the chance. You may have a point if you are talking about special ordering kayaks as most stores will want to avoid getting stuck with any extra tandems if the customer backs out of the sale.

  19. cheri Miller

    Hi
    My Tim and I are thinking about a tandem kayak. I have Multiple sclerosis and we are both adventurous. As the MS has taken its toll on my life style and his. We still try to find things we can do together. I am not always capable of doing this on my own. Then he can take over in a tandem. If he would like to go on his own some of the time, we will get him his own kayak. We live in Wisconsin there are allot of lake streams and back areas we could kayak to and even snorkel. Even though your not hip on tandems. This is the only way we can do this! Do you have any recommendations.

    Cheri

  20. Sherri

    I don’t mean to sound like I am opposed to tandems. They are definitely the right answer for some people and some situations. It’s just that there are some people who assume a tandem is the right answer without fully understanding the negative aspects of buying and using a tandem kayak and so are disappointed once they have the kayak. In your situation, a tandem may well be the best answer. I would suggest that you may need to address the issue of lifting and transporting the boat with primarily one person. First, buy the lightest tandem you can find and afford. Kevlar would be the lightest option, fiberglass or thermoformed plastics would likely be the next best. If you have to get rotomolded polyethylene then shorter tandem boats will weigh less than longer boats. Seriously consider getting a Thule Hullavator to make loading the kayak onto your vehicle easier, or get a trailer. Finally, a good cart will make it possible for Tim to move the boat around on land by himself, if necessary. Get a cart with large pneumatic tires and that sits under the center of the kayak rather than strapping under one end of the boat. Wheeleez makes several good carts and there are similar carts available from other manufacturers. My uncle actually rolls his tandem right up onto a flat-bed trailer that he modified slightly for transporting his kayak.

  21. Ramesh

    Among all the Kayak review sites I have come across, this is the best!

    I have been thinking about a tandem to go out with my 11 year old son, I think I will try one out first before committing.

    Thanks Sherri!

  22. Sherri

    I’m glad this has been helpful to you.

  23. Ramesh

    Sherri, what is your take on Inflatable Kayaks, especially this one if you have heard anything about it

    Advanced Elements AE1007

    http://airkayaks.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/product-review-the-advanced-elements-convertible-kayak-for-one-or-two-paddlers/

    It seems to solve my problem with transportation. Reviews on Amazon are also good.

    Thanks again
    Ramesh

  24. Sherri

    Inflatables can solve some problems, but they do have their downsides as well. You need an inflatable that pumps up as rigid as possible. You don’t want a kayak that deforms when you sit in it. You also want at least 2-layer construction. When you scrape over sharp rocks or barnacles, you want the damage done to an outer layer/cover, not directly on the walls of the air chamber. Most inflatables ride high in the water and are very susceptible to being blown around in the wind. The model you reference claims that it rides “in” not “on” the water, which would be a good thing. Inflatables will not last as long as hardshell kayaks before you need to repair leaks. If you haven’t used the kayak for awhile, you’ll likely want to pump it up and check for leaks before taking it out for a paddle – something you don’t have to do with a hardshell boat. Finally, although you won’t have the hassle of a roof rack, keep in mind that you can’t just deflate a kayak and put it away wet. You will be putting a large wet item into your car and then you’ll have to lay it out to dry somewhere at home. You may even need to reinflate it to dry it fully before you can fold it up to store it. If you don’t, you’re going to get mildew. That said, if you are willing to deal with the tradeoffs to solve the issue of handling the kayak on your own without help from your son, an inflatable might be your answer.

  25. Ramesh

    Thanks again for taking the time for a detailed response Sherri!

    I think this will be my route, with an inflatable. This company has a higher pressure version of the one I listed and it said it has Aluminum ribs and supports to hold its shape. So hopefully will hold its shape.

    Ramesh

  26. Win

    HI Sherri,
    Thanks for posting such a thoughtful and informative thread. We are looking at a tandem because we have a couple of small children who will likely need to be out on the water with an adult for sometime to come so it makes sense for us to get a tandem. We were looking at using it for general recreation and flat water fishing around lakes in the southeast. Many people suggest a sit on top for comfort for longer fishing outings, pricing and ease of entry and egress esp. if you want a spontaneous dive platform in the middle of the lake on a hot day. What is your opinion on SOT tandems? You recommended the Perception prodigy II sit in. What do you think of the Perception Tribe 13.5 vs. the Perception Sport Rambler 13.5 sots? We want a kayak with a good price point and both are reasonable and offer 2-3 seats which is good for our family. Can you shed any light on what features makes the Tribe the pricer of the two. To me, they are very similar boats with the Tribe having a more defined keel. Thanks.

  27. Sherri

    I haven’t paddled the Tribe so I can’t say for certain what the differences are. It appears that the Tribe is stackable which I don’t think you can do with the Rambler. It also appears that the Tribe is lighter and has a reinforced stern keel piece which is a good idea if you may be dragging your kayak around as this is the spot on the kayak that is most likely to wear through which is not a defect that is covered by your warranty. The Tribe may be a more sleek design when it comes to moving the kayak through the water. I have a West Marine Abaco 13.5 which I think is made by Perception for West Marine. It looks to me as if the Abaco 13.5 may be the same boat as the Perception Sport Rambler. The Abaco and Rambler boats are manufactured for the “big box” retailers which means you may get less in the way of help and advice from the store staff when you are buying the boats. The Perception Tribe is generally sold in specialty retail “paddlesport” shops and outdoor stores with more knowledgeable staff. These smaller stores have higher overhead and do less in sales volume but are there to give you their expertise and personal service when you have questions and problems. If the Rambler is in fact the same as the Abaco, I can say that it is a very stable boat, although bulky and heavy to move around on land and somewhat sluggish in the water.

  28. Win

    Thanks for the feedback. We’re going to take a closer look at both of these to see what the Tribe offers in terms of maneuvering and structure. I know there are more expensive boats out there but for us its a large purchase, and we want to get a lot of use and enjoyment from it. Customer service certainly factors into that since we are novices with a lot of questions and having knowledgeable staff can end up saving needless expense in the long run.

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  31. Jonathan Dean

    My wife and I derived some rules for sailboat racing that may be useful in connection with tandems. The first rule does not really apply–she and not I has an absolute veto over when we fly the spinnaker. Maybe the comparison is the class of rapids? The second is helpful–if I yell at her twice I swim home. This has improved both my sailing and my marriage.

  32. Sherri

    Words to live by. 😉

  33. Jerry Walker Sr

    Because I have low vision, my wife and I have been happily riding a tandem bike for the last 15 years and have paddled only rented tandem kayaks but enjoyed that very much and would like to buy a tandem kayak. But the other problem we have is that we travel in a fifth wheel RV; so, how do we transport a tandem kayak on the truck with a fifth wheel in tow? We have tried an inflatable tandem kayak and did not at all like the flex that the inflatable exhibits.
    Jerry

  34. Sherri

    Have you looked at folding tandem kayaks? They do tend to be expensive and it can take a little more time to assemble the boat, but the performance is generally very good as the frame makes the boat more rigid, and you will still get the compact storage size. PakBoats is a bit more economical than some of the other brands like Feathercraft or Klepper. I have also seen some RV’s with racks up top. I assume that this has got to be a bit of a pain to load and unload, but if you won’t be using your kayak while you are driving your fifth wheel to a destination and then parking it for an extended time where you will be paddling, you could consider this kind of a solution. I don’t know what brand or model of inflatable you tried, but you may also just need to look a little harder and be willing to pay a bit more. Some of the better inflatables have a stronger structure and can be pumped up to a higher pressure that will give the boat more rigidity. A few inflatables even incorporate some rigid framing pieces similar to a folding kayak to add more rigidity. You definitely want at least double wall construction where there is a separate air chamber from the outer skin that takes the scrapes and scratches. When it comes to inflatables, “you get what you pay for”. No matter what boat you end up with, remember that the paddle is really the critical piece of gear when it comes to performance and your enjoyment in the kayak. Get the best and lightest paddles you can possibly afford and you might not mind some of the sacrifices you are making in the performance of the kayak.

  35. Dennis

    My significant other has some occasional shoulder problems and thus wanted us to get a tandem so that if she had a flare up, I could do the paddling! I will probably also get a single at some point. I am pretty sure I want to buy either a Perception Prodigy II 14.5 or a Wilderness Pamlico 145T. They seem to be very similar and I like the fact that if I want to use it solo I can move the bow seat back to the center. The Prodigy II is also interesting because it has the kids seat which would be nice when my daughter and her family visit my condo as they could take their 4 year old out, too. We will be kayaking in Bogue Sound on the NC coast. What is your opinion of these two tandems or do you have any other recommendations?

    Dennis

  36. Sherri

    Getting a tandem when one paddler may have shoulder issues is a good idea. However, I would advise against both of the boats you are considering after having taken a look at the location you said you would be paddling. In the event that you capsize, neither of those kayaks is capable of any self-rescue. You would need to swim to shore. While I’m sure you plan to stay near shore, the size of Bogue Sound is such that you could find yourself further from shore than you could easily swim. I would recommend a sit-on-top tandem. Some models even have a middle seat position so you can paddle solo. A small child can sit in the middle seat with two adults. If you capsize in a sit-on-top, the boat doesn’t fill with water and it can be re-mounted from the water – something you can’t do with the Pamlico or Prodigy II. You could also get a tandem sea kayak, but those are harder to paddle solo or with a third person (child).

  37. Henry

    My wife and I are considering whether to buy two kayaks or a tandem. We will use the kayak exclusively on a narrow (50 yards) waterway in our 55+ community. As far as a tandem kayak we are looking at a Perception Sport Rambler 13.5 Tandem Kayak, or Perception Tribe or a Malibu Two (12 feet) or the Malibu Two XL (13.5 feet). We are novices at kayaking which makes my wife a little concerned about having her own kayak. I will be kayaking alone most of the time.

  38. Sherri

    I would strongly suggest that you consider taking a lesson if you haven’t already as this may help your wife decide if she would like to use her own kayak. Once you decide tandem or 2 solo kayaks, then I suggest that you either test paddle the kayaks before you buy, or at least make sure you have the option to return or exchange if you are happy with how they paddle. It really isn’t possible for me to make a good recommendation to you on which boat to buy without knowing more about you and your wife’s size, sense of balance, strength, etc. The tandems you mentioned tend to be kind of slow and sluggish. While I know you aren’t concerned with speed, sluggishness also usually translates to taking more effort to paddle. Make sure you get good, lightweight paddles for both of you as that will make a bigger difference in your enjoyment than which boat you finally settle on.

  39. Matt

    Hi Sherri,

    I am considering buying a tandem kayak, and will likely go with it. (We have tried it before and have enjoyed it, and I have plenty of people who would want to go with me) Additionally, the weight isn’t much of a problem for me. Anyways, I have a few questions.

    1) Is it better to buy a new kayak at a mid-point price, or a used kayak that was bought at a high end price?

    2) I was wondering if you could give me a few kayak’s to considering buying, and where to find them. I would like a Kayak with some storage space, so we can pack a lunch and paddle until we find a cool place to stop and eat, but I also want a Kayak that has some speed to it. I plan on Kayaking on pretty much all calm waters, but I think it would be fun to take it out on some mild wave water. Ideally, it would also have those seats where it could be possible to go out by yourself if I just wanted to get away for a little bit.

    I’m not sure what else you need to know, or if I rattled off to much, but if you could suggest a few types of kayak’s I’d really appreciate it!

  40. Sherri

    1) One option is not any better or worse than the other option. It all depends on finding the right kayak. Remember that you need to get a lot of other accessories with your boat, not the least of which is “good” paddles. If a used boat fits the budget better when all is said and done, that may be the best way to go. If the mid-price boat costs less, than maybe that is what you will need to do in order to afford all the life jackets, paddles, car rack, and paddle clothing needed to get started.

    2) As I have said before, you need to get a kayak that is safe for the water on which you plan to paddle. I’m not a huge fan of the recreational tandems, unless you are going to stay on very small lakes where the water warms up and you will always be in easy swimming distance of shore. There are no rescue options for recreational sit-in-side kayaks (one large open cockpit for both paddlers) after a capsize except swimming to shore. The ocean and Great Lakes can be “calm” at times, but also can become very rough very quickly and unexpectedly, so recreational sit-inside kayaks are not appropriate. If you want the option of being able to paddle it solo, I would suggest looking at sit-on-top tandems that offer a middle seat option. I’m not sure what you mean by “mild wave water”. If you are thinking of some mild rapids on a river, you would be better off with a shorter tandem sit-on-top as it will give you better maneuverability than a longer boat and will not swamp as you go through waves. Recreational sit-inside kayaks can very easily pin and wrap around rocks if they swamp in even a mild rapid as they have very little in the way of structure and reinforcement.

  41. Alex

    Although I know tandem kayaks CAN be a relationship killer, at times, it is often way exaggerated by posts like this. This often turns newbies away from even giving it a try with their spouse or mate.

    If you’re having your marriage or relationship destroyed because of not being able to paddle in a tandem, the relationship probably wasn’t meant to last, and I say that very seriously, not in a cheesy way.

    Tandem kayaks can actually strengthen your relationship a lot and enhance your communication and teamwork, which is often overlooked.

    Smack your paddles together and laugh it off, but at least give it a try 😉

  42. Sherri

    I still think most “newbies” should first learn to paddle in a solo kayak and then give a tandem a try. (Although, for every rule there are exceptions.) It’s easier to coordinate your efforts if you have some idea of what you need to do to maneuver a kayak and that is better learned in a solo kayak first. I don’t think that tandems actually “kill” relationships, but I do think there have been plenty of people who have had less than stellar first experiences and who were turned off to paddling when in reality it was just that they were put in a kayak with someone else who didn’t know what they were doing either. Not everyone is able to maintain your sense of humor when things aren’t going well. In many cases, couples who attempt to use a tandem have one partner who is gung-ho on the idea of paddling, and one who is not-so-sure about the whole idea. That “gung-ho” partner really needs to make sure that the other person has the best experience possible if they want to convert that person into a willing paddling partner. I’ve heard too many first-hand tales of couples who tried a tandem with poor initial success. Luckily, at least some of those reticent partners were willing to give it a go one more time with an instructor along for help and guidance. I have been teaching canoeing and kayaking for over 15 years and have often been the instructor trying to repair the situation. And from personal experience – teaching your spouse anything is not usually the best method. They’ll learn better from an objective, outside source. 🙂

  43. Ron

    A different perspective: When one person is experienced, much bigger and stronger and the othe is inexperienced, smaller and weaker, the tandem can be the perfect solution. This is the case with my wife and I. We also both had whitewater kayak experience before tandem kayaking but were not at the same level. We decided to get a tandem recreation / expedition kayak about 10 years ago because it was nearly impossible for us to paddle together in separate boats because of the skill and strength difference. In separate boats, we fought all the time. In the tandem, we never fight. It has been absolutely perfect for us. We can travel nearly as fast as I can alone and she can rest whenever she wants. Our ~18 foot Prijon expedition is a pig at ~90 pounds with rudder. But if you are a bigger stonger person, this is nothing to lift up on your roof even when it has some water in side (which it will after a day of paddling). I have solo’d the tandem many times and love it. I just throw my gear in the nose to keep it down, put a cover on the front cockpit and it handles faster and easier than when my wife is with me. We’ve paddled it tandem in storm seas and I’ve paddled it solo in weather that nobody should be out in (actually got spun by a waterspout) but the boat handled just fine. Our size difference is extreme, I’m 6’2″ 240 pounds and she is 4′ 11″ 95 pounds, which basically means it doesn’t matter what she does in that front cockpit I can correct it if need be. She has complete trust in any call I make, and this is critical to happy paddling. We are happy as clams in our tandem. I’m actually looking for a second tandem because we now have 2 daughters and they are getting cramped using the storage hatches as cockpits.

  44. Sherri

    As I’ve always said, tandems have their place and time and certainly do have some advantages when used in the right situation. It sounds as though you have one of those “right situations”. I only wish to caution people not to jump too quickly into a tandem without first considering the possible downsides as it can be difficult to sell a tandem later if you made the wrong decision. My husband and I happily paddle our tandem at times, although we also enjoy each having our own kayaks as well.

  45. Fred

    Sherri,

    May wife and I paddled in Grand Traverse bay solo for years. One spring my wife suggested trying a tandem. My wife generally likes to be in charge of her own fate. An admirable characteristic. Though not always good in a team situation. My daughter and I had an opportunity to try a tandem and loved it. Next my wife and I tried it. Amazingly it fit us to a tee. Other than occasionally telling me that I wasn’t headed in the exact proper direction, our tandem life has been great. (Be sure to have a rudder.) We took the tandem to Isle Royal and later to the Apostle Islands, both in Lake Superior. Both Peak Experiences.

    Caution !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As far as safety goes a tandem is the same as a solo. If you need a rescue you need another kayak with you. Do not be lulled into a feeling of invincibility. The size of a tandem( our wilderness is just shy of 22 ft) and it’s feeling of stability, if it goes over especially in the cold waters of Superior or northern Michigan-Huron you need to rescue quickly. Not easy if you and your partner are alone with a flooded tandem.

    My wife and I tried working together in my office and it was a disaster. Paddling together in a tandem on the other hand has been a dream. Try before you buy. They are heavy and awkward out of the water. For us it has been perfect!

    FA

  46. Sherri

    You and your wife paddled “solo” for years which is one of the big reasons that I think you do so well in the tandem now. You didn’t “learn” how to kayak in the tandem, you did it in your own kayaks and then combined your skills after learning. Your comments on rescuing a tandem are also right on. Tandems take on a lot of water and have some specialized techniques for re-entry if you don’t have another kayak around to stabilize. It may take more to capsize most tandems, but when conditions get bad enough to cause a capsize, you can bet it’s going to be pretty difficult to perform the rescue. It is certainly something that you should practice before it ever happens unexpectedly. As for moving a tandem around out of the water, I seriously recommend a good cart with large tires. It makes a world of difference for moving these things around – so much easier than having two people carry it around. You do still have to get it on and off your vehicle, though.

  47. Pam

    Some of you might want to look into Point 65N modular kayaks. There are several versions- the Mercury touring kayak, the Martini recreational kayak (both sit-ins), and the Tequila, which is a sit on top. You get the best of both worlds, as they can be used with two pieces as a single, or add a center section for a tandem.. L.L. Bean put enough sections together to create a 100 person kayak! All three pieces fit into the back of my Xterra, and since each piece weighs around 25 lbs I can transport everything by myself.

  48. Sherri

    I have seen these kayaks and they certainly do look interesting. I haven’t had a chance to paddle one, but my main concern is how durable the connectors are between the sections and are they easily replaced as I wouldn’t want to spend all that money and have the connectors break after a few years rendering the sections useless. If my fears are unfounded, then this could be a good option for a lot of people.

  49. Ahren

    Hi Sherri, Great Stuff!

    http://www.outdoorplay.com/Necky-Manitou-2-Recreational-Kayak?ext=F

    Do you have an opinion on these Tandems? They seem a reasonable length and weight. We Kayak on small lakes in NH for a few weeks a year in the summer have a 5 year old and 9 year old who like to go out with us. We have a small single Kayak that we use now, and want to add another that can let the whole family go out at the same time. Thanks!

  50. Tim

    I am somewhat large 6′ 4, 315 lbs and have kayaked a grand total of twice, both times recently (within the last month) by myself and both times on different rivers (Niobrara and Buffalo). The first time I rented a Wilderness Systems 135T and loved it. Found it easy to paddle, stable, went through the small rapids (I, I+) no difficulty whatsoever. The second time, they gave me a sit on top good to 350 or 400 lbs (I don’t remember the type). I found it much less stable (I dumped in small rapids) I’m sure that being near the top end of the weight limit was a large factor because it wasn’t that high on the water just normal floating. I want a kayak that I can use in small lakes and rivers of the type given above. I’m thinking about a tandem to be used as a solo mostly because of weight, comfort issues. My question is, if not a tandem, then what solo kayaks would you suggest?

  51. Sherri

    Have you looked into models like the Wilderness System Pungo 140 or other similar 14-foot recreational kayaks? The sit-on-tops can be less stable because depending on the design, your center of gravity may be higher than in a sit-inside kayak. Whatever you buy, make sure you at least take it out for a short test paddle first to determine that it feels stable enough for you and still gives you the control and maneuverability that you need on the rivers.

  52. Sherri

    I haven’t paddled the Manitou tandem, but I have had many students who have Manitou solo kayaks of various sizes and they have all seemed to be reasonable kayaks in terms of construction and performance. I think the kayak would almost certainly work fine for an adult and child. The big question with most recreational tandems is whether they will be stable enough with two large adults in them (like maybe over 400 lbs total weight). If that would be the case at times, you would definitely want to do a test paddle before buying. I would recommend a test paddle in any circumstance, though.

  53. SuperDeluxeJunk

    If you are going to buy a double kayak make sure to get one with a center hatch like the Seaward Southwind or G3. This will prevent most paddle clashes. I love mine and have had it since 1995 and it’s paid for itself after our first 2 week trip to Tofino, BC.

  54. Ramesh

    Hello Sherri,

    After having thought long and hard about an Inflatable Tandem Kayak (Advanced Elements), I am looking into this “snap-in”Kayak. Given they are expensive, but solves my problem on Transportation and handling.

    They are new and hope you can gives us a feedback on these someday soon!

    http://www.westmarine.com/buy/point-65–13-8-tequila-gtx-tandem-kayak-yellow–14988141

    Thanks !

  55. Howard

    Sherri,
    Really appreciated your article on tandems. My wife and I are in our 50’s (the new 30, right?) and after reading this article we realized that a tandem for two beginners, is not the way to go. So, we did some research and decided to buy two Pelican Matrix 100 kayaks. My question is on transporting these two boats. We have a 2013 Hyundai Tucson, it came with factory rails but not the cross bars. We’ve been looking at the Kayak Wing which lets the boats rest on the hull. Would I be better off with a “J” type carrier that rests the boats on their sides? Either way we don’t want to deal with front and rear bumper tie downs. What’s your advice and can you point us to any particular models?
    Thanks and have a great week.
    Howard & JoAnne

  56. Sherri

    Your crossbars probably won’t be long enough to allow you to put two recreational single kayaks side by side on their hulls, so the J cradles may be a better way to go. Carrying plastic kayaks on their sides is better so far as it doesn’t cause as much deformation to the hull, but generally makes it a bit more challenging to get the straps in place. Either way, you need to deal with front and rear bumper tie downs. If you don’t feel comfortable tying knots, there are several ratcheting straps made for the front and rear tie downs. They come with a hook that goes on the boat and another hook that attaches below the bumper to your car frame. If you don’t have a good place to hook the strap under your bumper, you can get “hood loops” from Seattle Sports that will give you an easy tie down location in the front of your car, which is the most critical spot. You can get hood loops that permanently attach to screws under your car hood and fold out when you need them, or you can get temporary hood loops that are removed whenever you are not transporting the kayaks. You never want to rely solely on your factory roof racks to hold a boat on your car as most factory roof racks are very weak and poorly mounted to the roof of your car. Even Yakima racks, which are very strong, do not warranty their kayak racks if you don not use bow and stern tie downs.

  57. Kiel T

    Hi Everyone,

    Great reviews and feedback from all. I wanted to share my insight as I have owned a tandem kayak (Current Designs Double Vision) for 2.5yrs….

    I am recently married and have been with my wife for 8 years prior, I initially got into kayaking in 2007 as i bought my first beater kayak (Pelican Pursuit 100). After 2 years of owning the boat I got anxious and wanted to get more into the sport and my wife was also considering it.

    Before we bought my best advice is to test out many different types of boats to see what you like. Also consider where you will be paddling (open water vs narrow rivers vs rapids) and go from their.

    My wife was also interested in the sport but was uneasy about being on her own – We rented 2 tandems and over 6 singles… After much debate and testing we designed to buy a Double Vision (from a rental fleet)…Saved over $600 and have never looked back!

    We tested it in 3 situations
    1. Both of us in the boat with no gear (camping equipment)
    2. Both of us in the boat with all our gear (sleeping bags, tent, stoves – enough stuff for a 3-4 night excursion)
    3. Only myself in the boat (bought sea covers for both cockpit and simple use the front as additional storage)

    We also tested the performance of the boat in all conditions (open water vs narrow rivers and also choppy conditions)…

    The results.. Excellent in every category, the outfitter referred to tandems as “divorce boats” but its been perfect for us. The beauty of kayaking is indescribable and its really great to be in the boat with your loved with and have a conversation or feeling of being safe. Its also great when my wife or I slacks off the other one can paddle.

    The Pros
    – More affordable in getting 2 x singles
    – Versatility of using as a 2 or 1 seater
    – Allows you share the adventure with others
    – Feel SAFE knowing that you are separated from your spouse
    – Tandem boats are wider and more stable so in any condition is not an issue
    – Alot of storage if you want to add camping into the mix
    – Easier to have conversations and don’t have to yell or paddle towards your mate

    The Cons
    – A little heavier than your single
    – Limited to developing your skill (for me at the moment versatility is more important)
    – Shorter length tandems will be frustrating because less room to maneuver your paddle causing your paddles to slap

    In conclusion…
    All in all we Love our boat (Iceberg) and have never regretted owing it the best thing despite the outfitters telling us that tandem boats are divorce boats… We don’t fight one bit. It actually makes us closer and its an amazing feeling to share with others.

    I hope this review was not too long but happy paddling everyone!

    Kiel & Naema 🙂

  58. Sherri

    Glad to hear that you and your wife get along so well in your tandem. Thanks for your extensive review of your experience in buying and using a tandem. It sounds as though your Current Designs Double Vision is a great solution for your paddling needs. I wouldn’t discount the “divorce boat” label completely, though. As an instructor for the past 20 years, I have seen ample evidence of why that label was given to tandem canoes and kayaks. Truthfully, the problem is worse in canoes than in kayaks, but some people just shouldn’t be in the same boat together. I would take issue with your assessment that because tandem boats are wider they are more stable and therefore not an issue when used in any conditions. Tandems due tend to be more stable (although not always), and so it will take more to cause a capsize, but capsizes do occur in tandems, and when they do it is usually much more difficult to execute a rescue/re-entry. Also, the weight of most tandems is much more than a single, not “a little heavier” as you assert. 15-40 pounds more is not insignificant to most people. Also, tandems are not necessarily cheaper than 2 singles. I will grant you that you can find deals, as you did, that made your tandem much cheaper than 2 singles, but I will counter that I can find those kinds of deals on singles that would be equally discounted. If you look at the MSRP of most kayaks, the cost savings on tandems aren’t really there. You need to buy a tandem because it makes sense for you and your partner, not to save money. You did exactly exactly what I recommend to potential buyers, and that is to think through your options very carefully and do a lot of test paddling. I don’t object to tandems, I only caution people not to run out and buy one without first considering the pros and cons, especially since it can be more difficult to sell a tandem if it turns out that you don’t like it.

  59. David

    Great Blog,

    I tried solo kayaking once (without prior instruction) and nearly paid the price. Luckily I was rescued by the guys I was with. It didn’t totally put me off though; but I stuck to football for the next twenty years 🙂

    My wife and I got an inflatable Tango Z-Pro tandem a few years ago and have enjoyed some nice days out on inland waters (lakes) … we did have a lesson beforehand (in a sit on top, and both got very wet! I put it down to the higher C of G and a weight difference of about 20kg).

    Anyways, I agree that inflatables don’t need trailers or even roof bars, but they do get very wet and so you have to dry off both the car and kayak when you get back home. I was thinking about getting a rigid tandem, but your comments that open ones (two seats, one cockpit) are heavy to right when full of water and rolling in any tandem isn’t easy are making me rethink… that two solos or at least one is a better way forward.

    thanks for a great article

  60. Sherri

    I’m glad you have enjoyed my blog. Having the option of a tandem and a solo is probably the best way to go, if you have the space and budget. There are definitely times when a tandem is a great option, but there are other moments when the solo is really the best way to go. You mention rolling, so I suspect this is a skill you are interested in learning. Be aware that the open cockpit, recreational kayaks are not really able to be rolled as the paddler has no way to stay in the kayak when it is upside down. You need to either have a cockpit that is enclosed enough for your knees to get a good grip on the underside of the deck, or better yet have thigh braces incorporated into the cockpit rim. For sit-on-tops, you must have thigh straps. However, in most cases, and for most paddlers, it is pretty difficult to roll a tandem since it is wider and heavier than a solo, and you generally need to have your partner rolling the kayak along with you which requires some practice and coordination. If rolling is important to you, there are certain tandems which are much better suited for that, although you may be giving up some of the stability that many tandem paddlers appreciate. Thanks again for you comments!

  61. Kimberly

    I was so glad to find this as we have been debating on what to do. We are a family of 5 with 3 single kayaks. We are trying to decide what to get next as it would be for myself and our 6 year old. We live in northwest Florida and go out on the rivers here, which are fairly calm and shallow but do require a good bit of navigation. We were thinking of getting a tandem so the 6 yr old could ride w me, but after reading all of the posts, I am wondering if there is a single that would be a better option, that would have room for her until she was big enough to go on her own or a tandem that would fit our needs. Any suggestions or things we need to make sure we consider? As this is just a fun thing for the family and not something we do all the time, we’d rather not spend a fortune but also want something safe. Thanks for all your info.

  62. Sherri

    Given the type of paddling that you are describing, you can get by with a recreational style or sit-on-top kayak. You could either look for a very short tandem (12-13.5 feet in length) or possibly a 12-14 foot recreational solo kayak with a very large cockpit such as the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 or 140. You can get a small child sitting on a cushion in the front portion of the cockpit while an adult paddles. Getting the 12 or 14 foot kayak will depend on what the combined weight of you and your 6-year-old comes out to and how stable you feel in a kayak. The 12-foot Pungo would probably work better for you once your child graduates to his/her own kayak, but the 14-foot version would likely work better as a temporary tandem. If you do go with the short tandem kayaks, these boats are generally best suited to an adult-child pairing as they are a bit small for two adults unless they are both pretty small adults. Perception has several current tandem models that would meet these criteria, or you may be able to find one of the Perception Prodigy 13.5 recreational tandems either as old stock at a store or on the used market. These shorter tandems are often geared more for someone to be paddling them solo at times than the larger tandems, although most recreational tandems offer the option of solo seating in addition to the tandem arrangement. The sit-on-tops are easier to re-enter after jumping out to take a swim, or after a capsize, but they can be a little heavier than cockpitted sit-inside kayaks of similar size. The best advice is to test paddle any kayaks you are considering, preferably with your 6-year-old joining you in the kayak. I assume that you may have been on the Blackwater River. That is the only river in NW Florida that I have paddled, but I really enjoyed it!

  63. Rick

    I would like to take my 7 year old son on a overnight camping trip and would like some recommendations for what type of kayak to purchase for river/creeks that you would also accommodate a canoe fyi i don’t think he can handle his own kayak

  64. Sherri

    It’s pretty hard to recommend a lot of specific models, not knowing where you live and what stores you may have in your area. Not all kayak models are easily obtainable everywhere. Also, it depends a lot on how much of a “minimalist” you are when camping. As far as gear hauling goes, a canoe would probably be a much better tandem option for your situation. You could always paddle with kayak paddles if you prefer kayaking to canoeing. The canoe would have more gear hauling space in a shorter length (say 16 feet or less) to help you with maneuverability in smaller rivers or creeks. Another option to consider might be looking at inflatable kayaks. This would make it easier for you to transport the kayak without the help of your son who probably isn’t big enough to lift his end of a tandem kayak when carrying to the water. (A cart would also solve this problem.) Many inflatables are also a bit more forgiving of mistakes on the river and may limit the number of capsizes if the current speeds up. This can be helpful for parents concerned about young children having to deal with unplanned swims. If you are planning to use your boat to haul 2 people and gear, make sure that the weight capacity of the kayak is well within your anticipated load of people and camping gear. The closer you are pushing your boat to its weight capacity, the less stable the boat will be when paddling. Also, make sure that the boat has the space to store your gear. Two solo boats almost always have more space than a tandem kayak, so you may have to leave some creature comforts behind when opting for the tandem. With any canoe or kayak, make sure you have most of your gear in dry bags. Not only does it protect your gear from getting wet, but it will keep your gear floating if you should happen to capsize. As always, get a good kid-sized paddle for your son so he doesn’t get worn out and tired as quickly. I like the Werner Sprite.

  65. Gary Griffith

    Hello! Was considering purchasing a tandem kayak for my wife and me until I read your article. Any suggestions for single kayaks that have both lightweight speed and stability, at a reasonable price? Looking to kayak on weekends in Virginia rivers and bay waters and have put-off purchasing because I did not want a slow kayak or a very expensive fiberglass ride. Thank you.

  66. Sherri

    Speed is a pretty hard thing to quantify in a kayak as it is all very relative, and much of it depends on the strength and skill of the paddlers. My suggestion given where you want to paddle, would be to look at entry-level touring kayaks in the 14 foot range (give or take a foot) with both a front and rear bulkhead and hatches. This will be a safer option for the bay waters and larger rivers. Most manufacturers make boats in this style. Widths will usually range from 24-25″ wide for boats in this category. These boats will definitely be faster and more efficient than any recreational kayaks. These boats will weigh around 50-55 lbs in rotomolded polyethylene which is still much less than even a small tandem. Because there are so many manufacturers that make kayaks in this category, you may have a chance of picking up some used kayaks, or at least some good sales on new boats if you aren’t too fussy on the color or particular brand. Skip the rudder if you have the option and want to save some money. You can add it later if needed. Depending on you and your wife’s heights and weights, your wife might be better suited to a slightly shorter and narrower kayak (say 13.5 feet long and 23-24″ wide) if she is under 150lbs, while men who are 200 lbs or larger will want to stick with the longer lengths and perhaps the wider widths, as well. It’s always best to test paddle before buying, if at all possible. If not, see what your options are for return or exchange in advance if the boat doesn’t turn out to meet your expectations after your maiden voyage.

  67. matthew

    I’ve got an old Perception Joccassee – ( the BEST, BIGGEST tandem kayak ever made BTW) – it’s huge and carries enough gear for a week+ touring… But I digress. As a poster said, if you have relationship issues – then don’t get a tandem anything. We LOVE our Tandem and it’s our only Kayak we need. Our conversations and enjoyment of the time together on the water is fantastic, and would never be as enjoyable in singles.

  68. Sherri

    It sounds as if you and your partner only go out paddling with each other, in which case a tandem can work, and I’m very glad that it does work for you! You obviously get along very well with your partner and are like-minded in your enjoyment of the sport. For me and many of my paddling friends, our spouses do not kayak at all, or not nearly as often or as seriously as we do. Tandems would be extremely limiting as our only kayaks. Having a single allows me to paddle whenever I want, wherever I want, as often as I want, and with whomever I want. While I do own several tandems and my husband and I do paddle in tandems occasionally, we paddle solo kayaks most of the time even when we are paddling together. There are some more challenging water conditions that my husband would never choose to paddle in. I also find it easier to converse with a person next to me as opposed to talking to the back of my husband’s head, but that is my personal bias. As far as your opinion of the Jocassee, it is probably a fine recreational tandem for use on inland lakes and slower rivers, but would not be suitable or safe for all forms of kayaking. Better hang on to it, though, as this model hasn’t been made for at least 15 years.

  69. Sherri

    In looking back over Megan’s comments, I’m embarrassed to admit that there was one other option that I failed to mention. A tandem sit-on-top may have been a good option for this family that would have allowed for safer use on Lake Erie as well as the inland waters. Sit-on-tops have the advantage of not filling with water in the event of a capsize like a recreational kayak, and they can be re-entered with less difficulty than a sea kayak. The downside to the sit-on-tops is the fact that you will likely get more wet than you would in a sit-inside style of cockpit. I have purchased a couple of short tandem sit-on-top kayaks recently that have a molded seat in the center of the boat so that they can be paddled both tandem or solo. You would need to have this sort of configuration if you want to be able to use the kayak both as a solo and a tandem.

  70. Ron

    Sherri, enjoyed your article and responses. Given our situation, tandem is the only option. We live in SW Missouri, and will only be on mostly calm waters, full day trips would be rare. Most trips would be 4-5 hours. What’s your opinion of the Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 15 Tandem Kayak?

    Thanks…

  71. Sherri

    Native Watercraft makes a good product overall, and their rather unique hull shape makes the boat quite stable on calm water. The high seat backs do interfere with a good forward stroke (as do all high seat backs), but they are pretty comfortable when you are not paddling and want to lean back and lounge. Use the seat in its lowest position to maximize stability.

  72. Tom

    First: great post, and I generally agree with the points made. However, I do think there is additional safety/security in using tandems vs singles, particularly when the skill gap is sizable, because it is harder for the more-experienced paddler to assist/protect from a separate boat (singles) than from within the same boat (tandem). Setting up a tow after conditions have deteriorated is no simple matter, especially when one of the paddlers is having difficulties or is already in trouble.
    The less-experienced paddler’s desire for independence must always be considered secondary to their need for safety (an under-valued concept in the recreational kayaking community, which has led to some fatalities). Using separate boats requires staying in areas and conditions that are safe for the least-skilled member of a group, while a tandem can allow a less-skilled paddler to experience a more challenging environment without significantly increased risk.
    Far too often, experienced paddlers bring less-experienced paddlers out (in singles) to conditions they are not ready for, simply because the more-experienced paddlers don’t want to limit themselves. Tandems impose less of a limit, and also enforce shared survival rather than “every man for himself”.

    Separately, I’d like to share my own tandem-vs-singles story:
    I had a small amount of kayaking experience (and my own 13′ inflatable) and a friend of mine bought a pair of singles this year so I started getting into paddling in a bigger way. My significant other had zero experience so we started by renting a tandem a couple of times and also had the opportunity to try solos together once she had a little experience.
    Given her body size and experience relative to mine, my double-solo experience was alternately waiting or towing, while the tandem made it easier to have a conversation and paddle whatever amount we each wanted to. On the occasions when she crapped out and we needed to cover ground, I was able to paddle the tandem alone more easily (and less annoyingly) than a single towing another single. The rest of the time (in the tandem, not singles), we were keeping up with other boats fairly easily with a relatively small contribution on her part.
    Add to that the fact that my SO prefers being close to me and working together rather than being on her own, plus the safety considerations, and the tandem was a no-brainer.

    But let me say clearly: TRY BOTH BEFORE CHOOSING, and consider personality with equal importance. I have paddled our tandem with my significant other and with my friend (who has a similar ability/strength level), and with my friend I think we would prefer the independence of separate boats although the tandem was almost as fun in its own way (two strong paddlers in a tandem can smoke just about any similar single, and maneuvering in tight spots was a fun coordination challenge). On the other hand, my friend’s wife has no kayaking skills and an authoritarian attitude that would be grounds for divorce in a tandem – and is happier staying home anyway. (remember that as a third option)

    I also have the luxury of my single when my SO can’t go with me in the tandem, so I have to say that the ideal is in fact two boats: one tandem, one single.
    Seriously consider the used market after you’ve researched what kind of boat you want and know the manufacturers’ model names for that type – you’ll find some good deals, and if you get rid of it later you won’t lose as much as you would if you bought new. Just be sure you know what to look for and can get a first-person look at the boat before parting with your money – caveat emptor. And DON’T SINK ALL YOUR MONEY INTO JUST THE BOAT! Upgraded paddles can make a world of difference to the overall experience, and you’ll need two sets of safety equipment also (and immersion gear, if you want to go when the water is less than 65 degrees).

  73. Sherri

    All good points, Tom. I don’t think we necessarily have any disagreement in our views. I think there can be greater safety in a tandem over two singles in certain situations, although there can also be greater safety in 2 singles over 1 tandem in other situations. Tandems do have greater initial stability and take more to capsize, but when they do capsize, they take on a huge amount of water and can be difficult to rescue, so again, it depends on the circumstances. I have never told people that they “shouldn’t buy a tandem”. My advice has always been just what you said, “Try both,” and be educated on the pros and cons of each. Too many people who purchased tandems and found themselves unhappy with their decision simply assumed that a tandem was the only option for their situation. It didn’t occur to them that the weight of a tandem might pose a problem, or that the person they hoped to paddle with wouldn’t want to join them every time they wanted to get out on the water. I would agree with you that the optimal solution is to have a solo and a tandem, but that isn’t always financially feasible. The used market is certainly a good option if you can find what you need when you need/want it, but it may very well involve having to drive somewhere fairly far away to get the boat or having to pay for shipping. (I had to drive down to Florida to pick up a used tandem that I bought a couple years ago.) Regardless of what boats you get, I wholeheartedly agree that you should upgrade your paddles, get good immersion clothing, and you will still need pretty much two of everything whether you paddle a tandem or two solos. I hope to meet you out on the water someday, Tom, in a solo or a tandem. 🙂

  74. Ron

    Sherri,
    Ever had any experience with the Old Town Twin Heron? Reviews looks good, and reportedly is a viable solo option. Much more affordable that the Native. Thanks for the assist…

  75. Sherri

    The Twin Heron will probably not be as stable as the Native Ultimate, likely will not track as well, and the two paddlers are going to sit “lot” closer together than in the Ultimate which can create difficulties when paddling or if the stern paddler has long legs. Even if the boats were the same size, the cockpit on the Twin Heron looks to be smaller. I’m also not sold on the solo option in the Twin Heron. If you plan to use your tandem as a solo at times, you want a kayak where you can move one of the seats into a center position. The photo on the Old Town website showing the guy paddling solo from the rear seat shows that the boat is not really trim. It is stern heavy, and you don’t want the paddler to be that far back in the boat. It will not perform as well as if the paddler is nearer to the center. If the Native Ultimate is too expensive, I’m sure you can find something in your preferred price range from a manufacturer like Perception that would be a better choice. The Perception Conduit 14T is actually less expensive, and the Perception Cove 14.5T looks like a renamed “Prodigy” tandem which I have used in my own programs and have been satisfied with. Old Town has been a good name in canoes, but I’ve never been all that impressed with most of their kayak designs.

  76. Derek

    Nice article. My wife and I started with a short, open-cockpit, tandem. Bad idea 🙂

    We quickly got singles, but she’s so much smaller than me that I spend an awful lot of time not paddling. This month, we kayaked the Douro in Portugal, in a longer tandem (but still too short at 15′). It was a great experience, and we’re now considering a proper tandem sea kayak. We’ll definitely keep her glass kayak, but I’m on the fence about selling my plastic one. I can handle hers, she can’t handle mine, and I really don’t paddle alone, while she does. otoh, I like my single 🙂

  77. Sherri

    At this juncture, it might be wise to take the time to do a lot of test paddling in other boats before making any snap decisions on buying or selling any more kayaks. You may always be a faster paddler than your wife due to your strength, but perhaps she would benefit from some additional instruction focusing on her forward stroke. I would also suggest that you take a closer look at the paddle she is using as this could also contribute to her slower speed. I would recommend a very lightweight carbon paddle with a smaller surface area blade such as the Werner Athena. She may be paddling more slowly than you because the surface area on the blades of her paddle is too large for her, or the whole paddle is too heavy (think about a child trying to paddle with an adult paddle that is too large). While I’m not suggesting that your wife needs a kid’s paddle, I know that the right paddle, namely smaller and lighter, can make a huge difference for many women as it allows them to keep up a faster paddling cadence without the fatigue.

  78. Gary

    Obviously the person writing this article is anti tandem!

  79. Sherri

    I wrote the article, and you have obviously missed my point. I am far from “anti-tandem”. I own 5 of them. However, like any kayak, they are not the right choice for everyone and every situation. When you go into most stores and say you are looking for a tandem, you are going to be sold a tandem whether it makes the most sense for you or not. I am merely cautioning people to think through the choice very carefully before buying in order to avoid making a costly mistake. If you buy a tandem and find out that it does not meet your needs, you will find it harder to sell and will have to drop the price more than if you buy two single kayaks and decide afterward to sell them in favor of a tandem. That’s just the reality. In other words, when in doubt, it makes more financial sense to buy two solo kayaks first than to buy a tandem first. As an instructor and former paddle sports department manager as well as a long-time kayaker, I’ve seen too many people who bought a tandem and regretted it (most often because of the weight of the boat). That isn’t everyone, but it is a significant enough number of people that I would like to help prevent it from happening to more people.

  80. Tom

    I agree – the article isn’t “anti-tandem” per se, it’s more of a caution against the rush to purchase a tandem (especially a high-end one) when it’s probably not the best fit long-term. If you can afford one in addition to a pair of singles, then it’s a great way to introduce friends to the sport in a casual, safe way. But after they get the hang of things, it’s more fun to have your own boats, especially if you don’t always paddle together. Another suggestion: the less-experienced / weaker kayaker should get the best boat – they’ll enjoy it more and be more willing to go out.

  81. Sherri

    Great thoughts about introducing friends and giving the best boat to the less experienced paddler, Tom.

  82. HaleyH11

    I appreciate your thorough take on tandem kayaks. I like that you’re not afraid to state your opinion and you don’t feel the need to pretend like every kayak is awesome! These are all things that need to be taken into consideration when deciding what kind of kayak to purchase.

    People can also make the case as to why they might feel tandems are better, and they do, but it’s always good to consider both points of view, especially when looking to shell out hundreds of dollars on a purchase.

  83. Sherri

    Thank you for your comments, and I’m really glad you understand my point. I have never told someone not to buy a tandem, I have only cautioned them to carefully think through all the very real negative aspects as well as the positive points and then make an informed decision for their own personal situation. Tandems certainly have their place and are VERY useful in certain situations. Given the difficulty of selling a tandem, I just don’t want to see someone get stuck with a boat that wasn’t the right solution for them in the first place.

  84. Kathy

    Hi, since there was not a reply to Tim, I assume this thread is no more. However, just in case, I will make my comments. My husband and I have never been in a kayak, but we go canoe/camping every year. We paddle the canoe effortlessly together. How different is tandem kayak paddling? Is a kayak much more apt to capsize than a canoe? We used to have two camp chairs, and now we have a camp couch that we can both sit on and we LOVE it. We enjoy being with each other and I can’t imagine enjoying a solo kayak it would be too lonely.

  85. Ramesh

    Hello!
    Update to my 2014 post – I purchased an Advanced Elements convertible inflatable kayak this spring and have been very pleased. I take it out on calm waters, mostly lakes in Oregon.

    The skill gap between me and my wife and my 2 kids is significant that I can’t let them go on their own.

    I followed Sherri’s advise and got good paddles, so I have almost no fatigue after couple of hours of paddling.

    To transport I also acquired LL Bean Packaway Kayak cart, which is very compact and fits the bill.

    I am now looking for a 2nd Kayak for my kids and curious if anybody has tried the
    Pak boats Kayaks?

    Thanks for a great site!

  86. Sherri

    I have only paddled a PakBoat kayak for a short test paddle several years ago , but I was pleased with the overall construction and performance of the boat. I know that many PakBoat folding canoes have been used in wilderness trips with very good results and I would personally be comfortable buying a boat from this company.

  87. Kathy

    Unbelievably, I came across a free trip down part of the Cloquet River (4 hrs) in Minnesota on July 23, in which my husband and I can try out a tandem kayak!! (Either that or join a large canoe with 8 total paddlers). I think we will opt to try a tandem kayak and also get a free lunch! I also was looking at PakBoat because we do not have room to store both our full 17′ canoe and a tandem kayak. Looking for a folding or inflatable if we like this tandem kayak on the 23rd.

  88. Kathy

    Update: We had a great time on July 23 on the Cloquet River and loved the tandem kayak we used! We are fans!!

  89. Nikolai

    Question…I can not afford a boat loan. I wish to fish pretty actively off a kayak and would like to be with my 5 year old son fishing on lakes. Do you foresee a problem with his potential behavior on the kayak? Would he do better in his own solo kayak? Also, I will probably never tandem kayak with my wife of ten years due to the fact that she will have hard density oars in her hands to beat me with! We wouldn’t last two minutes. But I am thinking tandem for my 5 year old son and younger daughter. Any thoughts? Also, Will I need a rudder? Isn’t fishing hard to accomplish with oars in hands? Should I look at foot propulsion?

  90. Sherri

    More than likely, your 5 year old will still do better in a tandem with you, although you could consider putting him in a solo if he is a competent swimmer and you don’t mind pulling him with a tow line at times. The down side to the tandem option is that you are going to have to handle the boat on land pretty much by yourself as your kids aren’t going to be able to help much with lifting and carrying such a heavy boat. As far as your son’s behavior, you are going to have to gauge that topic yourself since I don’t know your son. My son loved to fish from the time he was 2 years old and would have behaved just fine on a kayak with his dad. I have a 5-year-old granddaughter that probably wouldn’t sit still long enough to make this arrangement work. I recommend that any tandem should probably have a rudder as it will make it easier for you to control the boat on your own and will make it easier to paddle in sync with a companion. If you want to troll, you will need foot propulsion, or you may be able to learn to paddle with a hand paddle on one hand. If you are fishing from an anchored position, you won’t need to worry about the foot propulsion. You could get a paddle leash so that while you are fishing or reeling in a fish, you could throw the paddle off to the side without fear of losing it.

  91. Annika Larson

    My husband and I absolutely love adventuring the outdoors. We are considering purchasing a kayak, and we want to make sure this is the right choice for us. I think a tandem kayak would be fun for us since we would always want to go together, but as you said, they do weigh a lot. We will have to look into different styles to see what would really be best for us and our trips! Thanks for sharing!

  92. Sherri

    One other thing to at least consider with a tandem, one of you will always be looking and talking to the back of the other person’s head. For some people that doesn’t matter. For others, it may get annoying that your view is always obstructed by the person sitting in front of you. The person in front may need to constantly turn around in order to be heard by the person sitting behind. Again, not a problem for people who speak loudly enough or for people with excellent hearing, but that does not apply to everyone. 🙂

  93. Jon kayaker

    Thanks for the incredibly detailed guide. I have been kayaking for the last three years, and totally happy with the time spent.

  94. Jan

    What are your thoughts about the Hobie Tandem kayaks?

  95. Jan

    What are your thoughts on the Hobie tandem kayaks?

  96. Sherri

    Hobie makes a good quality product. I’m personally a paddler, rather than a “pedaler”, so I haven’t pedaled a Hobie. Besides the general considerations for buying a tandem outlined in the blog, you need to decide whether you want to lug around the pedal drive which adds a great deal of weight to the boat. The added weight is mainly a concern when you have to get the boat to the water or back to the car. I believe that you can remove the pedal drive making the weight of the kayak more reasonable, but you still have to move a tandem sit-on-top which always tend to be very heavy for their length. The Hobie Kona and the Odyssey, which do not have the pedal drive, are pretty short for tandems (I personally wouldn’t get the Kona – at 12′ you’ll be bumping into the other paddler all the time). The Odyssey is at the minimum length I would consider – 14′, but it is heavy for a 14-footer at almost 92 lbs.

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