Skip to main content

How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak: A Beginner’s Guide

Solo kayaks are a great piece of sports equipment for all the water sports enthusiasts who feel more comfortable out in the waves than on land. The freedom on the water is for many the decisive argument to get into the kayak sport. The numerous advantages for your own health and the fact that canoeing is an excellent full-body workout also play a role.

Compared to other water sports, a kayaker hardly needs any equipment and a partner like a canoe is not necessary. The double-sided paddles allow a single person to keep the boat on course without having to change sides all the time.

Nevertheless, kayaks for two people, so-called tandem kayaks, are very popular. Often a handful of these models can be found among the best-selling kayaks.

The construction and driving characteristics of the tandem kayaks are quite different from solo kayaks. The longer and wider construction provides more stability and a safe straight line. At the same time the synergy of the two paddlers is enormously important. Only with coordinated paddling movements the kayak steers towards the target.

Tandem kayaks vs. solo kayaks

The lightweight solo kayaks are smaller and more agile than their big brother. Solo kayaks, however, do not come without certain limitations. For a short time the child is often not able to go on a small kayak adventure with solo kayaks.

The smaller solo kayaks can carry less load than tandem kayaks. Tandem kayaks are typically 150 and 250 kilograms and offer space for a second and possibly a third (light) person. Tandem kayaks are the ideal start for those who do not have much experience with kayaks.

If you are planning to go on a tour with a friend or family member anyway, it is better to use a tandem kayak instead of buying two solo kayaks. Compared to the alternative, the transport of a single tandem kayak is much easier and you save some money.

Your buddy doesn’t even have to be a paddler himself. Like a chauffeur, you can only drive older people or your dog back and forth in a tandem kayak.

The right tandem kayak

When choosing a tandem kayak, a distinction is often made between all-rounders and touring kayaks. You can often read about sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks.

The first distinction is the type of construction. Touring kayaks are more elongated than all-round kayaks. Due to this construction they offer less resistance to the water and therefore reach higher speeds. For longer distances touring kayaks are better designed. Allrounders, on the other hand, are ahead when it comes to manoeuvrability and tipping stability. For this reason, we recommend all-round kayaks for beginners.

Kayaks are also divided into Sit-in and Sit-on-Top kayaks. The categorisation is based on differences in relation to the upper deck. Sit-on-top kayaks are outdoor kayaks, while sit-in kayaks surround the paddlers downwards of the hips.
These structural differences are accompanied by all sorts of advantages and disadvantages. However, this is not important, because most two-person kayaks are sit-on-top kayaks anyway.

Getting into the kayak

First the paddler sitting in front should get in. First the back of the tandem kayak should be left in the water. In the still flat area the rear paddler holds the boat so that the front seated paddler can get in better.

The rear paddler pushes the kayak further into the water and then climbs into the kayak himself. Another common question is who should sit behind the kayak in a tandem. The decision seems unimportant at first. In fact it is better if the experienced or the strong paddler sits in the back of the kayak. Later on, we will explain in more detail why.

Synergy when paddling

The big challenge when paddling together is the coordination with each other. But it is really important to time the strokes. If this doesn’t work, the lane will look more like a zigzag line than a straight line.

Synchronized paddling is made even more difficult by the fact that the paddles can hit each other when small deviations occur. Take some time to develop a certain rhythm. In the beginning this may be difficult. But if you try hard and always try, you will improve over time.

Keeping the rhythm

From the construction of the tandem kayaks it can be seen that the kayaker sitting in front cannot see the rear paddler. The front kayaker therefore sets the rhythm, while the rear kayaker adjusts his own paddle speed to this.

The clock has to tune to a rhythm and keep it. The challenge of the rear paddler is to paddle at the same speed and steer the kayak. Through a different use of force, the nose of the boat will gradually tilt.
If you paddle in the same beat, the kayak will keep a straight line without losing much of its power through a zigzag course.

In case of small deviations from the course, it is sufficient for the back-seated paddler to react with stronger paddle strokes on the opposite side (to the deviations). At the same time, however, the beat of the person in front must be maintained.

If the kayak deviates to the left, the back man has to paddle stronger on the right side.
If the kayak deviates to the right, the rear man should put more force into the paddle on the left side.

Steering the kayak correctly

The helmsman can help himself with paddle strokes reinforced on one side. In case of strong course deviations or if waves, currents or wind cause a permanent drift, this method reaches its limits.

In these cases and for abrupt turns, a few backward strokes are the best method. The helmsman will of course get out of time, but you should be able to get back in after just a few strokes of the clock.

The helmsman is the strong paddler

From the descriptions of the individual tasks you can read that the rear paddler is exposed to high loads. The constant and intensified paddle strokes to keep the kayak on course are a great strain. For this reason, the rear paddler should be the stronger member of the team.

Strength is not everything

In tandem kayaks, strength and endurance are not as important as in solo kayaks. Especially the first tour with a new partner can quickly end in frustration. The coordination of the paddle strokes is a process in which only practice and repetition can lead to success. Training, patience and sufficient communication are the keys to success.


Kayaking alone is fun, only paddling together can beat that. With synchronized paddling, new teams often have a hard time. However, training and experience quickly lead to the first moments of success and then it is really fun thanks to the extra high speed!





Average rating 5 with a total of 1 votes

Related Articles