The Best Tandem Kayak – Double Up Your Paddling Adventures!
Sharing is caring, right?! Well, tandem kayaks are for those of us who like to share.
Hey, we’re not saying that having a single kayak means you don’t have any friends or that you don't have someone special in your life! It’s just that paddling a tandem with another person on board can be a great way to socialize and share that perfect paddling experience.
We can hear single paddlers screaming "Being stuck on the same boat with someone else is my idea of Hell!".
But in all seriousness, tandems have their good points, and their bad.
Before we go into more detail on the different types of tandems and the reasons whether you should consider one, let’s have a quick look at the most popular tandems out there right now, for every price range…
Top Tandem Kayaks At A Glance:
Top 11 Best Tandem Kayaks Reviewed
1: Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Tandem Kayak
Our favorite, and one of many sit-on-top kayaks. The Sea Eagle SE370 comes packed with a pump, 2 inflatable seats, paddles, and a repair kit, should you have the misfortune to puncture your kayak. So good, no matter what your skill level.
Made from heavy-duty polykrylar, the SE370 is very durable inflatable kayaks.
It manoeuvres well, even when paddled by a single person. When paddling alone, the rest of the space to carry huge loads and/or pets! Just be careful in rougher waters or if the wind is up. This is when 2 paddlers are better than one.
You do get free paddles with the SE370, but you might be better off sourcing your own. Try the free ones first to see how you go.
2: Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T
High up on our list of our tandem kayak reviews, the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T is a sit-inside yak that has a large 90 inch long cockpit that can be easier to get in and out of. This boat can be great for year-round paddling with a friend and can also be paddled solo.
It comes with two Phase 3 AirPro seats that offer back support, full adjustability and breathable padded mesh for added comfort. The bow seat can slide back to the center position for improved boat control if you’re paddling alone.
You'll need to source your own paddle, as this yak doesn't include one.
There is a dry storage hatch at the stern and bungee rigging at the bow for your gear.
The Pamlico 145T is designed to be easy to maneuver and comes with a rudder for added performance. It can be a great tandem for weekend paddling expeditions on flatwater.
3: Old Town Dirigo Tandem Plus Kayak
This Old Town Dirigo Tandem Plus can be a good boat if you’re looking for a tandem that might be faster over the water. This 15 foot 3 inch yak is relatively narrow, at under 30 inches wide, which can mean improved speed. This can make it ideal for longer paddling sessions or a multi-day kayaking trip.
It is a sit-inside tandem kayak that features two spacious cockpits, with the rear cockpit being almost 50 inches long, with a removable middle jump seat for a small passenger to tag along. The stern seat can also slide forward if you choose to paddle the boat on your own.
The Dirigo Tandem Plus has plenty of room for your gear, with a large Click Seal hatch that’s ideal for larger items. You’ll also find deck bungees at the bow and stern for securing additional cargo. Both paddlers have access to cup holders and the front paddler has the benefit of a small hatch for valuables.
4: Ocean Kayak Zest Two
This is a tandem kayak that’s built for light touring. With its stable hull, it can handle a range of water conditions and could be a good choice for a family camping trip.
Because of its relatively narrow width compared with its long length, the Zest Two is designed for speed and efficiency compared to some shorter, wider yaks. This can make it easier to paddle over longer distances.
The yak comes with padded seats with seat backs that fit in the two molded seats in the hull, but there’s also room for a small third passenger or dog.
There are spacious gear storage compartments at the bow and stern, both with bungee cords for securing gear for an overnight trip.
This is a pretty long vessel, which may require additional transportation considerations and a strong second paddler to help lift it.
5: Old Town Twin Heron Tandem
Back onto the subject of sit-inside kayaks - the Old Town Twin Heron has a large, spacious cockpit with two seats and adjustable seat backs.
The design of the cockpit can also mean you’re able to paddle it on your own if you need to. And to help with this, there’s an Auto Trim Hull, which redistributes the weight when paddling singular, so it shouldn’t affect the performance or cause the yak to tip.
There's also the useful "Glide Track" foot brace system, which helps you position your feet comfortably.
With a 500 pound capacity it can be a great choice for larger solo paddlers or if you want additional gear storage capacity. If there are two of you paddling, you should also still have room for light camping gear and there’s the benefit of having additional bungee storage space at the stern.
Note that there's no dry storage area for keeping water-allergic essentials. The cockpit is mostly covered, but you might want to consider using a dry bag for your valuables.
6: Advanced Elements Straitedge 2 Inflatable Kayak
The Straitedge 2 is another one of many inflatable tandem kayaks that could be a good option if you want the freedom to be able to take your vessel with you wherever you go and not have to find dedicated storage or transportation methods.
It has an aluminum frame at the bow and stern, which can help with performance, particularly tracking on open water. But it can be ideal for a range of water, from lakes and bays to rivers and up to Class 3 whitewater kayaking. Just note that there are faster kayaks on the list. This won't be breaking any kayak speed records.
Another feature of the Straitedge 2 is that it has built-in rod holders, which means it can be ideal for fishing trips. It comes with padded seats with adjustable seat backs but it’s also possible to reconfigure the seats to paddle it solo from the center.
7: FeelFree Lure II Tandem Fishing Kayak
The FeelFree Lure II can be a great tandem if you’re looking to head out fishing with a buddy, as it comes with two padded mesh Gravity seats. These seats can be positioned higher or lower in the boat and adjusted for support and comfort for all day fishing.
Both paddlers have access to a sonar pod and a standing platform for an easier fishing experience. The boat is also rigged with holders for your fishing rods, gear tracks for installing additional accessories, and a spacious rear tank well for your crate or cooler.
While this boat is pretty heavy (no, that's not a typo above - it's 92 lbs), there is a wheel in the keel to help you roll it along to your launch spot.
Another great feature of this tandem is that you can paddle it solo from the rear seat, freeing up space at the front for additional cargo. It’s also compatible with the Overdrive pedal drive and motor drive (both sold separately).
8: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two (12 ft version)
This ever-popular kayak seats 2 paddlers comfortably. You could also fit a smaller child in the center making this a 3 person kayak. Up to 425 pounds of weight in total is supported.
It comes with Comfort Plus seats that can be inserted in two of the three molded seat wells. Along with the 3 wells comes several foot wells so your leg length should be catered for.
It’s a hard-shelled ‘yak so of course won’t store away compactly, like some of the inflatable tandem kayaks in the list.
Best suited to relatively flat waters. Rough waters can make the Malibu Two a bit of a handful to control, which could prove tricky for beginners.
Note that paddles are not included with this product.
9: Riot Escape Duo Sit-On-Top Tandem Kayak
The Riot Escape Duo is a rigid tandem kayak that can be ideal for a range of water conditions and can be a great boat for fishing.
There are four flush-mount fishing rod holders, with two positioned for the front paddler and two for the rear. You’ll also find two paddle holders, so you can both stow your paddle securely while you’re busy fishing.
This boat has a generous weight capacity, making it a good choice for larger paddlers or if you want to load it up with lots of gear. There is a large cargo well in the rear, with bungee rigging to help keep your stuff secure. There is also a smaller storage well at the bow, also with bungees.
It comes with two Flex 4 seats that are padded with an adjustable backrest for support. There are also molded foot wells for both paddlers and molded carry handles at the bow and stern to help you get it from A to B.
10: Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak
Our high-end inflatable offering is the Colarado tandem ‘yak. You may be wondering why pay the extra money? Well, aside from the fact that this tandem is particularly robust, it has a number of fittings that allow for chance of expansion.
For example, there are fitting for a trolling motor. There’s also paddle holders and rod holders. So yes, you guessed it, this kayak is perfect for the fishermen among you. Of course, there are seats included and it is easy to carry around courtesy of its D-rings.
Going back to the robustness. This tandem is made from rugged 18-gauge PVC. Even if you did happen to get a puncture, the kayak has several air chambers, so only a certain area will leak in water, rather than the entire ‘yak sinking. Nice.
Downsides are that is does not come with a pump or paddles. So you are going to have to factor that extra cost in if purchasing.
11: Lifetime Manta Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak
This is the ultimate budget option on the list. We've thrown it in at the end as a bit of a token gesture.
It has its place though. Some may view the Manta as "junk", but for those dipping their toes into kayaking on a budget - this kayak might just do the job.
The Manta is another hard shelled PVC offering. Relatively lightweight at 60lbs, this ‘yak comes with paddles and two soft backrests. The backrests tie onto the kayak and sit on top the molded seats. There’s actually 3 molded seats, so a third person (preferably small) can sit in the center, between the bow and stern seating positions.
Along with paddle cradles, there’s a handy little cargo storage on the bow. Note that it’s not an enclosed area, the cargo is held down with shock straps – but we still welcome this addition. Oh, and there’s a bottle holder. Hmmm, now is that for water…or beer?
The cargo area could be used to hold your fishing gear. Just as well then that there’s also rod holders included as well.
Carries up to 500 pounds in weight.
Why Choose A Tandem Kayak?
Tandem kayaks have many pros, and a few cons. Deciding on whether or not a tandem is for you is going to depend on many factors. There is no hard fast answer here. It’s all going to come down to the preference of the kayaker!
However, what we can do is give you as much information as we possibly can to help you get closer to making that final choice!
How about we start off with highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of owning a tandem kayak.
You Have A Family
This is one of the more obvious pros to owning a tandem. If you have a family, particularly with younger kids, then having a tandem is a must.
Depending on the age & size of your kids (make sure you are confident they can be trusted in the cockpit), you can paddle as an adult and child together. It’s best to have the child sitting in the bow cockpit (front seat) and the adult at the stern end (back seat).
With this set up, your kids can sit at the front and enjoy the views. While all the time, you can paddle at the back, still see everything, and look out for any obstacles that may crop up.
If you have one child and two adults, you could consider purchasing a separate solo ‘yak. Best to have an adult in that solo kayak, especially if you have younger kids. Always make sure you have your little ones within arms reach. And ensure you set some good, common sense ground rules before you set off (no standing or leaning etc). It goes without saying that safety should always come first!
If you have 2 or more kids, then mix and match the kayaks. And as we said previously, make sure the younger kids are not paddling solo.
Most tandem kayaks have a third space for someone smaller. Some can have a seat fitted in this third space, some not. It’s possible for a child to squeeze in here, or perhaps a dog. Just be really careful. This position may mean the person is more exposed to the elements. Something you want to avoid if the person is not 100% competent….like smaller kids for example.
Yup, paddling with a family member can be very special.
Can be easier (take breaks, multitasking etc)
Paddling a tandem kayak can just be ‘easier’!
When paddling a solo kayak, everything is down to you and you only. Need to paddle over here, or over there? Well, it’s all down to you! No-one else is going to take any of the strain for you.
With tandems on the other hand, it’s possible to take short breaks while the other person paddles on. Shhh! The person sitting in the stern position may be able to rest a little more as they are out of sight, hehe.
Tandem kayaks also get the big ‘thumbs up’ for those who are multitasking. For example, if you’re paddling along a picturesque river and have a camera, you’re probably going to want to take some snaps. Having two people on board means that one can steer, while the other sets themselves up for the perfect shot.
Fishing would be another example. If you’re trying to reel in a whopper, you’ll want someone else on board to keep things steady.
If you want to pick up the pace, then a tandem is the way to go. Of course, there are two of you on board, so with teamwork you can really power ahead.
2 persons, along with the fact you’re paddling a longer boat, means you can tour along faster. Even taking into consideration that the stern is wider on a tandem, theoretically, you should travel faster through the water.
Now, speed isn’t necessarily an advantage. If you’re enjoying the beautiful scenery on a tour, then speed is probably something you don't really care about. We have, however, put it down as an advantage. There are some racy paddlers out there, after all!
Stability can be key, particularly for less experienced kayakers. Think beginners, and of course, children. If you lack experience, you may be looking for stability over speed – something we would recommend.
Stability is also important in choppier or less calm waters. The more stability, the better.
You may want to consider a tandem kayak with a rudder and pedals for easier control. Tandems can be a little more difficult to manoeuvre than single kayaks.
Sharing Is Caring (It Can Be More Fun!)
This is purely subjective! Sometimes the paddling experience is just more fun with two people. You can share the moment much easier than if you were in single kayaks.
Sitting together, it is much easier to have a conversation and talk about the views and the overall experience together. You can share those ‘look at that!’ moments much more easily and intimately in a 2 person kayak.
This is especially the case if you are with your wife/husband/partner, or significant other. It is obviously so much more romantic to share the ride with your loved one than paddling separately.
More Spacious (but 2 single/kayaks usually carry more than Double Kayak)
The basic rule is that a double kayak can carry around 1.5 times more equipment than a solo kayak. That’s a significant increase in storage space. However, be warned. There is usually a lot more space in 2 single kayaks than there is in one tandem ‘yak. Food for thought…
As tempting as it is, try not to bring too much gear with you. Yes, tandem kayaks can take a lot of heavy gear. But the more that’s carried, the more difficult it is to get around and the harder it is to paddle. Kayaks tend to be so much more sluggish when nearing weight capacity.
This is another reason why two solo kayaks are better than a tandem should there be a need to carry around more stuff.
If you can carry less – do so. Your paddling experience will be a whole lot more enjoyable as a result.
If There’s An Accident, Or Someone Ill, That Person Can Sit In The Spare Seat
This is something to really think about. Whether you just have the one tandem for 2 people, or you’re out with a group…having at least one tandem kayak is a great safety backup.
If you’re out with a group and someone falls ill or tires out, you have the spare seat in the tandem for that person to relax and let the other paddler do all the work.
If you’re out with a bunch of solo ‘yaks, then how is that person going to get to their destination? A solo kayak would have to get towed, with that person on board. Not particularly practical, although possible.
Take The Dog!
Yup, why not take the dog with you! As long as they’re happy enough, a “man’s best friend “ can be great company if you’re going out for a tour.
We recommend looking for a ‘yak with removable seats. This will leave as much room as possible for ‘Fido’ to get comfortable and enjoy the ride as well.
So what are some of the drawbacks of owning a tandem kayak?
Transport & Storage
This is probably the biggest disadvantage. Tandem kayaks are just bigger and more cumbersome than single versions.
This means you need to think about storage and how you're going to move the kayak around:
- Have you got enough space to store a large kayak?
- Is your car capable of carrying around your bigger-than-average kayak?
These both need thorough investigation before any purchase.
Tandem kayaks also tend to be heavier. Well, the hard shell ‘yaks are, at least.
With all this weight, can you easily lift the kayak onto the roof rack of your car? One strong (relatively speaking) person should be able to do this alone, but really it’s a 2 person job. Although you could invest in a kayak loader to get around this problem.
Keep these points in mind!
Not As Much Room As 2 Solo Kayaks
As we said before, a tandem kayak is ‘roomy’, but 2 single yaks are a better option if you plan on lugging around lots of equipment regularly.
There is no golden rule on this, as it’s going to depend on a number of variables. Just measure up all your options before making any decision.
Loss Of Independence?
We explained earlier how a tandem kayak can be good for sharing the experience. Well, yes, we still stand by that. But sometimes tandem kayaking can cause friction between two paddlers. Particularly if there is a great difference in fitness levels and in expectation from the kayak tour experience.
One person may want to paddle slowly down one side of the river, while the other might want to go ‘all out’ down the other!
There’s also a loss of independence. If you’re paddling solo, you can go anywhere you want and as fast as you want whenever the moment takes you. Tandems mean teamwork. So if you have an independent thinking mind, a kayaking partner may not be for you!
Brian Day - Paddling Mag
When it comes to tandem paddling, there’s no clear advantage to one design versus the other. Instead, it’s best to choose the tandem kayak that is most appropriate for the paddling that you plan to do. If you want a tandem recreational kayak that can be paddled some distance from shore, a sit-on-top design will be best.
If you know you’ll stick to shallow water and want a dryer ride, choose a sit-inside recreational design. If you’re looking to camp out of your tandem, consider a tandem touring kayak instead of a recreational design.
2-Person Kayaks: FAQs
Can You Paddle A Tandem Kayak Solo? If Yes, How?
Yes, you can. You may find that you have more control over the boat and better weight distribution if you reposition the seats so that you’re sitting closer to the center of the yak.
How Long Are Tandem Kayaks?
They can be longer than solo recreational kayaks but this is not always the case. They can range from around 10 feet up to around 20 feet in length, with most of the recreational tandems generally falling within the 12 to 14 foot range.
Who Steers A Tandem Kayak?
Both paddlers can help steer a tandem kayak but the rear seated paddler may have more overall control over the boat. The bow paddler can use a forward sweep stroke, while the stern paddler can do a reverse sweep stroke on the opposite side and this should turn the boat.
Is A Two Person Kayak Faster Than A Solo One?
They can be faster if you and your paddling partner work in unison to paddle effectively.
Are Tandem Kayaks Safe To Use?
Top-rated tandem kayaks tend to be stable and safe to use. They can be ideal for having kids join you, but make sure they wear a suitable life vest or flotation device and stick to calm waters.
Is A Tandem Kayak Or Canoe Best?
It depends on what you plan to use the boat for. A sit-inside kayak with a spray skirt can be better for rougher waters than a canoe. But a canoe can be better for a camping trip with a lot of gear and if you have to portage frequently.
If you’re after a kayak for recreation and touring in good weather conditions, we think the Sea Eagle SE370 is be ideal. It's an inflatable tandem kayak with a huge weight capacity for you and all your gear.
A great runner up, on the other hand, is the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T with its large single cockpit and two fully adjustable padded seats. This can be a good choice for paddling with your partner in all seasons.
Another fantastic runner up is the FeelFree Lure II which is ideal for a trip on fishing kayaks. It’s rigged with lots of angling features and benefits from having two comfortable and height-adjustable seats.
However, remember that not all of these tandems will be perfect for everybody. Before you jump in, think about who you plan to paddle with, the activities you want to do and where.