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Can One Person Use A Two-Person Kayak?

Mark Armstrong
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In the realm of kayaking, the notion of paddling on your own in a tandem kayak sparks curiosity. Can one person use a two-person kayak and effectively navigate a vessel designed for two? 

Delve into the intricacies of solo kayaking in kayaks designed for more than one adventurer. Explore the challenges and advantages and discover tips for those seeking a solo adventure on the water.

Can One Person Use A Two-Person Kayak?

The quick answer is, yes; one person can use a two-person kayak. 

In some situations, it can be beneficial, and sometimes preferable, for a solo paddler to paddle a tandem kayak. However, it can also be more of a challenge.

Why Would You Paddle A Tandem Kayak By Yourself?

More Space For Gear

One of the main reasons for paddling a tandem kayak on your own is that you’ll have more room for gear. This can be useful if you’re planning to go kayak camping or if you’re heading out on multi-day overnight adventures and need extra space for camping gear. 

Some tandem kayaks can also be ideal for kayak fishing, giving you plenty of room for large fishing gear without sacrificing space to move around. 

Similarly, some wildlife photographers may also find a tandem kayak offers more space for camera equipment.

A sit-inside tandem kayak will usually have additional storage hatches compared to a single sit-inside kayak. A sit-on-top tandem kayak will generally offer more storage space on the deck because it’s a larger vessel than a single sit-on-top kayak. 

More Leg Room

A tandem kayak will generally offer more legroom than a solo kayak. A tandem kayak is generally longer than most single-person kayaks so this can be ideal for taller paddlers with longer legs. 

A sit-inside single kayak, in particular, can often be restrictive when it comes to legroom. Because the kayak’s cockpit is enclosed, it means your legs and feet are confined to a specific space. The shorter the kayak, typically the less space there is for legs and feet.

A longer tandem kayak can provide more room for comfortable paddling, especially for multi-day kayakers who plan to spend a lot of time on the water.

Increased Weight Capacity

When you’re looking at the specifications of tandem kayaks, one of the noticeable features is the increased load capacity compared to solo kayaks. 

Tandem kayaks are designed to hold two adults, with many offering additional weight capacity to accommodate gear or sometimes a third person, for example, a child. This means they’re great for kayak camping trips.

Inflatable kayaks, in particular, can offer a significantly higher maximum weight capacity than comparable hard-shell kayaks. This makes them great boats for larger or heavier paddlers.

An inflatable tandem kayak can also be easier to carry than a comparable hard-shell tandem kayak, making it a more convenient and travel-friendly option, especially if you’re on your own. 

Added Stability

A two-person kayak will often have a higher level of primary stability compared to a one-person kayak. This is usually because tandems are often a little wider than solo kayaks to account for the extra length of the boat and the increased capacity required. 

Primary stability in a kayak is what makes the kayak feel initially stable. For example, when you first get into a kayak on flatwater, it should feel less tippy if it has a high level of primary stability. 

On the other hand, kayaks with a high level of secondary stability will feel more tippy on flatwater because they’re designed to be stable in rough and moving water. 

A wider kayak will generally feel more stable in flatwater conditions and can be great for beginners and kayak anglers.

Kayaking With A Dog

A tandem kayak can be one of the best types of kayak if you want to go kayaking with your dog.

A tandem gives you the extra room you need for your dog to feel comfortable, with enough space for your dog to sit or lie down without encroaching on your personal space. 

A tandem inflatable kayak can usually be the best option for kayaking with a dog as these tend to offer high levels of durability as well as increased weight capacity and improved stability. 

Tandem inflatable kayaks will also generally be much wider than hardshell two-person kayaks. An inflatable tandem kayak will also tend to have a flat, open deck where you can place a dog bed or mat.

A hard-shell tandem kayak will often have molded footrests, hatches, or other accessories that can reduce the amount of flat space available for your dog to sit comfortably.  

Your Paddling Partner Is Unavailable Or Unable To Paddle

One of the reasons why you might paddle a tandem kayak by yourself is if your paddling partner is unavailable to join you. For example, this could happen if you choose to head out on a kayaking adventure without your paddling buddy and you only have a tandem kayak.

You could also have to paddle a tandem kayak solo if your paddle partner becomes unable to paddle during the trip. For example, your paddling buddy could suffer an injury that could prevent them from continuing to paddle. This means you’d have to go it alone.

You may also find yourself paddling a two-person kayak on your own if you’re kayaking with a child who lacks the physical strength or ability to paddle with you. 

Video: How To Maneuver A Tandem Kayak

How Can A Single Person Paddle A Two-Person Kayak?

Sit Near The Center (If You Can)

Many tandem kayaks offer multi-position seating or moveable seats. This means you can move the kayak seat locations to suit two paddlers or a solo kayaker. Some sit-on-top kayaks will also have an optional third seat, usually for a child or small non-paddling human riders. 

The optional third seat is generally positioned close to the center of the tandem kayak. This can be the optimum position for paddling solo in a two-person kayak. 

An inflatable two-person kayak can usually offer the most versatility when it comes to repositioning the seats. 

Because these kayaks have flat decks with a lot of open space and plenty of central anchor points for strapping gear down, you can choose the best spot for the seat based on the placement of the rest of your gear and the amount of legroom you need.

Try A Longer Paddle

A two-person kayak will typically be wider than a single kayak to account for the extra volume and stability. 

This might mean that you need a longer paddle to allow for the extra width of the beam. If you plan to paddle from the front or back seat, you probably won’t need a longer paddle if you’re already used to paddling that particular kayak with your own paddle. 

However, if you plan to paddle from the center seat, you will probably notice that the tandem kayak is wider at this point. This is why your standard paddle might not be long enough to comfortably complete your paddle strokes without hitting your hands (or the paddle) on the sides of the kayak.

Add A Kayak Rudder To A Tandem Kayak

A rudder can be one of the best accessories on a two-person kayak when it comes to maneuverability. A kayak rudder can be a useful tool for helping you navigate currents and moving water. I also recommend using a rudder when paddling a tandem kayak in windy conditions. 

You might not be able to add a rudder to an inflatable two-person kayak but you should be able to install a rudder on a hardshell tandem kayak.

Find out more about the best kayak rudder kits and how to install a rudder on a kayak.

A rudder can help to counter the effects of currents and wind, giving you more control over your kayak’s direction. This can be especially useful when solo paddling in a large two-person kayak because a longer kayak can be more difficult for a single paddler to control and steer. 

When you don’t have another person paddling with you, you can’t rely on the second person’s paddle stroke to help counter the effects of currents on your kayak’s tracking performance. 

A skeg can also be useful for helping to anchor the back of your kayak in the water to improve tracking in flatwater conditions.

Many inflatable tandem boats come with a removable skeg. Some hardshell kayaks also come with a skeg installed but these are usually fixed or retractable. A retractable skeg can be deployed when required and stowed when it’s not.

Opt For An Inflatable Two-Person Kayak

An inflatable two-person kayak can be much easier to maneuver on your own than a rigid tandem kayak. Inflatables tend to be a little shorter in length than rigid kayaks, which makes them easier to turn and control on your own. 

Some inflatable tandem kayaks range from as short as 12 feet, which makes them a similar length to a single kayak or a large fishing kayak. 

Many touring kayaks are also longer than an inflatable tandem kayak and are designed for one person, with the main difference being the solo touring kayak will generally be narrower than an inflatable tandem kayak.

An inflatable tandem kayak can also be transported and stored much more easily than the longest kayaks. When you’re on your own, ease of transportation should be one of your main considerations.

Are There Challenges To Paddling A Tandem Kayak Solo?

Weight Distribution Can Be An Issue

One of the most noticeable challenges you might face while paddling a tandem kayak on your own is the weight distribution can cause performance issues with your kayak. 

For example, if you are the only person paddling while sitting in the rear seat of an otherwise empty kayak, you may notice that the front of the kayak lifts slightly out of the water. Somewhat like a skinny motorboat, the weight in this scenario is gathered at the rear of the kayak.

Uneven weight distribution can affect the kayak trim. The trim is the position of the kayak in the water when it’s completely balanced, with no weight or gear causing leaning to any side.   

If you plan to paddle a tandem kayak by yourself, it can be a good idea to balance the load in your kayak to ensure an even weight distribution across the length of the boat. Larger items should be kept low and toward the center of the kayak.

Find out more about balancing your load and how to pack a kayak for a camping trip.

Longer Kayaks Are Trickier To Maneuver

A long kayak is naturally going to be more difficult to maneuver than a short one. Short kayaks are great for turning quickly and maneuvering in tight spaces and narrow rivers. 

Long kayaks tend to be better suited to large bodies of water, such as large lakes, bays, and open water.

Paddling a long tandem kayak on your own in a narrow river or in moving water that requires quick maneuverability is not going to be easy. 

However, while most tandem kayaks are longer than typical single-person kayaks, they’re not all obscenely long. Some tandems can be found in the 12-foot range, making them more maneuverable for smaller bodies of water. 

Inflatable kayaks, in particular, tend to be shorter and more maneuverable than equivalent hardshell tandem boats.

Large Kayaks Are Difficult to Carry On Your Own

The larger the kayak, the heavier it will likely be to carry. If you’re on your own, this can be more of a problem. 

Not only might it be heavier, but the longer length can make it much more awkward to carry by yourself, especially if you have to navigate a woodland trail between the parking lot and the water.

I recommend investing in a kayak cart if you plan to transport a large tandem kayak on your own. Check out some of the best kayak carts here.

You might also want to consider a load-assist device to help you load your tandem kayak onto the roof of your car. Here are some of my recommendations for the best kayak loaders

Are Certain Models Of Two-Person Kayaks Better For Solo Use?

Generally speaking, a sit-on-top tandem kayak will usually be easier to paddle solo than a tandem sit-inside kayak

With a sit-on-top kayak, you can usually easily move the position of the kayak seat to better suit only one person. 

Some sit-inside tandem kayaks will have dual cockpits. This means you can’t move the position of the seats and you’ll have to paddle from either the front seat or the rear seat, which can be less efficient than paddling from closer to the center of the boat.

A convertible tandem kayak can also be a good option if you want to paddle as both a single paddler and a tandem paddler on different trips. These types of kayaks usually allow you to convert the cockpits using different spray decks.

Steering Solo…On A Tandem (The Conclusion)

Paddling a tandem kayak as a single paddler can be a little different from paddling a single kayak. It might require you to rearrange the furniture a little if you’re used to paddling your tandem with a partner.  

However, despite the physical challenges and a rethink of the weight distribution, you’ll find you have more storage space and more room to stretch out. This means you can extend your overnight adventures and paddle in comfort. 

Do you prefer paddling a tandem kayak on your own? Tell us about your experiences.

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