The only experience greater than paddling itself, is sharing it with someone else. And one of the best ways to paddle with a friend, partner or your children may just be from the seat of a tandem kayak.
There are tandem kayaks designed for just about every type of paddling. You can tour across lakes and bays, float along your local water trail, cast a line or even challenge a whitewater river.
Two person kayaks are a practical way for families to share these paddling experiences with younger children. If taking on ambitious routes with kids before their mid-teens, you’re going to need a tandem. Think of it as the marine equivalent of a piggyback, except they can’t pull your hair. Tandems are also perfect for bringing your fur babies along.
Double kayaks also allow more experienced paddlers to travel with first-timer friends. A group of single kayakers always moves at the pace of the slowest paddler. This can put pressure on group dynamics. Add some tandems into the mix and you have options. Pair the weakest paddler with a stronger paddler to suit the speed of the group.
With two paddlers on board, one can take a break while the other maintains forward momentum and direction. This means tandem designs also pair perfectly with hobbies like photography, fishing and Fortnite.
Finally, a 2 person kayak may be the ideal solution for a couple with limited space and budget to have one kayak they strap to the roof rack and paddle together.
So tandems offer versatility to groups, possibility to families and a close connection for happy couples. Then again, type divorce boat into Google and the top result is a relationship blogger’s account of her day renting a tandem kayak—“oars” included—with her new husband. It wasn’t pretty, she reports.
Tandem kayaks require coordination to paddle efficiently. They are also heavier and generally less maneuverable than their solo counterparts, making communication and teamwork between partners essential. That may be enough to sink some paddlers’ tandem dreams, but the good news for those still weighing whether to buy a tandem versus single kayak: wide tandem hulls are spacious and stable, giving your relationship a good chance of remaining so too.
Finding the right double kayak is a big first step to having a great time on the water, and in this article we will share the tandem kayaks available as well as tips to selecting the best tandem kayak for your needs.
Top picks: Best tandem kayaks for 2023
The following tandem kayaks have received the highest star ratings by reviewers in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. See and review all tandem kayaks here.
Best Tandem Kayaks
BKC TK122 Angler Tandem Coastal Cruiser Kayak
Blackfoot Angler 160
Shop for tandem kayaks
The Paddling Buyer’s Guide is your one-stop resource to learn more about every tandem kayak available. Here you’ll find complete details for every model including reviews, specifications, prices and buying options. We’ve helped streamline your search by compiling these filtered selections below.
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Best tandem kayaks
There are tandem kayaks produced for every use in paddlesports. To provide more detail on the specific type of kayak you are looking for, below you will find links to articles about these specific types of tandem kayaks. Each article lays out buying advice particular to that type of boat and our roundup of top models.
- Best Tandem Pedal Kayaks For 2023
- Best Hobie Tandem Kayaks For 2023
- Best Tandem Sea Kayaks For 2023
- Best Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayaks For 2023
- Best Tandem Sit-In Kayaks For 2023
- Best Inflatable 2 Person Kayaks For 2023
- Best Tandem Fishing Kayaks For 2023
Shopping for a used tandem kayak?
A used kayak can be a great way to score the best deal on a tandem kayak. You will want to be mindful though. Buying a used kayak brings with it some inherent risk. Here are a few tips when searching the listings of Craigslist tandem kayaks or scouring for deals on other online classifieds like Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji.
First, make sure you have all the details. A listing may be vague stating simply, “used two person kayak”. Ask the seller for more information, such as the brand and model. If the kayak is unfamiliar, look it up in our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide to find detailed specifications such as length, weight capacity, storage space and intended use.
Be sure the kayaks you are considering match your needs as a paddler. The tandem kayak you’ve found may look like the deal of the century, only to find out the seller’s definition of a river kayak is different than what you envisioned.
Always give the kayak a thorough look-over before purchasing. Don’t sweat surface scratches to the bottom as this is normal with use. Do keep an eye out for cracks, fading from sun exposure, missing pieces (especially in the case of folding and inflatable kayaks) and worn or damaged outfitting (seats, back rests, foot pedals, etc.) for both paddler positions. These issues can affect a kayak’s durability and usability. You may be able to repair minor damage or source replacement parts from the manufacturer, but be sure of a fix before striking a deal.
Most importantly, take the kayak for a test paddle. The only way to know if this will be the best tandem kayak for you is to put it in the water. See if you can meet the seller near a public launch site and get some time trying the kayak before committing to the sale. Bring your paddling partner and paddles and PFDs (personal flotation devices) for both paddlers, unless these are included with the sale.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Kayak.
Tandem kayak buying guide
There is a long list of tandem kayaks available, and choosing the best tandem kayak for your paddling trips is comparable to taking a trip along a flow chart. Here are some pointers to help your search.
How do you plan to use your kayak?
Will you be taking day long outings or overnight trips and island-hopping across open waterways? A tandem touring kayak designed to have good hull speed and travel long distances on lakes and bays will be a good place to look. Tandems designed for touring tend to range from 17 feet up to 22 feet in length. Shorter tandem designs are easier to store but the tradeoff is less speed and storage capacity. Less overall length also means less space between paddlers and a greater chance of getting your paddles mixed up in a swordfight.
Are you looking for a two-person kayak that you and your kids, partner or friends can spend the afternoon paddling shorter distances on sheltered waters? A tandem recreational kayak is likely the best fit. Recreational kayaks are easy to use, have forgiving stability and can accommodate a wide range of paddlers. Recreational kayaks are intended for use on calm, sheltered waterways such as slow-moving rivers, smaller lakes and short jaunts to secret rope swings.
If you or your paddling partner are avid anglers, take a close look at a tandem fishing kayak. Fishing kayaks are similar in looks and performance to recreational kayaks, but they have additional fishy features such as rod holders, tackle storage and more. Fishing kayaks are also commonly larger and heavier than other recreational kayaks, with wider hulls for maximum stability.
If you’re looking to introduce a young or new paddler to running rivers, there are even tandem whitewater kayaks. Whitewater kayaks are designed for maneuverability in rapids and lack the speed of touring kayaks or the comforting stability of recreational kayaks, making them less suitable for general use on flatwater.
Sit-inside vs sit-on-top
Once you have an idea how you will be using your kayak, you can decide whether you prefer a sit-inside design or a sit-on-top kayak.
A sit-inside kayak is a kayak where the paddlers slide into enclosed or semi-enclosed cockpits. Paddlers in sit-inside kayaks may wear sprayskirts to cover the cockpit openings and keep water from splashing inside, making this style ideal for cooler climates and open waters. Nearly all tandem touring kayaks are sit-inside designs. Sit-inside whitewater and recreational tandems are also available.
A sit-on-top kayak is one in which the paddler is not enclosed at all. The seating area of the cockpit is situated on the open deck. Sit-on-top designs are well-suited to tandem recreational and fishing kayaks because paddlers can move around more on the kayak and more easily get on and off. Also, if a sit-on-top kayak flips, it does not fill with water—the paddlers can simply right it and climb back on. This makes sit-on-tops a great choice for families, kids and paddling with your pet.
Tandem kayak materials
Tandem kayaks also come in a variety of construction materials. The most common material for two person kayaks are durable, rigid plastics such as rotomolded polyethylene or thermoformed ABS, acrylic and other plastics. Plastic kayaks are affordable and incredibly tough. They are also the heaviest to lift and transport.
The most expensive tandem kayaks are made from lightweight composites such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. This type of construction is seen mostly in tandem touring and racing kayaks, and is less common among recreational kayaks.
There are also folding and inflatable tandem kayaks. These portable kayaks are the lightest and easiest to transport. Most inflatable kayaks are designed for casual recreational use on sheltered waters, but there are also rugged inflatables built for whitewater use. Recreational inflatable tandem kayaks are among the cheapest available. If you want a speedy kayak, don’t get an inflatable; blow-up boats are best suited to occasional use where the goal is to simply spend time on the water, not get from A to B.
There’s plenty more to learn about tandem kayaks, and we’ve answered some of the most common questions below.
Are there 2-people kayaks?
Two person kayaks are a popular option for families, couples and groups. A two person kayak is also known as a tandem kayak, double kayak or K-2.
What is a tandem kayak?
A tandem kayak is a kayak that seats two paddlers. Tandem kayaks are generally longer, wider, heavier and more stable than solo kayaks. Sit-on-top tandem kayaks are popular for recreational paddling on calmer waterways. There are also tandem kayaks suitable for day and multi-day touring, as well as two-person fishing and even whitewater kayaks.
Tandem kayak vs canoe
Tandem kayaks have some distinct differences from a canoe. A canoe is an open shell with a greater depth, keeping the sides of the canoe high above the water. A tandem canoe has two seats installed at an elevated position that allows for sitting or kneeling. A canoe is also used with single-blade paddles, and steering is generally accomplished through specific strokes executed by the stern paddler.
A kayak has a lower profile with the deck sitting closer to the waterline. A tandem kayak can be either a sit-inside or sit-on-top kayak. Either way, kayak seats are much closer to the water, making recreational kayaks more stable but also wetter to paddle than a canoe. The paddlers in a two person kayak use double-bladed paddles, and steering is generally accomplished by the stern paddler pushing foot pedals that control a rudder.
Overall, a canoe offers more storage and paddler mobility. It can also be carried longer distances more easily. This makes a canoe a better choice for lake-to-lake travel. It’s also more economical for a family with two adults (or an adult and older child), since they can share a single canoe with two to three small children in the center.
A tandem kayak is easier for new paddlers to get in and go. Stable sit-on-top designs are also more forgiving than canoes and are easier to re-enter should the paddlers fall off or jump in for a swim.
Tandem vs single kayak
A tandem kayak accommodates one or two paddlers, while a single kayak can fit only one person.
Tandem kayaks allow friends, families and couples to paddle together, and are especially well suited to introducing a child or inexperienced paddler to kayaking. With two paddlers on board, one can take a break while the other maintains forward momentum and direction, making a double kayak can also be a great choice if you plan to fish or take photos.
Tandem kayaks offer versatility to groups, open paddling possibilities for families, and provide a close connection for happy couples. Then again, type divorce boat into Google and the first result is a relationship blogger’s account of her day renting a tandem kayak—“oars” included—with her new husband. It wasn’t pretty.
Maneuvering a double requires more communication and teamwork than soloing, which is a non-starter for anyone who prefers to go their own way.
A single kayak allows paddlers to operate independently. If you only have a tandem kayak and your partner can’t make it out that day, you’ll wish you had two solos. Tandem sit-on-top kayaks typically offer more flexibility with seating positions, which makes them more versatile to paddle solo.
Finally, single kayaks are usually lighter, easier to turn, and easier to store and transport.
Are tandem kayaks faster?
Tandems stretch out a typical touring kayak hull by at least 20 to 30 percent, but add a full 100 percent of paddle power. This makes them significantly faster than a solo kayak. Keep in mind tandems require coordination between both paddlers in order to achieve their potential speed.
Are tandem kayaks more stable?
Tandem kayaks are typically more stable than a solo kayak. This is because tandem kayaks are both longer and wider than a solo kayak, to accommodate their higher weight capacity.
Are tandem kayaks hard to use?
In some ways a tandem kayak can be easier to use compared to a solo kayak, because you have a partner sharing the work. If one paddler is new to the sport or feeling tired, you will have the assistance of your paddling partner. But a tandem kayak also requires coordination with another paddler, which can be difficult at first.
Should I buy a tandem kayak?
Whether you should buy a tandem kayak depends on a few factors. Tandem kayaks offer versatility to groups, open paddling possibilities for families, and provide a close connection for happy couples. Then again, maneuvering a double requires more communication and teamwork than soloing, which is a non-starter for anyone who prefers to go their own way. Also, if you only have a tandem kayak and your partner can’t make it out that day, you’ll wish you had two solos. Tandem sit-on-top recreational kayaks offer more flexibility with seating positions, which makes them more versatile to paddle solo.
Tandem kayak length
Tandem kayaks are about 20–30 percent longer than their solo counterparts. Recreational tandem kayaks are typically between 12 and 14 feet long, while touring tandems range from 17 to 22 feet in length.
Tandem kayak weight limit
Tandem kayak weight capacity varies with each design; check the manufacturer’s specifications to find the weight limit of a specific model. Most tandem kayaks are designed with a weight capacity capable of carrying two adults and their gear. Always factor in the weight of what you plan to carry with you on an outing when looking at the weight capacity of various kayak designs.
Weight of tandem kayak
The weight of a tandem kayak can vary greatly depending on the type of kayak, but expect a two-person kayak to be as much as 50 percent heavier than a comparable single kayak. For a recreational sit-on-top, expect a two person kayak to weigh between 60 to 80 pounds.
The weight of a tandem kayak will also be dependent on materials used for construction. Inflatable tandem kayaks are the lightest, weighing around 30 pounds. Thermoformed kayaks provide a lighter weight plastic compared to rotomolded kayaks.
A tandem touring kayak may be made of both rotomolded or thermoformed plastic, but can also be made of fiberglass or even a carbon fiber blend. These composite tandem kayaks are lighter than plastic, but come with an increased cost.
Where to buy a tandem kayak
If low cost is your biggest factor, you’ll find serviceable tandem sit-on-top or inflatable kayaks at many big-box outdoor and department stores, or at online retailers such as Amazon. These lower cost kayaks may lack the durability and performance of higher end tandem kayaks, but are suitable for casual use on calm, sheltered waters.
Find better quality tandem kayaks for touring, recreation and whitewater at specialty paddling stores. These shops also provide knowledgeable staff to walk you through various options, and an understanding of which kayaks will work best for your experience and regional waterways.
Tandem kayak price
The cost of a tandem kayak can vary greatly. For a recreational tandem sit-on-top kayak expect to pay between $600-$900. Inflatable tandem kayaks are the cheapest, often less than $300. At the other end of the spectrum, composite touring tandems and advanced pedal-drive tandems can cost upwards of $5,000.
Lightest tandem kayak
The lightest tandem kayak you will find on the market is likely an inflatable such as Aquaglide’s Chinook 100, which weighs just 23 pounds. Inflatables are a good solution if you want the most portable type of kayak for storage and transportation. However, they are also slow and sluggish compared to rigid kayaks.
One of the lightest tandem sit-on-top kayaks for recreational use made of a hard plastic is the Ocean Kayak Malibu, which weighs 63 pounds. The Malibu design has been around for years and is widely available. Other brands that focus on lightweight tandem kayaks include Delta and Pelican.
Can one person operate a tandem kayak?
While one paddler can propel a smaller tandem without much trouble, trim and paddler position suffer without a bow paddler. If you only have a tandem touring kayak and your partner can’t make it out that day, you’ll wish you had two solos. If you’re looking for a two-person kayak that can be paddled tandem or solo, choose a recreational design. Tandem sit-on-top kayaks and inflatable tandem kayaks typically offer more flexibility with seating positions, which makes them more versatile to paddle solo.
Tandem kayak reviews
In our tandem kayak reviews, we dive into on-water performance, as well as background on the brands, specifications and of course where you can purchase each kayak.
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Sevylor Colorado
- Tandem Recreational Kayak Review: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
- Inflatable Recreational Kayak Review: Intex Challenger K2
- Inflatable Recreational Kayak Review: Intex Explorer K2
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Sea Eagle 370
- Boat Review: Seaward Passat G3 Kayak
- Delta Traverse 17.5 T Tandem Kayak Review
- Inflatable Recreational Kayak Review: Innova Thaya
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Aquaglide Chelan 155 HB XL