What the Heck Is a Tandem Kayak?

Want to know what a tandem kayak is and how it stacks up against a single-person kayak? Well, then you're in luck as we're going to cover just that!

For most people, when you mention the word “kayak” they think of that incredibly small boat that they see people in the water operating solely.

Don’t worry, that’s the first thing we think of too.

However, when you do your research and start looking up different kayaks and such, you’ll probably stumble upon this phenomenon known as a tandem kayak.

Well, in fairness, we’re not exactly sure if it’s a “phenomenon” but we digress.

Regardless, it’s something that tends to raise a lot of eyebrows for customers (or really anyone interested in kayaks, quite frankly) who are looking to purchase a new kayak.

So, with that said, what is a tandem kayak? Don’t overthink this one, it’s exactly what you think it is. More interesting, and we’ll get to this later, are the advantages and disadvantages that a tandem kayak offers.

What is a tandem kayak?

Two tandem kayaks on the beach
Source: Escape Monthly

We don’t even have to answer this question. All we have to do is tell you what a tandem kayak is also called. It’s also known as a double kayak.

It couldn’t be any more obvious now, could it? It’s a kayak that…wait for it…can seat two people. Oh, and it’s been referred to as the divorce kayak over the years.

We’ll just let you figure that one out.

For the most part, a tandem kayak has the same idea as a single one. It allows for a fun adventure, can become a great exercise, and gets you out on the water.

Yet, let’s be honest, tandem kayaks have their fair share of differences (some good and some bad) when compared to single kayaks (and even canoes).

Let’s talk about those, shall we?

Advantages of using a tandem kayak

Ideal for beginners

Here’s the deal with tandem kayaks. Due to the fact that they seat two people, it can be great for someone to get their feet wet with it (no pun intended).

Someone with little or no experience doesn’t have to worry about all the onus falling on them. Plus, one person can move a tandem kayak alone.

So, one person could just go along for the ride.

Double the fun

This one’s obvious but it’s so true.

Tandem kayaks allow two people to be able to kayak together. Sure, some will still prefer kayaking with someone where each has their own kayak, but we digress.

Speaking of double the fun, check out this sick video by GoPro:

YouTube video

Hopefully, this isn’t the kayaking you’ll be doing – however it’s pretty cool!

Boosted speed and performance

Believe it or not, tandem kayaks tend to perform better than their solo counterparts.

For starters, they’re typically wider making them more stable.

Secondly, due to their longer lengths, they’re faster in the water.

Make no mistake about it, when you get these bad boys rolling, they can move through the water.

Lastly, they tend to track with more efficiency.

More storage space

Single kayaks don’t typically have a ton of storage space available.

With the tandem variety, you get much more storage space.

This might not be that big of a deal to you, but it’s nice if you’re kayaking with your family and need that additional cargo space.

Disadvantages of using a tandem kayak

The divorce kayak

You might’ve been wondering why we mentioned earlier that this type of vessel is often referred to as the “divorce kayak”.

With two people in a boat being controlled by paddles in the water, proper synchronization is going to be important.

The two riders in the kayak will need both time and patience to feel each other out, so to speak. So, just imagine a married couple getting mad at each other because one or the other keeps screwing up.

Not as portable

One of the best aspects of single kayaks is their portability.

With a tandem, it’s bigger, heavier, and (naturally) harder to transport. Unless you go out and buy an inflatable tandem kayak, but more on that later.

Harder to store

Not only will tandem kayaks be a little harder to travel with, but they will also be a little more troublesome to store when you’re not using them.

Let’s just say you’ll need more garage or shed space with tandems than you will with singles.

Difference between a canoe and a kayak

Difference between kayak and canoe
Source: Paddle Camp

What is a tandem kayak? It’s just a canoe, right?

In fairness, we don’t blame anyone who thought that a tandem kayak was just another name for a canoe. It’s a logical assumption.

Yet, as alluded to earlier, tandem kayaks aren’t canoes.

Given that they both are similar in that they allow more than one person to sit and paddle, what are the main differences that a canoe offers?

When compared to tandems, canoes will generally offer more storage space, will typically be more durable, offer a better view of nature and obstacles, offer superior speeds, and will provide more protection from splashing water.

On the contrary, they are even heavier to transport than tandem kayaks and can be even more difficult to maneuver.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between the two, check out this awesome article by Cool of the Wild.

What are some different types of tandem kayaks?

If you peruse the market for tandem kayaks, you’re going to find many different styles at your disposal. We just thought we’d touch on some of the more popular ones that you can choose between.

  • Tandem touring kayaks: These are ideal for kayakers that aren’t exactly casual, so to speak. They tend to be built with beefier materials and often offer more storage space.
  • Tandem fishing kayaks: Indeed, there are tandem kayaks that are designed and optimized specifically for people who want to fish. They will even, oftentimes, account for a third person.
  • Tandem sit-on-top kayaks: A very common type, this is nice for those who prefer to sit higher on the water. The name kind of speaks for itself, no?
  • Tandem inflatable kayaks: This here can fix two of the issues that regular tandem kayaks can have (hard to store and hard to transport). By buying an inflatable model, you can just leave it without any air when you’re either not using it or traveling with it.

Final thoughts

You’d think the title of this article was “What to look for when buying a tandem kayak” as opposed to “What is a tandem kayak”.

Honestly, the two kind of go hand-in-hand.

After all, now that you have a much clearer understanding of what a tandem kayak is and offers (hopefully), you have a better idea of whether or not it’s the type you want to buy. The market is certainly bursting with several compelling choices.

Default image
Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.