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Double Your Fun with a Kayak Built for Two

Tandem Kayaks

By Berne Broudy
Published: March 24, 2011
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Photo by Hobie
Tandem kayaks are ideal for families, or when two paddling partners aren’t quite equal in strength. If you’re planning to paddle with a young boater, or you want the company of the family dog out on the water, a tandem kayak gives you most of the space of a canoe, but puts your center of gravity lower for better stability.
   
Not only do tandems guarantee you’ll have company, but with the power of two paddlers, tandems can move faster than solo kayaks.
   
Many of the attributes that you should consider when you’re buying a tandem are the same as for a solo kayak. Step one is knowing what kind of water you plan to paddle and for how long. That will help you determine whether you want a sit-on-top boat, a full-blown expedition kayak, or something in between.
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The Old Town Dirigo (above) and the Carolina II from Perception (below) both offer plenty of cockpit leg room and storage options for longer trips. When comparing tandem kayaks, consider the distance between seats. More space means paddlers are less likely to clang paddles or splash each other.
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Sit-on-top vs. Sit-in Kayak
   
If it’s typically hot at your cabin, you might want a sit-on-top kayak instead of a sit-in kayak. When you paddle a sit-on-top, you’ll typically get splashed or even wet. But sit-on-tops drain themselves – unlike sit-ins, which have to be bailed.
   
If the water or weather at your cabin is cool, a sit-in (or full-cockpit) kayak would be a better choice. With full cockpits, you can use a spray skirt to keep water out and to keep yourselves warm and dry.

Stability and Tracking
   
Are you new to the sport or experienced? Will you paddle with a wiggly child or dog? The hull shape of a tandem will tell you a lot about how it’s going to feel in the water. A boat with a uniformly rounded hull will be extremely tippy. Flat-bottomed boats will be very stable but slower in the water. A wide boat will be more stable than a narrow boat. A boat with a pronounced center ridge will be easy to keep on a straight course, whereas a boat with a smooth hull will take more skill to control.
   
Some kayaks come standard with rudders for ease in tracking, but it’s an add-on option for most. They can be useful, however, as tandem boats are longer than typical kayaks and are more difficult to steer.
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The Odyssey from Hobie can haul 540 pounds, including a third junior passenger or extra gear in the molded center seat.
Storage
   
Tandems are heavy. If your cabin is on the water and you’ll keep your tandem on the dock, or if you have a small kayak cart to transport your boat from shed to water, your tandem’s weight may not matter, but if you’ll be loading your boat onto the roof of your car each time you paddle, investing in a lighter weight tandem (typically more expensive) might save you back pain!
   
If your storage area will leave your tandem exposed to the elements, opt for a sturdy plastic boat, not one that’s made from delicate carbon or Kevlar. Polyethylene (plastic) can take more abuse from UV light or fallen tree branches than other materials, and polyethylene boats are usually the most affordable.
   
Even if you have extremely limited storage, there is a tandem right for you. Inflatables offer many of the same features as their rigid brethren  but in a compact package that will fit in a much smaller space.

How Long Will You Paddle?
   
If you’d like to do any trip that involves bringing gear, from an overnight to an expedition, your tandem will need appropriate storage. For an overnight, a couple of dry hatches, a gear well and sturdy lashing points for dry bags should be sufficient. If you’re hitting the water for a week or more, you’ll want a tandem kayak designed for expeditions, with substantial storage inside the boat for food, sleeping bags, tent, clothes, a stove and fuel – all protected by high-quality hatch covers. If you’ll be doing long trips, efficiency is important. Longer boats are faster once they’re moving, though typically harder to get started.

Bells & Whistles
   
The cockpit of your boat has to work for you. It should have the accessories and amenities that put everything you need at your fingertips. For an expedition paddler, this may mean a compass mount and a day hatch. For a recreational paddler, cup holders, a high and supportive seat and somewhere to store sunscreen and snacks might be top priorities. Are you a fisherman? Many tandems come with rod holders, fish storage areas, and in-hatch tackle boxes. After you find a kayak you like, ask your local shop what accessories are available. Many tandems can be rigged for fishing, for example, though your shop may not have the boat set up for such on the showroom floor.

But ... Are They Cool?
   
Despite the fact that tandem kayaks have traditionally been referred to as “divorce boats,” they are great if paddlers are unevenly matched in power, enjoy together time and can play nice with others. If you’re in a tandem kayak you need to communicate, respect your partner and maybe even bring along extra batteries for your iPod just in case you need a little alone time.

Our Best Advice
   
Try before you buy, and try more than one boat. By paddling two, three or more tandems, you’ll get a feel for what you like and what you don’t, and what is most comfortable for you and your paddling partner.

Berne Broudy is a Vermont-based writer, photographer and adventurer.
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