There are few things as enjoyable as hitting the water for a day of kayaking. And sharing that experience with family or friends can make it even better. Tandem kayaks are not only a great way get out and have some fun, they’re typically more affordable than purchasing an individual kayak for each paddler.

This guide will offer you some advice on what to look for in a tandem kayak and give you our top picks for some of the best tandem kayaks currently available on the market.

best tandem kayak

Advantages

Why Choose a Tandem Kayak?

The obvious reason you would choose a tandem over a solo kayak is because you want to kayak with a partner. No surprise there.

But here are a few points that may not be quite so obvious.

  1. Introducing new paddlers – Teaming up a novice paddler with a more experienced paddler in a tandem can be a great way to introduce them to kayaking.
  2. Strength difference – If you or your partner is significantly stronger than the other, paddling tandem can help balance things out and make sure one of you doesn’t get left behind.
  3. Better stability – Tandem kayaks tend to be wider, which gives them increased stability compared to many solo kayaks.
  4. Price – A tandem kayak will almost always be cheaper than two single kayaks of the same quality. Tandems can be a great option if you’re trying to get multiple people on the water but you’re working with a budget.
  5. Social bonding – The close proximity of a tandem kayak facilitates conversation and provides a stronger sense of shared experience that can deepen your bond with your paddling partner.
Types of Tandem Kayaks

Types of Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks come in a number of styles from sit-on-top and sit-in to hard-shell and inflatable varieties.

Sit-on-Top vs Sit-in Tandems

You’ll commonly find tandem kayaks in either a sit-on-top or a traditional sit-in style. They each have their own advantages so here are a few things to consider when choosing between them.

[Image of sit on top vs sit in]

Sit-on-Top

Sit-on-tops are a newer style of kayak that has grown in popularity due to its ease of use. Because there’s no cockpit to squeeze into, they’re easy to get on and off of even while you’re in the water. They also tend to be a bit wider and are often more stable than sit-in kayaks.

Sit-on-tops have ‘scupper holes’ that allow water in the kayak to drain out the bottom so you don’t have to manually pump it out like you would in a sit-in kayak. This also makes capsize recovery much easier than sit-in kayaks.

The major downside to sit-on-tops is that you’re totally exposed to the elements and are virtually guaranteed to get wet. This isn’t really an issue if the water is warm but can be a drag if the water is cooler and you’re not prepared for it.

Sit-on-Tops are ideal for:

  • Warm water
  • Swimming & diving
  • Families

Sit-in

Sit-in kayaks are the traditional style that most people think of when picturing a kayak. The lower half of a paddler’s body is sheltered from the elements, which makes them very popular for paddling in cooler temperatures or rougher conditions.

You’ve also got a bit more control in a sit-in as you can brace your thighs against the inside of the cockpit for more efficient paddling.

Their only major downside is that capsize recovery is a bit more complicated than a sit-on-top. You’ll have to scramble back into the cockpit and manually pump out any water before you can get back underway.

Sit-ins are ideal for:

  • Cooler water
  • Rougher conditions
  • Performance-conscious paddlers

Inflatable Tandems

If you’ve been looking into buying a kayak for a while, you’ve may have seen a number of inflatable tandem kayaks. The decision to go for an inflatable over a traditional hard-shell mostly comes down to whether you prioritize portability & ease of storage or durability & performance.

Most inflatables pack down to about the size of a suitcase so they’re really easy to transport and don’t require much storage space when they’re not in use.

Inflatables also tend to be a little easier on your wallet and are typically cheaper than hard-shell kayaks.

Not surprisingly, inflatable kayaks are more susceptible to punctures than hard-shells. But don’t make the mistake of thinking an inflatable will pop the first time you graze an underwater stick or rock.

Inflatable kayaks – particularly higher quality ones – can be amazingly durable. They’re also typically easy to repair if they do get damaged and manufacturers almost always include a repair kit with their inflatable kayaks.

Pros

  • Ultra Portable
  • Easy Storage
  • More Affordable
  • Easy Repair

Cons

  • Less Durable
  • Slower

Drawbacks

Drawbacks of Tandem Kayaks

Staying in Sync

If people have an issue while paddling a tandem kayak, it’s typically because they’re not in sync with their partner.

Tandem kayaks can actually be quite maneuverable and move surprisingly quickly through the water. But the key is for you and your partner to work together.

It’s an amazing feeling when you and your partner are paddling like a well-oiled machine. Of course, the opposite can also be true – paddling a tandem when you’re out of sync with your partner can definitely test your patience.

It doesn’t take too long to get the hang of paddling a tandem but here are a few pointers to help you get started.



Paddling Solo

One of the major downsides to a traditional tandem kayak is that they can be difficult to paddle by yourself if your partner isn’t available – weight balance becomes and issue and they can become difficult to maneuver.

If you want to do a mix of solo and tandem paddling and you’re struggling with deciding whether a tandem kayak is right for you, consider a convertible kayak.

Convertible Kayaks

Convertible kayaks are tandems with seats that can be removed or repositioned so you can paddle solo or with a partner. Typically, you’ll remove one of the seats and reposition the second seat towards the center of the kayak where your weight is better balance and you have more control over the kayak.

While paddling a convertible by yourself still isn’t quite as efficient as a solo kayak, it’s miles ahead of trying to paddle a traditional tandem on your own.

A convertible kayak could be an ideal fit if you’ll mostly be paddling with a partner but want the option to paddle by yourself on occasion.

Features

Features to Look for

Once you’ve settled on a style of tandem kayak, it’s time to start thinking about specific features. Here are some of the key features that set tandems apart from each other.

Seats

A quality seat is an often underappreciated feature in a kayak. Having something that you’re comfortable in will not only make paddling more enjoyable, but also allow you to extend your time out on the water.

The most comfortable seats provide good support, padding, and offer multiple points of adjustment so you can customize the fit to your body.

Onboard storage

If you don’t think you’ll be on the water for more than an hour or two, onboard storage space isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, if you envision being out for half a day or more you’ll want to make sure your tandem has enough room for essentials like food, water, extra clothing, and safety gear.

The longer you plan to stay out, the more storage space you’ll need.

Weight capacity

Look for a tandem that gives you a bit of extra breathing room in terms of weight capacity. While you can load a kayak down to its limit, it’s generally not ideal for performance. You’ll sit very low in the water and your speed and maneuverability will suffer.

Consider your weight and the weight of your partner and don’t forget to factor in the weight of your gear.

Rudder or skeg

Some tandem kayaks come with a rudder or skeg. Both will help the kayak track through the water in a straight line, but a rudder can be controlled with foot pedals, so you can correct for crosswinds or waves.

In general, tandems are longer than solo kayaks so they tend to track fairly well through the water already, so a rudder or skeg isn’t a strict requirement. The exception is if you’ll mostly be paddling in coastal waters that have the potential to be a bit rougher and more exposed to wind. Having a rudder or a skeg is definitely a welcomed feature in these kinds of conditions.

Reviews

Best Tandem Kayak Reviews

Vibe Yellowfin 130T

Overall Score: (4.6/5)

Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 130T | 13ft Tandem 2 Person Sit On Top Kayak w/2 Paddles & Hero Seats

Specifications:

Length: 13′

Width: 35”

Weight: 80 lbs

Weight capacity: 500 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Convertible, adjustable folding seats, two storage hatches, rear tank well with adjustable bungee tie downs, adjustable footrests, two paddle holders, two flush mount rod holders, four mounting points for additional rod holders, two paddles, rudder-ready

Ideal for: Paddlers that want exceptional comfort and performance but the convenience of a sit-on-top kayak.

 from $1,078.99

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-30 at 01:05 – Details)

Review

The Yellowfin 130T is a versatile sit-on-top that packs in a number of thoughtful features and offers a great balance between performance, comfort, and stability. It’s a convertible kayak so you’ll be able to paddle it tandem or solo and there’s even enough room to fit a small child between the two main seats.

The 35-inch wide hull means the Yellowfin is nice and stable and will help you feel secure while you’re on the water. This makes it a popular choice for introducing newer paddlers to kayaking.

Despite it’s width, the Yellowfin handles well in the water. It’s not the fastest tandem kayak around but it can certainly hold its own, particularly compared to other sit-on-tops. And if you plan to do a lot of coastal paddling, there are factory installed mounting points for an optional rudder that you can add down the road.

It comes with two comfortable ‘lawn chair’ style seats that offer good support and are adjustable for all-day comfort. The seats actually raise you off the deck of the kayak by a few inches, which helps prevent your butt from getting wet – a definite plus.

There’s plenty of onboard storage space with two dry storage hatches and a large rear and small forward tank wells. A nice touch are the removable mesh inserts for the storage hatches that prevent smaller items from moving around inside the kayak.

The Yellowfin also has track-adjustable foot pedals, which offer better comfort and control than the standard molded footrests that most sit-on-top kayaks have.

All in all, the Yellowfin 130T’s performance and wide range of quality features means it should provide many years of enjoyable paddling in a variety of different conditions. Its only real downside is its weight – at 80 pounds it’s definitely on the heavier side.

Riot Polarity 16.5

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

Riot Kayaks Polarity 16.5 Tandem Kayak (Yellow, 16-Feet x 6-Inch)

Specifications:

Length: 16’ 6″

Width: 26”

Weight: 90 lbs

Weight capacity: 550 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seats, two large storage hatches, deck bungees, adjustable foot pedals, rudder

Ideal for: Coastal waters and extended day or overnight tandem trips.

 $1,423.44

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-30 at 01:05 – Details)

Review

With its long narrow hull the Polarity 16.5 is built built for speed and efficiency.

At 26 inches wide, the Polarity is the narrowest of our top picks and does an exceptional job slicing through the water with minimal drag. The narrower hull means it’s not quite as stable as some of the other options, so it may take a bit of getting used to if you’re completely new to kayaking.

It also tracks exceptionally well even in the presence of waves and wind due to its over 16-foot hull and the included rudder. The longer hull means it’s not as maneuverable as a shorter boat, so the Polarity is best suited to larger lakes, wide rivers, and coastal waters.

The seats offer good padding and have multiple adjustment points so you can customize the fit for your body. Combined with the adjustable foot pedals and two large storage hatches, the Polarity is a solid choice for extended day trips or even over night excursions.

The Polarity isn’t convertible so it’s not the best choice for solo paddling. But given the fact that it weighs in at 90 pounds, it would be a challenge to launch it by yourself anyway.

The Polarity 16.5 could be a good option if you want something that is a bit more performance-focused or you plan to do a lot of coastal paddling. It’s also a great option for overnight trips with lots of dry storage space.

 

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Overall Score: (4.4/5)

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak, Envy, 12 Feet

Specifications:

Length: 12’

Width: 34”

Weight: 57 lbs

Weight capacity: 375-425 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seats, convertible, gear tie down straps, molded footrests

Ideal for: Paddlers that want a simple and reliable kayak with the flexibility to paddle solo, tandem, or with a small child.

 from $629.99

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-30 at 01:05 – Details)

Review

The Malibu Two is a bit of a no-frills option from Ocean Kayak and is fairly compact for a tandem. The smaller size makes it lighter and easier to handle outside of the water, so it’s a bit more convenient for quick trips.

Like the Yellowfin 130T, the Malibu Two is convertible so you can paddle solo or tandem and there’s room for a small child between the main seats. The 34-inch wide hull and extra space for a small third passenger make the Malibu Two a popular choice for families.

 

One downside to its compact size is there’s not a lot of onboard storage space, so the Malibu Two is better suited to shorter trips that don’t require much extra gear.

The Malibu Two doesn’t have a ton of extra features but the silver lining is that there’s less potential for things to break. On top of that, it’s significantly more affordable than some of the other models.

At the end of the day, the Malibu Two is simple to use, dependable, and offers some solid value for paddlers that want to have some fun on the water without breaking the bank.

 

Old Town Twin Heron

Overall Score: (4.3/5)

Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Twin Heron Kayak, Black Cherry

Specifications:

Length: 13’ 6″

Width: 31.5”

Weight: 60 lbs

Weight capacity: 500 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:  

Value:

Features: Adjustable seats, adjustable foot pedals, rear bungee tie down, paddle holders

Ideal for: Paddlers that want a sit-in tandem with the option to paddle solo.

 from $749.99

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-29 at 23:31 – Details)

Review

The Twin Heron is a unique tandem kayak. Old Town developed what they’ve dubbed as the Auto Trim Hull, which helps the the kayak sit level even when paddling solo. It’s rare to find a sit-in tandem that paddles well with one person, so the Twin Heron could be a good option if you’re set on a sit-in but plan to paddle by yourself on occasion.

The front seat is removable when you’re not carrying a passenger so you can have easy access to gear. There’s minimal built in storage, though, so the Twin Heron is best suited for shorter tandem trips or solo overnight trips.

The hull is just over 31 inches wide, which offers a nice compromise between performance and stability. It’s stable enough for beginners but not so wide that you sacrifice too much performance.

The included seats offer good support but can’t be adjusted very extensively and the backrest portion of the seat doesn’t have any padding. While they’re a step up from the most basic seats, you might be better off with something a bit more comfortable if you’re planning on some longer paddling sessions.

The Twin Heron is a solid entry-level sit-in tandem that could work well for paddlers that want good performance but don’t necessarily need the added comfort features that make longer paddling sessions more enjoyable.

 

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible

Overall Score: (4.3/5)

ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak

Specifications:

Length: 15′

Width: 32”

Weight: 52 lbs

Weight capacity: 550 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Convertible, adjustable seats, built-in aluminum ribs, durable 3-layer construction, deck bungee, skeg

Ideal for: Paddlers that want the portability of an inflatable but the performance of a hard-shell.

 $689.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-29 at 23:31 – Details)

Review

One of the issues that people run into with long tandem kayaks is storage and transportation. If you’re concerned about the logistics of having a large kayak, the AdvancedFrame Convertible kayak from Advanced Elements could be a great fit. An like the name suggests, it’s convertible for tandem and solo paddling.

Weighing in at a relatively dainty 52 pounds and folding down to 35” x 21” x 12” means the AdvancedFrame will easily fit into the trunk of even a small car with room to spare for gear. And it can be tucked away in a closet when you’re not using it, which is great if you don’t have the space to store a 15-foot tandem kayak.

If you’ve ever paddled in a basic inflatable kayak, you’ll know that many of them suffer from poor tracking and tend to zigzag as you paddle through the water. To remedy this, the AdvancedFrame has built-in aluminum ribs that help it cut through the water and perform more like a hard-shell than an inflatable kayak.

It still won’t be able to outperform higher end hard-shells, but it’ll give some of the more basic ones a good run for their money.

And if you’re worried about durability, the AdvancedFrame uses three layers of material to provide extra protection against punctures. It’s still not quite as tough as a hard-shell but it can definitely take some serious abuse.

One of the really unique features of the AdvancedFrame Convertible is the fact that you can swap in different spray decks depending on the type of paddling you’re doing. It comes standard with an open deck that’s ideal for fair weather paddling in either a solo or tandem configuration. If you want to tackle some rougher conditions, you can swap in one of the optional spray decks that offer some added protection from the elements.

The AdvancedFrame Convertible opens up some unique possibilities for paddlers that might not normally be able to accommodate a large tandem kayak. While it’s certainly not for everybody, it could be an ideal fit if you’re will to sacrifice some performance for the convenience of an inflatable kayak.

Wrapping Up

Each of our picks are excellent tandem kayaks in their own rights and it would be hard to go wrong with any of them. But the top pick of best tandem kayak for most people is the Vibe Yellowfin 130T. It offers the best overall balance between performance, comfort, and stability while still being affordable enough for most paddlers.

It packs in some serious value with features that aren’t normally found in sit-on-top kayaks in its price range. And the fact that it’s convertible means you won’t be left high and dry if your partner isn’t available.

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