How To Paddle a Tandem Kayak Solo

How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak Solo

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You’ve got a free afternoon, and the weather’s amazing. A kayak trip would be amazing. But you’ve only got a two-person kayak, and you’re alone. What to do? Paddling a two-person kayak by yourself is a bit tricky, but it can be done. The process is, of course, the same, but there are a few considerations you’ll need to be aware of to have a successful kayak trip by yourself.

In this article, we’ll look at all the nuances of kayaking solo in a two-person kayak, and explain how to paddle a tandem kayak solo.


Kayak Bliss

kayak bow

Kayaking is one of the most popular ways to enjoy a day out in the water. Whether you live near the ocean, rivers, streams, lakes, or just a neighborhood pond, kayaks are built to handle them all! If you’ve got a 2 person inflatable kayak or folding kayak, they’re easily transported. They’re lightweight, can be carried on top of a small car or by using a kayak trailer. They require no fuel, can be pushed into the water anywhere, and require little to no maintenance. 

The best part? You can get one for the fraction of what you’d pay for a motorboat or sailboat. 

Pelican Tandem Kayak

For those who prefer to venture with their spouse, friends, and family, though, a tandem kayak can be a great choice. Pelican Tandem Kayak shown above is a perfect example of a tandem kayak.

Two-person kayaks are great because both people can both contribute to the rowing power. This makes the kayak to travel quicker across the surface of the water with less effort put out by each person. 

Oh, and you’ll only have to travel with one kayak instead of having to purchase a whole separate trailer or roof rack for two kayaks! This is why many outdoor enthusiasts opt for a tandem kayak as opposed to buying a couple of regular kayaks.

Going Solo in a Tandem? Here’s What You Need To Know

Of course, like most outdoor things that we purchase for ourselves in this life, they never quite seem to get used the way that we originally intended.

You figure you’ll always be out with your spouse, or a friend on a kayak fishing trip, but schedules get in the way.

This is why it’s a good idea to learn to use your tandem kayak alone for solo trips. A quick Google search will show you a host of internet forums and social media groups with boaters asking for the best tips on how to get better use out of their tandem kayaks by just going solo. 

To simplify everything for you, we decided to compile all of the best tips and tricks from professional kayakers around the world on how to get the best use out of your new (or old) tandem kayak! 

Watch The Weather

The first thing to be aware of is the weather. Tandem kayaks are balanced differently than your typical single-passenger kayak. Since they’re made to comfortably hold at least two full-grown adults at a time, the hull is considerably larger, heavier, and wider. 

While this is perfect for two people, it does present some challenges to the single rider which we’ll cover more in-depth below. 

Tandems track differently, and it will take some time to get the hang of solo travel.

The weather is very important! Paddling a tandem kayak solo is completely achievable in good weather conditions, but once the current, wind, and waves start to pick up, it can turn into a painful task. 

Tandem kayaks aren’t designed for one person to use at maximum efficiency- which is exactly what you’ll need to push through more severe weather conditions. 

If the weather isn’t optimal, then you should save your kayaking trip for another day.

Not only is this the best way to guarantee a safe trip, but it’ll ensure that you don’t waste your time aimlessly paddling against the current and getting slapped in the face with choppy waves. 

Weight Balance and Distribution

As we mentioned, tandem kayaks are considerably heavier than single-person kayaks. They need to exert extra buoyancy in order to keep two people afloat and traveling at the right speed. This means that your center of gravity will be off, and parts of the kayak that are designed to be partially submerged may be out of the water more than they need to optimally cruise. 

The decreased weight may also mean that the boat will be floating higher in the water than you’re used to. This will, in turn, mean that you’ll need to adjust your rowing rate and depth. 

A good solution is to balance the weight as best you can. Place a heavy object such as a marine cooler, backpack, weights, or other gear in the seat that they’re not using. Redistributing the weight will help to make sure that the hull is cutting through the water at the right angles. 

You could also bring a non-human friend!

kayak dog

Center of Gravity

One of the biggest issues with solo tandem kayaking is that since they’re made to be powered by two people, one person can severely throw off the center of gravity. For instance, if you just go sit in the front seat, then you may find that it’s hard to turn the boat and that your strokes don’t have the impact that you need. 

Conversely, if you sit in the back seat of a tandem kayak and start to paddle downriver, you’ll quickly realize that your strokes may be overpowered and cause the craft to start fish-tailing in the water.

A simple paddle to your left could result in the entire nose of the boat swerving dramatically right and vice-versa for paddling on the other side. 

Tracking properly is more difficult than usual in this case.

The best way to accomplish this is to slide the rear seat forward or the front seat backward to position it in a more central location.

The only problem with this is that not all tandem kayaks feature adjustable seats. While many kayaks allow the users to easily move and reposition the seats, some of the more lower-priced models do not. 

Do what you can do adjust the seat location.

Hull Profile

This part is a little more tricky to understand, but it has a lot to do with the weight distribution on the boat. Remember how we mentioned that these boats were designed for two people, and that the kayak is higher above the water without the extra weight? 

If you’re positioned too far back or forward in your tandem kayak may start to nose-dive the tip of the kayak underwater if you’re too far forward, or that the rear half will be sitting too low in the water without the proper weight distribution. 

Either one of these two things can cause the craft to lose power and acceleration. You’ll put in twice the effort for half the result.

The best solution to this problem is to simply add some extra weight or figure out ways of better distributing your supplies in the front and center portions of the boat. 

Extra Storage Space

We apologize if this has all sounded a bit negative! We just want to ensure that you cover all your bases so that you have the best experience possible! So, in that spirit, here’s one really nice feature about solo tandem kayaking- you’ll have extra storage space

This means that you can utilize the extra seat to store an extra-large fishing cooler, extra beer, more snacks, your all-important Personal Floatation Device, or extra camping gear and equipment!

That’s a help, at least. Your tandem kayak could be the key to going on a full-scale solo wilderness adventure and you probably didn’t even know it. 

How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak Solo

How To Paddle a Tandem Kayak Solo

Now that you better understand most of the principles of paddling a tandem kayak, it’s time to discuss some of the applicable tips that will ensure that your paddling process is easier, quicker, and more manageable while going on your solo trips. 

Go With The Current

This may seem a bit obvious, but the point still stands. You will always be able to go farther with less effort if you go with the current. While it is usually possible to paddle a single-person kayak against the current (as long as you have some physical endurance), you may find it near impossible to solo paddle a tandem kayak against the current. 

In order to make sure that you’re going with the current, make sure to check your local water conditions and most importantly- the tide. Confirm the tide schedule before you leave!

If you’re going to be on a river, you’ll struggle going against the current, so be prepared.

Adjust The Seat

This is just a recap of what we mentioned earlier. If you have a tandem kayak with adjustable seats, then make sure that you try to center it in the seating area in a position that will give you the best center of gravity.

This will ensure that you can easily maneuver the vessel and that it isn’t nose-diving or fish-tailing in the water. 

Sit-On-Top Seat

Sit on Top Seat

If your tandem kayak does not feature convenient sliding or easy-to-move seats, then your best option is likely going to be to purchase an aftermarket sit-on-top seat like the one shown above.

As the name probably implies, these aftermarket seats are designed to be retrofitted into most kayaks and can be easily removed when you’re done. If you need to boost it up, you could put a wood plan underneath.

Basically, a sit-on-top seat allows the kayaker to sit an extra 7 to 12 inches higher which, in turn, gives the pilot more power in their strokes and requires less core strength. 

While it can be a bit trickier to balance the kayak with a higher center of gravity, as long as the waters are calm, you’ll be able to paddle a lot quicker and easier.

As you can imagine, installing one of these on a tandem kayak can definitely help any limitations presented by going solo. 

You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Paddle

Large Kayak Paddle

Keeping in vein with increasing efficiency and power, one of the best things that you can do to increase the power of your stroke and make up for the heavier hull weight is to use a large kayak paddle, like the SeaSense 96″ paddle shown above. 

While these certainly require a little bit more strength and endurance to paddle with continuously, they can help a solo tandem kayaker reach speads that are similar to that of a standard one-person kayak. 

Keep Your Core Tight

This tip is more about bodily control than accessories. Core strength is clearly an important component of all kayaking, but it’s especially important when it comes to trying to solo paddle a tandem kayak.

Learning to control the force and direction of each stroke is especially important when you’re dealing with a larger kayak, off-center gravity, and displaced weight. One of the easiest ways to maintain a consistent, powerful paddle stroke is to keep your core tight. 

Not only will this prevent you from straining your shoulders, back, and arms, but it will keep you from over-paddling which is one of the quickest ways to wear yourself out before you’ve reached your destination. 

Use Short Strokes

While long strokes are great if you’re paddling from an optimal center of gravity, short strokes often tend to be better if you’re solo paddling a tandem kayak.

With the often off-center position of paddling while on a tandem boat, short, quick, and powerful strokes are going to be your best option for quickly maneuvering through the water. 

Final Thoughts

It’s a good idea to pick a calm spot for your first solo trip in a tandem kayak. Get used to the difference in maneuvering and stability before you brave a level 4 rapid!

While paddling a tandem kayak by yourself may not be the most optimal choice, it’s always good to know how to do it. The next time your partner bails on you, you’ll be able to confidently take your own solo trip.

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