How To Paddle In A Tandem Kayak

Do you enjoy navigating through the waters, paddling alongside a partner? Let us launch this article with what Kayaking is and its beginnings. The origins of the Kayak go back far as the 1988 BC. Archaeologist’s evidence indicates that the early kayaks were fabricated from light wooden frame and used by the Eskimos for hunting. A kayak is a small light canoe-like boat, composed of a light frame overlaid with a water resistant fabric or material. The kayaks today has come far from its origins and are built to perfection to suit your requirement. Recreational kayaks are designed for one person or two individuals known as tandem kayaks.

Tandem kayak and single kayak


In this article, we focus on tandem kayaks and its importance to understand the techniques required to paddle with another individual.

Kayaking Prepare:

Some of the essential equipment’s and their uses.

Buoyancy Aid is a professional, personal flotation device specially designed for kayakers and canoeists for mobility and flexibility. This piece of wearable is probably the most important equipment for all kayaker.

Kayaking helmets are produced to prevent kayakers from hitting their heads in shallow waters if it capsizes. Always make sure to choose a tight fitted helmet with a strong and durable chin guard.

Paddles are of course the most important of all equipment. Choosing the right paddle for you is the key to an enjoyable ride. Paddles are produced in many materials but are designed differently for right and left hand users.

Tandem Kayaking

Tandem Kayaks are perfect for multiple occasions. Its works well for two individuals who want to take a trip through the lake at dawn, watching the sunrise from behind the foggy mountains or just paddling in sync over the peaceful waters to spend some quality time together. Having said that, tandem kayaking requires a lot of patience, teamwork, coordination, dedication and practice. Without all of the aspects, it is easy for two paddlers quickly loose control into a constant struggle leading to mishaps. By outlining each other’s roles and responsibilities these circumstance can be avoided. The following describes the step-by-step guide to maximise the pleasant time on the water, while minimising common and easy-to-overcome problems.

Things to considers

Sitting positions

The first most important decision is to decide who take what position of the tandem kayak. The rule of thumb is the more experienced paddler navigates the kayak while the inexperience assist in moving forward and controlling the rhythm. This mean that the skilled individuals generally sit at the back while the inexperienced sits at the bow. Another important factor to choose positions carefully is due to weight distribution. It is advisable for a heavier individual to take the rear to help in keeping the weight down and stronger to steer the kayak swiftly.

Synchronize paddling

This is definitely the most important guide to a fun experience of Tandem Kayaking. How this works is similar to tandem cycling. This helps in guiding the kayak forward in a straight line without much of an effort. Coordination and communication is the key to smooth turns and direction. The bow paddler leads the rhythm allowing the rear paddler to follow the pace. This coordination enables the rear passenger to steer the boat when needed. If not properly executed, paddlers will find their kayak spinning in circles.


I cannot stress enough how communication helps in surpassing obstacles while tandem kayaking. Like all projects and relationships require communication to a smooth transition, the same way, constant transfer of information among the two minimises the changes of loosing control and direction. This also helps the individuals to be focused and keep in sync.

Directional paddling

There are two techniques of turning or steering the kayak to its desired destination.

  • Both kayakers paddles on the same direction together
  • The rear kayaker steers the boat while the bow paddles as normal

Paddling on the same direction allows the kayak to smoothly and gently turn to its position. This is achieved by paddling from front to back digging deep and hard into the water in one direction. If both the kayaker paddles on their right, they turn right and vise versa. This method is more commonly used for recreational kayaking on calm water bodies. The rear paddler to swiftly turn from unwanted obstacles or sudden change of directions initiates the rearstopping manoeuvre. Unlike the previous technique, the rear kayaker uses his paddle as a rudder by forcing it into the water at a perpendicular angle on the side in which he or she wishes to turn. While the bow kayaker paddles as he or she generally does. By forcing the paddles into the water at a 90° angle, the paddle asks as a break mechanism forcing the kayak to turn swiftly at the direction of his paddle.

Eskimo Roll

The Eskimo roll is a procedure of rolling back to position when the kayak capsizes under water. This technique allows the kayakers to retrieve themselves from underwater in the safest possible way without the hassle of getting out of the kayak and then climbing back on. Illustrations of the eskimo roll can be found on the this link.


Practice more and more

Practice, practice & more practice is the only way to develop each other’s skills. As Tandem kayaking partners, this helps in improving the communication, understanding each other’s body languages and synchronising stroke by stroke. You be surprised how easy it gets as more time spent drifting but also how quickly you would be covering longer distances at shorter time spans with minimal body effort. Hence, keep practicing and keep surprising yourselves each and every time.

Final thoughts

Here we are at the end of the article on Tandem Kayaking. The beauty of kayaking is endless. It can be nimble over shallow waters and around trees, rocks, and other river obstacles with a little foresight and skillful paddling. Floating across the peaceful calm waters, scenic beauty that surrounds you, the experience is unforgettable and you will want to come back for more. I will end here with a quote by Andre Gide the French Noble prize winning author “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.