More beginner questions

After looking forward to paddling Somes Sound at Acadia last summer and being unable to rent a kayak, the wife and I have decided to just buy one. We’re definitely beginners, we’ve only gone out about 5 times on calm lakes in the Adirondacks and Vermont so all of the options are are a little overwhelming. So far we’ve rented a Pamlico, a Perception and one whose brand name could not be found but we never bothered to look at the models.

We’re looking for a tandem that can be used on calm lakes, a somewhat choppy lake near our home and hopefully in Somes sound the next time we hit Acadia. The wife isn’t too keen on having to re-enter a kayak out on a lake, so stability is key. Our trips are generally about 4 hours.

After reading a bunch of reviews and posts here I’m more lost than when I started this search. So…

Does it matter what the boat is made out of? Fiberglass Poly, etc…

Would a skeg help in stability and help me talk the wife into going out on the sound or rough water?

Should my paddle have a wider blade so I’m not wanting to paddle faster than her?

Can I get a decent new tandem for around $1,000 (I’ve seen them as low as $400 for a Perception Swifty at Dick’s)?

Are there any brands you wouldn’t trust to even put your in-laws in?

Thanks in advance.

Take a look at the Current Designs
Double vision. It is more than you want to spend, but a great tandem

No don’t take your wife out in rough water, until she is ready for it.

No don’t get a different size blade.

Get both of them the same. It is up to the stern paddler to keep in sync with the bow paddler, otherwise you shouldn’t be in a tandem. They don’t call them “divorce boats” for nothing.

Yes get a rudder. It is more necessary for a tandem than a single



Does it matter what the boat is made out of? Fiberglass Poly, etc…


Would a skeg help in stability and help me talk the wife into going out on the sound or rough water?


Should my paddle have a wider blade so I’m not wanting to paddle faster than her?


Can I get a decent new tandem for around $1,000 (I’ve seen them as low as $400 for a Perception Swifty at Dick’s)?

No. (A Swifty isn’t a tandem, and isn’t a decent boat for what you describe.)

Are there any brands you wouldn’t trust to even put your in-laws in?


Almost all doubles have rudders - which have foot pegs on cables which allow you to steer the kayak. That’s the fin on the back that you can lower if you want or leave up. The skeg is a straight fin that is below the back deck mostly on singles.

Get a plastic - you can beat it to death with no problems. I highly recommend a real kayak with a deck and not a sit-on-top. You get more water protection, storage and normally more stability. Most doubles have a lot of stability, so find one in your price range that you are comfortable in. Most stores all have demo weekends in the spring and just go try some.

Try Tandems
I urge you to really spend some time in a tandem before buying one. My wife and I love paddling seperately…but can barely stand tandems. We actually own a tandem, but it’s only used to take our small children out. If we go alone we ALWAYS take the singles.

If you really want a tandem:

Buy used.

Take a serious look at singles.

I recommend a plastic boat while you’re learning.

Take a serious look at singles.

Buy the same size paddles.

Take a serious look at singles.

Absolutely get the rudder.

Take a serious look at singles.

canoes weigh half as much
There are very few tandems becuase they do not make sense, especailly to carry to water from boaT LAUNCH. Canoes are ideal on flatwater becuase they weigh half as much and cost half as much but you do need good footrests so you can push off with feet.


– Last Updated: Mar-18-10 12:08 PM EST –

Thanks for all of the info so far.

I should say that while I've only been out a handful of times, every time was in a tandem and we really haven't had any issues. And while I do see why singles would be easier to paddle and more versitile, I can only fit one kayak on the car beside the cargo carrier. And I have to buy new cargo bars just to fit the cargo carrier and one kayak. Really don't want to pull a trailer.

I just got back from a local shop that had the Double Vision (nice looking boat but about $1500 more than what I want to spend) and a Pamlico w/rudder for $1220. Haven't been able to find any local used kayaks. Was told that the Swifty II tandem (yes they do make a tandem) has thinner walls with more flex which is why it's so cheap and not worth buying.

Per the suggestions I found a "Paddle Fest" coming up in May to try out some different boats.

For what it is worth
Even though I recommended a good tandem above,

we have friends that have a KeoweeII tandem which is the exact same as the tandem Swifty, but the first model of it, and they love it.

I also think that it would be a good starter boat.

Both my wife and I started in single Keowees, which were the first of the Swifties. We still have them and use them often in white water rivers.

They are basically industructable.

Unfortunately we as most paddlers forget how we started and want to immediately recommend a boat that we know is a high end boat.

After thinking about your situation you perhaps might want to consider the SwiftyII -Just make sure to pick it up before you spring for it!



For paddling cold ocean bays (Somes Sound is below 60 even in the summer), you should generally not use a boat with a gaping cockpit. Worse yet, a boat with a gaping cockpit big enough for two adults to share. The danger is that a little wind kicks up, or a boat wake approaches you, and that big cockpit can be really good at filling your boat with water. Once swamped, stability is lost, and you could capsize. In the past 3 years 2 people have died in Old Town Otters up here, and while it’s not clear exactly what happened, it’s most likely that they were swamped by a wave, and then capsized.

Ocean paddling calls for an ocean boat. Something with 2 separate cockpits, and flotation in the bow and stern, and ideally between the paddlers as well.

There are quite a few double kayaks up here. The used market is well-supplied by all the outfitters who sell their boats every couple years.

Good luck.


Comments, for what they are worth

– Last Updated: Mar-18-10 9:21 PM EST –

I'm not a coach or expert. But I have seen couples try to start in the kind of tandem you are likely talking about, and frankly it is a rotten idea for more challenging water. Especially if it is cold to boot, like around Acadia. As Nate says, the water is cold and big cockpits like you are thinking of take on a lot of water in waves or shop.

We had a couple show up at a skills session on a local lake one year in a boat like this - I think it was the two person Pamlico or something quite like it. They had tried crossing Lake Champlain in this, the wind came up, and they made it but barely. They were quite scared by the time they landed. So when they heard about free help they came to learn how to re-enter if needed.

There were two people working with them, with not inconsiderable rescue training between them. After an hour and a half the only conclusion was that there was no way to self-rescue in this thing without it swamping dangerously.

So - all that about Somes Sound. For that, get an outfitter and tour until you are both able to participate effectively in a rescue on the water.

On to the flat calm water part - if it floats and you guys can swim to shore you can have a lot of fun. The one thing that may matter about material is the weight - plastic tandems have sent more than one person's back to the doctor. Practice lifting this kind of boat before you buy - you may find that a more expensive boat, or two singles, is worth the added other costs.

Paddle blade - no a wider blade is NOT faster for a woman. In fact it is often slower, because the weaker musculature often can't overcome the resistance thru the water to paddle at the same pace as you. If anything, go smaller on the blade. It'll be as efficient for her and much more comfortable for her to use.

I really appreciate all of the great responses. After today I find that we are trying to find a way to make two solos work, though I’m still not sure how we can make them fit. More importantly, I will be looking for some classes for me and the wife. After reading these replies, its clear that a windy day at the lake doesn’t compare to what I could have gotten us into. Now I cant believe they even rent these kayaks on the sound.

Renter boats

– Last Updated: Mar-19-10 12:10 PM EST –

You didn't mention if you had ever connected with a place to rent out of Acadia. But if you are up there again definitely check out Mel and Mark at Carpe Diem kayaking. These guys will take you out in appropriate boats and probably can take you to more interesting spots than you could go in beater rental boats.

Also - are you talking about going to the Mountain Man paddle fest in Inlet NY? If so you can probably talk with flatpick at the Wilderness Systems demo area or doing skills demos.

fitting two boats on the car
If your problem is the car or rack being too narrow you may be able to use a vertical bar type kayak car setup which allows the two kayaks to be on their edges making them effectively narrower.

on the rentals… many rental places expect the boats to be used in calm weather AND stay close to the rental base where it may be more protected. In my parts I know most rental locations are in harbors and don’t permit taking the boats out to the open ocean. So the less able boats work fine.

No, we never found a rental place in Acadia. It was Labor Day weekend so no place we stopped had any available. And we’d rather be off on our own than with a big group.

The Paddle Fest I mentioned is at Lake Arthur in Moraine St. Park about 40 min. north of Pittsburgh, Pa. The only problem is that it’s on a Friday afternoon.

Oh and I was told that the “stacker” to hold the boats on their side was not good for longer boats. The one boat I was looking at if I were to try and get two solos is the Current Designs Breeze which is 12’ long and I still don’t think I’d be able to fit two kayaks on their side plus a 36" wide cargo box on 65" load bars. Anyone else run into this problem and come up with any ingenious solutions for it…that doesn’t involve a new car, a trailer or a cargo rack on the hitch (bikes are there)?

Another thing to keep in mind…

– Last Updated: Mar-20-10 9:22 AM EST – that you're planning on paddling in areas where the water is dangerously cold most of the year. Beyond the cost of the boat(s), gear and lessons, you need to invest in proper immersion clothing. It will add substantially to your "cost of entry" into the sport, but it's the only way to paddle safely in frigid Maine waters.

I think you could barely fit 2 Breezes on the rack by themselves, and probably not with a cargo box. They’re 25" wide and quite deep. But they’re good boats, I have a composite version (Pachena). Be sure to check the capacity of your rack system - two 52 pound boats plus a cargo box are going to weigh quite a bit. If the rack system can’t take it all, you may be back to buying a tandem by default. Of course you could always consider folders, but they tend to be pricey.

Stackers and longer boats - works
We used saddles, rollers for a bit. Then we had to carry more than two boats and we put up our old stackers. We’ve been hauling 17 plus ft sea kayaks on them ever since. Yes we do use bow lines - but the stackers would still function to hold the boats if we didn’t. The bow lines are more of a belts and suspenders kind of thing, but then it’s nice to not have to worry about your pants falling down.

You do have to get padding for the cross rails. Ours are on Yakima cross bars, so we use their pads. But any good plumbing insulation that is fairly dense and can take a beating will work. We put the same over straps to pad between the inner and outer boat when we have two on one side (or stick the plastic boat inside).

I don’t know what the rational was about stackers being bad with long boats, but we are usually in a large herd of people who show up at paddling events with sea kayaks up top with stackers. I can send you plenty of pictures of our car set up with boats on top with the stackers.

local water wear

– Last Updated: Mar-21-10 4:14 PM EST –

Next time you're up here, Cadillac Mountain Sports in Ellsworth carries a lot of wetsuit options, and the LLBean outlet often has a lot of NRS hydroskins and wetsuits as well, at a discount. Last year I even got a Kokatat GoreTex drysuit there for $150, new.

I didn’t see it mentioned in your question or the replies. But please be safe and both of you wear PFD’s. I don’t care how good a swimmer you are being new to paddling and flipping out can quickly wear you out.