Proper tandem kayak paddling technique?

I’ve paddled sit on tops for over six years and consider myself experienced with singles. But, my wife and I just bought a large tandem sot so she and our kids can go out as well. Any suggestions on who sits where? Should the stronger paddler sit in the bow or should the lighter paddler? Does the Stern paddler do most of the steering as with a canoe or are inputs to be done by both paddlers?

Thanks in advance!

Strong paddler up front…
so when the weaker needs a break, he/she can get a free ride. At least ‘til the paddler up front notices and says "Hey, start dippin’ those blades!" ;p I’m not a tandem paddler, but I don’t think it matters much at the recreational level who sits where. However, I would think the person with the strongest bracing/steering skills would want to be in the rear. Try both and see which is more comfortable and efficient for you.


Quickest route to a divorce
Once heard the quickest route to divorce is taking your wife or girlfriend sailing, I think the same applies to kayaking. Saw a couple last week return from a paddling excursion 5 minutes after they left. He walked home.

But the most skilled and strongest paddler should be in the stearn seat so that the weaker paddler up front can’t constantly yell in your ear and drive you crazy, other reasons being when they stop paddling and they will you can splash them.


Rear seater need to steer
Does your tandem has rudder? If not, the rear seater need to do all the steering with paddle, that takes a lot of pratice. So, better have the more experience paddler stay back to control WHERE the boat goes.

All that steering strokes takes away the forward power from the rear seater though. And even with a rudder, it still takes away a bit of the paddling power either due to the mushy footpeg or just the need to do two things at the same time.

So what I heard is, in the case both paddlers “can” steer, it’s better to put the stronger paddler up front to maximize the forward power.

In the rear
Generally tandems are wider at the rear cockpit than they are at the front cockpit. The taller paddler will be better able to swing the paddle through the longer arc needed due to the extra width. Most tandems also have the rudder controls in the rear cockpit, so the rear paddler will be responsible for most of the directional control of the craft. Some tandems respond well to edged turns but most will require the use of the rudder to steer.

Don’t fool youself into thinking that a tandem is safer than a single kayak. When things get rough and windy tandems tend to weather cock more and require a skilled team in order to control, especially when on a downwind track.

Excellent set of advise…
… guys! I’m packing up the tandem in order to return it as quickly as possible :wink: (kidding). We’ve taken it out once, and I’d be a liar if I said we didn’t have a little “spat” on the water that day. I’ll just pack a coupla water guns, so we can at least have fun when we fight!

Thanks for the additional input
No rudder. One time out in it… and as you stated it was slow going due to the fact that I had to put a lot of my paddling input into the steering. We will have to be a little pickier with our days out and places we go, but its strickly a way for us to all go out together. As soon as my boys can paddle themselves you will see us in 4 singles for sure. They are at that awkward age… too big to fit in a tankwell, but too small to paddle their own :slight_smile:

My wife and I started in 2 singles -
thenwe decided to add a tandem to the fleet.

After about a year and 6 paddles or so in it, it came down to either that boat had to go or the marriage was going to go.

Since we’re still married, you can tell we sold the boat. Now we just paddle singles together.

start in very quiet water
My husband and I are bickering tandem kayakers too. Two things helped: recognition by both of us that I was the stronger paddler and should always be in the back (when he’s in the back, he manages to hit me in the head with the paddle?!)and limiting our tandem excursions to very quiet settings. Out on the lake when we’re dodging power boats and sailing yachts, a tandem is recipe for disaster. However, a poky trip around a quiet pond with lots of wildlife is big fun!

Good luck.

In the Rear
I am a much stronger tandem paddler than my wife and it works best when I am in the rear; especially from a steering perspective.

It is not a divorce boat. It is much easier to paddle in tandem on open water. This past week we were on an extremely winding creek and at times we were ready for marriage counseling but eventually overcame the adversity.

Tandem Technique
You might look into canoe strokes that could benefit you both, especially the steering strokes.

I don’t know the names of the strokes but the forward paddler can also take strokes or (reverse)rudder maneuvering that will certainly take some grunt work for the rear paddler out of the mix.


Good Communications
Definately good advance communication so both of you know the intentions of each other will save a lot of last minute panic shouting. let your destination or waypoint be known and work to it together as a team not a when the boat has slid off course. Start planning for turns before the turns, she can work the turn from the bow and you from the stern, both of you will be happy to not end up in the spider webs and bushes on the river bank. Its not a race and when sections of the trip allow a paddler to take a break, certainly permit that paddler to take a break and have her grab you a beer and make a sandwich : ()


We also have a tandem.
We find it best for me to sit in back, and my wife to sit in front. The advantages:

Heavier person is in back.

Experienced/stronger paddler is in back.

Front paddler does “her thing” while rear paddler tries to keep in synch with her. This is best way to avoid banging paddles.

Rear paddler can still handle boat while front paddler takes “time out”

There are times when it is best for me to sit in


To demonstrate certain paddling technique.

Balance the boat going into wind/waves.

After you’ve splashed her too many times.

If control on the lakes remains a problem, get the rudder kit, if available.

Oh, it would also be helpful for her to take the boat out solo once in a while, just to get used to how it handles without you in it. Rear seat most likely.

divorce boats
Tandems are not divorce boats once you lay out the ground rules.

Heavier/stronger paddler in the rear.

Front paddler sets the paddling pace and navigates.

Rear paddler paddles in sync with the front paddler and steers.

Rear paddler is the captain so to speak.

Work together on perfecting paddle strokes and going tandem can be a real joy. Switching who sits where once in a while is pretty nice. Then each paddler gets to see what paddling is like from the other person’s viewpoint.

Long Tandem
I own a 21 foot long sit-in tandem. The beam is about 28" (big compared to single) but it works great as a big water boat. I have no issues with paddles knocking due to the length of the boat - each paddler can paddle as they wish without synchronizing. I typically go on 1-2 long coastal trips a year with friends. We have spent a lot of time practicing braces, exits, rentries, etc. It is possible to roll the boat but I doubt we could effectively do it in a real situation. Our cowboy rentry is automatic and we can both get in within 15-20 seconds. A good team (and boat) can go twice as a fast as a single any day. We consistently outpace loaded singles. Doubles have their place, but the team and boat must all work together. Also, I’ve done much retrofitting on my boat to make it a true expedition boat - reinforcing glass throughout, deck lines, compass, resealed/glassed combing and hatch rims, new gas pedal style rudder system, glassed/sealed bulkheads.