Tandem paddling tips needed

I’m brand new on here. My husband and I recently bought a used Wilderness Systems Pamlico tandem kayak, about 15’ long. We have been practicing tandem paddling. We spoke to an instructor on the phone who told us that the person in the stern is pretty much the steerer, and makes the decisions about steering. (Alas, that would be my husband, not me! :wink: )

When paddling on lakes I have been calling a cadence, so that we paddle in sync, and he has been practicing steering. We have gotten a lot better at it, and now that we have some familiarity we would like further info. In a narrow waterway we still have problems with steering. I haven’t seen any articles on this website about tandem techniques. So I would like any feedback you want to throw at me. So far, we have had fun, and are learning to work as a team, which has actually been fun, believe it or not! Also, is there a good BOOK I can buy with tandem instructions?

FWIW you can help
I have paddled for many years but tandem in a short boat is a special challenge.

The bowperson sets the cadence and the stern has to match so there is not some paddlethwacking, which would make you unhappy.

Steering is taught as a stern person technique but its toughfor that person to feel free to duck your paddle and to apply effective forces.

I adapted something from tandem canoeing that takes the bow person kind of out of the way yet the bow person is applying a major part of the force needed to turn.

So while the stern sweeps or rudders, the bow applies a high brace with the paddle in the water on the inside of the turn…Angle the blade a little so the front is directed at a small angle in the direction you want to turn.

While others reply I will be looking for a picture of this.

Just to ask…

– Last Updated: Feb-08-09 1:15 PM EST –

How deeply do you guys sink that boat? I am asking because I've seen a couple of those boats with two apparent newbies in it that were not small people and/or had a lot of gear. They were somewhat challenged in turning the boat or handling chop because that single open cockpit was so little above the water.

boat is not too deep in water
To answer your question, no the boat is not too deep in the water, there is plenty of freeboard, I think. I have some experience with boating (small boat sailing) and I feel pretty comfortable in this boat. I weigh about 130 + clothes, and hubby weighs about 190 + clothes. We bring very little gear, just PFDs, water, snacks, bilge pump, etc.

When you are snaking around in tight
quarters, just having your husband do sweep strokes in the stern is not going to cut it. You need to learn how to do strokes such as the bow draw, the hanging draw, etc., with your paddle on the INSIDE of the turn. This surprises people til they get used to it… making tight turns requires strokes near the bow on the INSIDE of the turn, to provide a planted or sliding pivot to help the boat turn more tightly.

S’alright then
Just a thought. One of the instances was either pretty amusing or scary, depending on whether they were in a pond or trying to cross a large lake.

Sounds like you guys are having fun, the most important thing of all.

Separate boats
solved all problems for my wife and me. 25 years later and we still have not had a paddle argument yet. We have always laughed and called tandem boats “divorce floats”.

Kayak Tandem Issues
Tandem paddling a kayak mostly doesn’t work. That said.

  1. The bow paddler sets cadence; as the stern is mostly looking forward, the bow doesn’t need to call if the stern’s IQ is over 100 or so. So stop the noise!

  2. In a short kayak, the bow and stern need paddle on the same side, in cadence. This means the hull will roll right and turn left, then roll left and carve a turn to the right. So it goes.

  3. Shortening your strokes will minimize yaw or fishtailing. This is most important for the stern paddler. Stop forward strokes before the blade reaches the hip.

  4. Try to keep your strokes vertical, the shaft as vertical as possible. This is wetter, but minimizes yaw and roll. For good paddles, you will find a cadence that minimizes drip into the boat.

  5. Did I mention that tandem kayak mostly doesn’t work? You’ll both be much happier in two solos. Start with your husband in the current boat; get yourself a solo kayak that fits trim women, maybe even a pack canoe. Check out the weights on Bell’s Bucktail, Hemlock’s Nessmuk, Hornbeck’s 10.5 Lost Pond and WenoNah’s Wee Lassie. Just look at Placid boats SpitFire - it won’t make sence yet.

Yes it can work
but mostly on a little longer boat!

My husband and I paddled an Easy Rider Beluga…16’8" on a tour in Alaska…we actually had fun spinning this little fat tub amongst humpback whales. But then again we have that FreeStyle canoe background…

and friends of ours would “motor” away from everyone in their 22 foot tandem. Handy boat to have on a Long Island Sound crossing (twice in a day).

Otherwise as CEW indicates its all about minimizing yaw without requiring football helmets.

Book suggestions as requested
Here are a few:

Path of the Paddle: An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Canoeing by Bill Mason

Canoeing - the Essential Skills and Safety by Andrew Westwood

Basic Essentials Canoe Paddling by Harry Roberts

Introduction to Paddling: Canoeing Basics for Lakes and Rivers - by ACA

Tandem Canoeing on Quiet Water by Lou Glaros

This is somewhere to start.

Tandem paddling has become almost a lost art. I think you will see relatively few people doing it and even fewer doing it well ( or even correctly ). Stick to it and good luck.

Make an appointment
Make an appointment with a marriage counselor now.

There will always be a disagreement about steering, as long, as the wife is on board.

Good luck,

Ok, I’d heard the term “divorce boats” before… Thanks everyone for the humor and info.

Since it’s a kayak, not a canoe, I am not sure canoeing books will help very much. (I have canoed, I like kayaking better.) The info about how to not yaw so much should be helpful, also. I am not sure how to picture this move: “the person in the front can steer from the inside of the turn” that was described, and hope someone finds a photo or diagram of that move.

Funnily enough, hubby and I seem to get along with a minimum of fuss in the boat, maybe even better than on land! I, too, would prefer a solo boat, but he is somewhat disabled and feels better having someone in the same boat with him. Since we are just learning, we are also keeping our ears open regarding other types of kayaks, tours, skills, etc.

I do have a solo boat I have never used yet–it’s an old Perception Dancer WW boat. I need lessons, I know, and I read your thread about that boat being useful for learning the roll, but otherwise most of you guys said it’s pretty outdated. I got it for FREE, however. Roll lessons are hard to come by in Arizona, although we have several whitewater areas that are popular during the snow run-off season. Most people don’t know this. They are: The Upper Salt (up to class 4), the upper Gila (the Gila Box near Safford and also the part above Winkleman). Also sections of the Verde and East Verde. People also occasionally run the San Francisco River–a tributary of the Gila. And of course, there’s the biggie, Grand Canyon. The San Juan, Delores, Animas and Rio Grande aren’t far away, also.

Don’t give up
My wife and I also have a WS Pamlico 145T and we have a blast. It does however take practice. My major issue is that she has to be the lookout and direct me which way to steer (as soon as we figure out how to communicate, we will be in great shape).

Have fun!

Put that Dancer to use!

doing things solo is going to help you with your tandem skills… remember that sweeps are going to be the sterns job and these hanging draws yours.

For what I wrote above look for:For a tighter turn that maintains less momentum, plant the blade in front ofyour knee with an open angle to spin with the bow anchored and the stern swinging around. This classic duffek stroke is less frequently used with short boats because it creates such an abrupt sliding turn.

(there is a little illustration that wont copy here)

The article was written for whitewater boats but works for all. Your sterns person has to start the turn in this example with a sweep on the left, then you do the plant.

Don’t listen to the crap about tandems
not working and being divorce boats.

Our first boat, which we still use when my wife doesn’t want to paddle single, is a Pamlico 135T.

We paddle in complete unison on the same side of the boat; usually averaging close to 4 MPH. She sets the cadence in the bow and I provide directional control in the stern with no need of a rudder.

The stern paddler (or both) can even lean a bit to turn quicker.

We have enjoyed ours for many hundreds of miles and I hope you do too.

How ‘bout leaning?
What a bunch of discouraging posts–divorce boats, etc! Tandem boating can be a ton of fun and has some advantages over solo boats. So, I vote with the “stick with it” camp on this thread.

I have to tell you my experience in tandem kayak is limited to one outing. My buddy and I took out a 22’ Necky. What a tank! But, oh my, it could cover some water.

We were such green horns we didn’t know which cockpit had the rudder controls. My buddy thought they were in mine, but they were in his. So our first couple of miles, we didn’t rudder at all. We steered by leaning the boat, which was not easy, mainly because my buddy in the bow seat wasn’t much of a kayaker and would counter my leans. But we did steer the boat by leaning. I steer my solo kayaks almost entirely by leaning.

The trouble we had seems to me the difficulty in steering by leaning. Both paddlers have to lean, and in the same direction! The tendency is that if you feel the boat go off center, the natural reaction is to shift your weight to try to get it back on an even horizon. But my expectation is that your 145 will turn well if you lean it up on its side. With that large cockpit, you may be more confident leaning if you have a spray skirt. That depends how close the rim is coming to the water. Your confidence will also increase if you know how to brace back up in the event you lean too far.


If you can find lessons, that will obviously help immensely. I’d just make sure you got an instructor that had experience in tandems.

Probably irrelevant, but fun to watch, this some of the onboard shots in this video show a stern paddler doing stern-rudders while the bow paddler keeps paddling. They have magically switched to short greenland paddles, probably a key to staying out of each others way, but note the stern paddler chokes up on the paddle and keeps it low and out of the way while the bow paddler strokes on. That might be worth a try.


Have fun with it.


article on tandem kayaking
Try the link below:


I think you might be surprised at how much you could get out of a tandem canoeing book. Most will have some great illustrations of the strokes you need and an explanation of how to do them correctly. A lot of canoeing stuff will transfer nicely to a kayak. They’re not all that different in many ways IMHO.

Books, articles, and videos are all great, but nothing can replace a good instructor and nothing else will help you learn quicker, more easily, or be safer while doing it.