Tandem Sea Kayak--love or hate?

Hey, the ice is finally starting to melt up here in Alaska, and my wife has been saying that she is interested in trying kayaking this summer. I kayak mainly in Prince William Sound, and though a great place the water is certainly no joke (cold and current wise). I was thinking of instead of buying her a starter sea kayak like a Tsunami or a Carolina of some sort that I might buy a necky amaruk or some similar tandem sea kayak so she could actually take advantage of the good water in alaska and I could make shore she avoided the wet exits at least for a while. Some of my friends have said that tandems are such a pain that if I’m used to boating along I’ll never want to go out if I buy the tandem. Have you guys found this to be the case or is he exaggerating the frustration level of the tandem sea kayak?


Not so bad
Well they call them divorce boats - but my wife and I rented a double last summer and took a nice day trip on Lake George for my birthday. She’s got her own wreck boat and enjoys lily-dipping, but is not a strong paddler nor very adventurous. Also she’s not real head-strong in the boat or demanding of always getting her own way (come to think of it, this applies only to time in boats…). Anyway, the trip worked out just fine. The big honker was very steady in rough water and moved along OK. I’d like to have our own someday, but not a 90 lb. plus plastic pig like we rented. A double kit boat from CLC or Pygmy at 60 lbs. would do much better.


Love It
We have a tandem Loon 160T. Not exactly a sea kayak, we use it more like a canoe really. Put the the two little boys, the wife and myself in it. Actually, speaking of canoes, lots of couples canoe together. So here’s my $0.02 for what its worth.

Some people get long skinny single sea kayaks so they can go fast. Always trying to go faster or further. Possibly when couples first start paddling together in doubles they don’t keep the previous fast pace. Typically, the husbands want to go fast, and the wifes want to dip their paddles amounst the lilies. But if your goals are the same when you go out for a paddle, they’re great boats. Another issue is the rear paddler wants to “coach” the front paddler. So if you can swing it, put the more experienced paddler in front, then they won’t be telling the less experienced paddler what to do all day.

Loading is not so bad if planned out in advance, even at 80 plus pounds. I just lift the front on to the rear of the Suburban with the wife standing behind the rear of the boat to secure it/keep it from sliding away. Then I lift the rear up and shove it on to the roof rack. Wife does no lifting, and I do two 30 second lifts. You’ll certainly want a cart to move it between the car and water.

I’m working on getting my two little boys to move and lift the kayak for me, but thats going to take a few years.


Completely personal.
My wife and I agreed early on that a tandem was not for us. Don’t think we would divorce over it but we both strongly feel we want to be in charge of our own boat, see what we want to see, go as fast as we want to go, etc. In fact we joke about it. And on guided trips to a variety of places we have had to argue strongly to keep them from putting us in a barge of a tandem. Obviously if you are decidedly different in terms of goals and mode of participation then a tandem might work. But not for us.

We hated it.
My wife and I bought a tandem after paddling solo for about a year. After 9 months, she said, “Either the boat goes or the marriage does.”

We sold it and continue to paddle singles. It doesn’t work for two Type A personalities.

Rent one
of the many tandems at Alaska Sea Kayakers or PWS Kayak Center there in Whittier for a day or two and see if you guys like it. Has she ever kayaked before? The symposium is coming up next month, good time to try out boats, too.


Beginners up front
Hey Jeremy,

I personally hate tandems. It may partially be due to the fact that my husband and I also used one in relatively tough waters off the coast of Maryland on a windy day. The location may not have been a good idea since it was his first time kayaking. If you decide to try out a tandem, you may want to get use to it on some flat water before going out into the sound. It will give you a chance to work out a rythme and you will be able to give your wife some pointers in a much calmer & relaxed environment. But if you decide to take your chances and try it out in the Sound, I have a couple of suggestions. Mainly, you might want to put her up front. This is for a couple of reasons… you can navigate the kayak easier from the rear. This will allow you to correct her overstrokes. Also you can give advice on form and posture if you are behind her. I also learnt the hard way that if the beginner is sitting behind you, be prepared to get splashed alot. Not fun when the water is only 50 degrees. (Not to mention you can make sure she is still paddling, after a mile up the Rock Hall coast I noticed the kayak felt a little heavy, come to find out my husband decided to sightsee.)

Good luck


We used to race our VCP Aleut Sea II and had a blast. Sea kayaking we are both in solos. She is a strong paddler. When her sister comes for a visit, the wife paddles solo but the sister goes inthe tandem with me.

drove me mental
Being in a double with my girlfriend drove us both up the wall. being in 2 singles keeps us both happy though i usually have to wait for her to catch up no matter what we paddle.

but its completely personal. some people are happy in a double. rent and find out.

I’ve got a VCP Aleut Sea II with ocean cockpits and pumps and my wife and I have a great time in it. I also have a VCP Nordkapp single–I love both boats. Each does certain things better than the other, and worse. The Aleut II does quite well rough conditions–it’s a matter of seat time in the boat–and it eats up the miles–very fast. One thing to look for in a tandem, especially if you are going to be paddling with someone that had a different interest, fitness or strength level, etc. is cockpits that are spaced far enough apart that you don’t have to paddle in sync all the time. Yes, efficiency may suffer a bit if you’re not in sync, but efficiency probably doesn’t matter if you aren’t in sync–in other words, you’re probably putzing along with your spouse, etc. Good luck!

Plusses and minuses
On the good side two paddlers of different abilities can stay together more easily. You can go much faster than a solo paddler (depending on the boat). Storage options can be greater. A real mule for carrying gear.

Downside is more space to store and car-top the kayak. Can’t paddle independently to check out what only you may want to see. You might not want to be close to one person for so long. Generally much heavier. If you capsize rescue can be much harder than a single.

I like both, depending on the situation.




do kayakers call them ‘divorce boats’ but canoeists call them…well, canoes? Something worth pondering…

I did a weeklong trip last summer with a buddy in my double kayak. A great exercise in joint decision making and teamwork. It was so good that we’re doing a longer trip this summer in the same boat.

Doubles are great for powering through the rough stuff. Good for photography on the fly, eating under way, or resting when one partner needs a break. Just make sure you have that canoeist attitude…

Wow! Great pictures. I enjoyed looking at them.


My take for what it is worth.
If you are a decent paddler, and will be in the stern, you will have no problems and will have a lot of great trips together.

It will be your responsibility to keep in sync. with her and being experienced it should be easy for you.

Both my wife and I paddle solo, but have been on guided trips with Alaska Discovery up in your neck of the woods and they use tandems.

We had no problems at all and really enjoyed them even though our preference is for solos.

On the other hand I would never advise anyone that is new to kayaking to get a tandem.

On our trips some of the others were new paddlers, and all they did was yell at each other and bang paddles.

I explained to them (too bad the guide didn’t)that the front paddler cannot see what the rear paddler was doing and it is the rear paddlers responsibility to stay in sync with the bow paddler, and once they realized this they didn’t have any more problems.

If you are worried about her safety and this is the only way you will feel she will be safe then by all means get a “divorce boat” and help change the statistics!



Tandem kayakers are closer together
than tandem canoers in most cases, unless it’s a really long sea kayak. The tandems I’ve been in had the rear paddler using the back of the front paddler’s seat as a foot brace. That’s too close for easy paddling in my opinion. It’s doable, but I’d prefer another foot or two between paddlers. Tandem canoes usually have four feet or more between paddlers.

second the valley AleutII
MY wife and i have two singles and the valley double and it a sweet boat. I take it out with my dog and or my dog and a friend and the boat really is a joy to paddle. Alot of times I will have the double with the dog and my wife will be in here single. If I take a beginer out for a paddle I take them out in the double and it works out well. A friend and I can cruise at about 5 mph and thats with a 100 pound lab in the center and hit 7 mph if we want. If you want to try it out your welcome to, (I’m down here in skagway) just let me know. We have some pretty nice scenery down here also. The Valley is fast and very stable and at 22 feet a joy to paddle.

Personalities, above all else
If I paddled a double with my husband, we’d kill each other. We get along fine in our singles (kayaks and bikes). Well, most of the time.

We ran into some friends of his, a husband and wife. They asked if I were going to join them all on a rafting trip and I said no. The woman tried to entice me into going by saying, “I just love these rafting trips, because I can just sit there while the men do all the work!” I told her that’s precisely why I would never go rafting.

Which point of view does your wife take on such endeavors? Or does she fit somewhere in the middle? I think this question matters far more than matters of skill.

If your wife is even slightly interested in paddling a single, to put her in a double right away (unless she says that is what she prefers) might communicate lack of confidence in her ability to learn, or worse yet condescension in general.

If she wants to paddle a single, I think taking some good paddling lessons up front would go a lot further than trying to delay the inevitable by starting with a double. Lessons and wetsuits or drysuits.

Women are said to be easier to teach than men. Give your wife the benefit of the doubt, unless she clearly wants to start in the double.

Type A or B
It doesn’t work even if one person is Type B but does not like letting someone else always be in control (raising my hand here).

I think it’s more a question of independence than of “drivenness.”