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A Brief Guide On Paddling A Tandem Kayak - Here’s The Easy Way

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Published April 19, 2018 | Updated April 20, 2022

Families and friends would know the joy tandem kayaks bring. Long days on the water serve as a bonding time for parents and their kids as well as the old folks who want to spend some time with their friends. Even paw-rents bring their doggos on the trip. But as much as it’s fun, knowing how to paddle a tandem kayak could be problematic too.

The problem arises when the front and rear paddler doesn’t have coordinated motions. This will lead the kayak to zig-zag on the water that will, in turn, make the trip less worthwhile. God forbid that it stirs a fight in the middle of the water.

But fret not. This is a common problem among tandem paddlers and it only takes practice to smoothly launch the boat into the water. Just imagine how much training dragon boat teams do and you’ll realize how easy it would be for kayaks.

Anyway, you don’t need any drum beats as you only have to know the following tips:

A Brief Guide On Paddling A Tandem Kayak - Here’s The Easy Way

Let the front paddler set the pace

The common problem about tandem kayaking is the lack of unison among the paddlers. This sends the kayak into a directionless tracking that will cause confusion between the two passengers. To solve this out, let the front paddler dictate the pace of the paddling as well as the rhythm. The rear paddler should then follow to avoid disrupting the tracking. If the rear paddler wants to speed up, he should let the front paddler know first. Again, the back paddler should only follow what he sees in front. Avoid starting a paddling competition on the same boat!

Agree on which side the paddling would start

using tandem kayak with adult and child

Left or right? It’s an easy decision, but for tandem paddlers, it can already cause the confusion. Let the front paddler decide and to coordinate it, count to three for a precise start. Do the motion alternately on the sides as a way on how to paddle a tandem kayak. Avoid paddling on separate sides as a way of fixing the issue. One paddler won’t have the same strength as the other and it would only cause the kayak to turn instead of tracking a straight path. Always paddle on the same side so the movement will collate as one. Going separate sides could also jeopardize the stability of the vessel.

Use the paddles that suit your skill level

A wide-bladed paddle would require a stronger grip and movement. This should be used by the stronger paddler while the other uses a narrower one. If the both of you are beginners, it’s advisable that you get longer paddles as these are easier to alternate during paddling. Shorter paddles demand a higher level of precision that you can easily achieve with continuous practice. Once the two of you got used to the activity, you can switch to shorter and wider oars.

Let the weaker passenger be the front paddler

So how come the weak paddler should set the pace? This is so the weaker passenger won’t have a hard time catching up at the back. Letting that passenger lead the paddling would be easier for the partner too as he’s more equipped to adjust on different paddling intensities. Basically, that how to paddle a tandem kayak.

If the front passenger paddles slowly, this should also be the pace of the one on the rear. Coordination will make the tracking faster given that the front paddler won’t get tired easily. During long trips, you can switch positions to see if ever something improved.

The rear paddler should do the course correction

Since the front paddler is the weaker and probably the less skilled one, the paddler on the stern should do the job of correcting the course of the kayak. This includes performing stronger and larger strokes to keep the boat on the right path. A backstroke or rudder move might be needed in case the front paddler tends to go to the opposite direction. This will also bring back the sync of paddling between the passengers. It’s quite a task but it will make the trip easier, at least for one of you.

Avoid striking the front paddler with the oar

paddling with tandem kayak

Tandem kayaks are usually longer than solo types to give the two passengers enough room to move and alternate their paddling. However, there’s still a chance that the rear paddler might smack the front passenger with the oar. This is a typical scenario for beginners but it can be prevented through practice. Ask the front paddler to start slow so you can experiment techniques on gripping your paddle.

How to paddle a tandem kayak? Be patient at all times

Tandem paddling could get really frustrating at first but one thing you should carry on your first trips are loads of patience. There are times when rhythm could be hard to establish especially if you’re tagging along with a first-time kayaker. Always communicate and you’ll surely master the tricks of the trade in just a few days or weeks. If you’re paddling with a kid, patience would be very much needed. Take note of those small strokes and hands, those can really be slow at the start of the trip.

Let the front paddler jump on the kayak first

When launching a kayak, let the front paddler ride on it first. This is because you, as a rear paddler, is more skilled in maneuvering the kayak. The front paddler would surely need help in getting into the boat so be patient enough to lend a hand and be the last one to sit.

Knowing how to paddle a tandem kayak would make your family kayaking trips more fun. It only takes a few steps and continuous practice to glide through the water with less effort. Setting the rhythm is the first step together with proper communication with the front paddler. As the front paddler serves as the captain of the boat, the one on the rear should be the mast that will correct the direction of the journey. Do you find this helpful? Let us know below!

Jay Schwartz author of Kayak Guidance

About the Author - Jay Schwartz:

Hey there kayak lovers! I’m Jay Schwartz, the author here at Kayak Guidance! You know water sports – you know me! My life is all about it. Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Fishing, Snorkeling and so much more. I love to share my passion and knowledge with all of you. 

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