To Tandem or Not…That is the Question

| July 5, 2011 | 13 Comments

A Pro/Con comparison between Tandem and Single Kayaks

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I want to buy a tandem so that I can either paddle alone or with my…” only to find that after a few trips, that same person actually finds themselves paddling alone the majority of the time. So what now? Should I have bought a single kayak? Should I keep my tandem and buy single kayak? Should I have simply bought two single kayaks? Can I convert my tandem into a single? The answers: probably, good option, depends and possibly….

As simple as it may sound, choosing between a single or tandem kayak has caused many headaches and in some cases heartaches. Yes, heartaches. It’s an awkward feeling when you’re standing there in front of a couple arguing on whether or not to buy two kayaks or a tandem. Most of the time, one is concerned about money or the fear of paddling alone while the other simply wants the freedom to do what they want, when they want. Either way, it’s hard to pin point who is wrong or right because every situation is unique. So instead of immersing myself into the debate (which I have been known to do) let’s talk about the pros and cons of each option.

Feel Free Corona Tandem Kayak

Tandem Kayaks
Pros – They’re a great way to spend quality time together with a friend, significant other or children. You’ll be engaged in conversation and will get to share the overall experience. Once you get the hang of it, paddling in sync will be efficient and in some cases quicker and if one person tires out, the other can continue on.  While some tandem kayaks can be more expensive than similar single models, you’ll still spend less than you would if you bought two single kayaks.

Cons – The biggest issue seems to be lack of freedom. You run into the situation where one person prefers to paddle in a particular direction while the other may be completely opposed of it. On a similar note, the blame game is also a common occurrence, which basically means the other person is always doing the wrong thing and of course it’s never you (wink, wink). Then of course there is the simple fact that if you want to paddle alone, this can be a little bit cumbersome in some tandem kayaks. Not only will you have a kayak that is off balance, it can be a little harder to control and potentially unsafe. Cargo space can be limiting when paddling with two passengers and last but not least, if you plan to fish on a tandem, well, just make sure you don’t hook each other.

Native Watercraft Manta Ray 12 Single Kayak

Single Kayaks
Pros – FREEDOM to go where you want and when you want. With a single kayak, you have complete control and that alone speaks volumes. You’ll enjoy an argument free paddling experience and always have the option to kayak when nobody else is available. Your kayak is typically lighter so it can be easier to handle when loading and unloading alone. If you like fishing, solo kayaks can be the perfect setup and allows better access to more cargo space for your gear.

Cons – If you have a young child that is not quite ready to paddle on their own single kayaks may not be the way to go. While many do paddle with children in their laps, its not efficient and depending on conditions may not be safe. You may lose an opportunity to bond with your co-paddler. While some prefer paddling alone, most kayakers seem to enjoy the company when paddling tandem. Finally, if you wanted to share the paddling experience with someone else, you’ll obviously need to get two single kayaks, which will result spending more than you would if you just bought a tandem kayak.

Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T Tandem Kayak with Solo/Tandem Conversion

Hobie Odyssey Deluxe Tandem Kayak with "Jump Seat"

Best of Both Worlds – Tandem to Solo Conversion Kayaks
Nowadays, most of the tandem kayaks available are capable of converting into solos with movable seats and some even have a “jump seat” molded into the kayak. For example, the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T or 145T both offer true tandem to solo arrangements while the Hobie Odyssey Deluxe Tandem has a molded seat area that can be used by a single paddler or junior crew member.

Pros – The ideal kayak for those who want to enjoy tandem or solo paddling. In some cases, depending on the model and capacity, a 3rd person (usually a child) can sit in the middle position. Also exhibits the same Pros as the standard tandems.

Cons – Depending on the model, the center position may be a bit uncomfortable if only using the molded in seat. Also exhibits the same Cons as the standard tandems.

So there you have it. Like any decision there will be pros and cons (as well as opinions) so it’s just a matter of weighing the options in order to determine which one best suits your needs. Everyone’s scenario is different but if your budget allows, I personally suggest that you get a tandem kayak along with a single. This way you can enjoy a day out on the water with the family or venture into the wild on your own.

Roland J.
ACK HQ

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Category: Gear Guide, Kayaking, Resources

Comments (13)

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  1. John Szumila says:

    Hi, I believe everyone needs their own kayak. I own 2 scupper pro tw’s which I use for kayak diving. I either go alone or I take a friend. I enjoy the company but I also need my space. I wouldn’t buy a 2 person bicycle if I wanted to go bicycling with a friend, then why would I buy a tandem kayak? It’s kind of like buying a 2 person tent which really only fits one person comfortably. If you want a Corvette, then don’t buy a Mini-van.

  2. Jared E says:

    I have a wife and kids that all enjoy the water. I have two Native 14.5 tandems that can be easily converted to single. I paddle single most of the time, but the boat handles great in either configuration. It’s really great to have the flexibility these boats offer.

  3. Bill Halwick says:

    I have three different kayaks that I paddle. One is a ’99 Wilderness Systems Alto expedition touring boat, one is an ’03 Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T (tandem or solo) and the other is a Necky Zoar Sport 14 footer.
    I bought the Pamlico 145T so my sister and her friend could come paddling with me. They went a few times and still use it occasionally. I however, find myself using that boat far more than my other two. It’s way more comfotable, easy to paddle and it’s quite fast. (It’s even faster with two syncronized paddlers) It’s not as capable in rough conditions without a full skirt, but on normal to choppy days it’s the bomb. There’s tons of room because of the huge cockpit required for tandem use. Nothing better to relax in or to do a little fishing. The boat is my favorite now. I highly recommend it for a recreational kayak.

  4. Jim Talone says:

    I struggled with this issue before settling on a Hobie Mirage Outfitter a few years ago. If I bought two singles, one would have rarely been used. Hobie mirages are relatively expensive and the tandem was a lot less than two similar single mirages by about $1000. The deciding factor however was that although my wife likes to go out with me in it, she is not comfortable enough on the water to go out alone. It so happens that the outfitter handles well as a single and as a tandem. My daughter, who is much more comfortable on the water, had a single (not a Hobie Mirage) and her boyfriend recently bought a single too. That works well for them.

  5. Janet Wright says:

    Nice article. Like Bill H, I LOVE my Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T, and I usually go solo. The front seat slides back to a well-balanced single-paddler position, and the back seat is a handy platform for my GPS, extra shirt, snacks, etc. The big cockpit gives lots of room for collecting things or picking up trash, or for my dog to go along. I’m a little slower than a sleeker single, but most of my paddling is for wildlife watching, so who cares? The 145T does weathervane a bit in a crosswind. A rudder would be a nice addition.

  6. Mike S says:

    Synchronized paddling is harder than it looks. I’ve observed that many beginner kayakers who go tandem eventually want their own singles.

  7. Don says:

    The best of both for me is my native ultimate 14. Myself, myself and wife, me and up to two grandkids, or me with wife and one grandkids..

  8. Capt Dan says:

    I’m disabled, and kayak with my service dog. Amy is a 130 lb Newfoundland, no little rat-dog. We paddle a Pamlico 135T, with the front seat modified to make Amy a bit more comfortable. I couldn’t imagine not taking her – she is my right arm. There is no way she’d fit in any solo I’ve seen, and this is the perfect set-up for anyone needing to take along another, whether person or dog.

  9. Judy Bauman says:

    I have loved the water all my life but my dear husband of 47 years never did. I turned 70 years old this year and it was time to grab for the gusto. For many years I had several blow up kayaks and always took many friends with me. Last year I started doing a lot of investigating for my own person hard body kayak and decided to buy an Ocean Kayak Venus ll. The only one that is designed especially for women. I never purchased a thing on line but was so confortable talking to Lyle at Austin Kayak, he made it appear like a simple thing to do. I found a store that carried the kayak I wanted in Georgia so I could sit in it and get a good feel. What a thrill that was the day it arrived at the Senior Center. A friend showed me how to tie it on top of my small SUV and off I went. I love it and have purchased additional accessories Just remember life begins at 70. I was in a tennis tournament recently and was beat out by an 89 year old.
    Judy Bauman Roswell, Ga.

  10. Mary Ellen says:

    I am struggling with this question right now. I have two single Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120′s currently. One is mine, then other is my husbands. We have a 27 yr old son with Down Syndrome. He is very high level. I have taken him out and he has paddled solo in my husbands kayak and did well overall but I was nervous. I have also used a rental tandem with him but due to our different paddling techniques, I was a little frustrated. I would like to take him more often but I do not always have access to my husbands truck. I have a kayak trailer I use when my husbands truck is not available. It only holds one kayak. There have been times when we cuold all three go but one of us had to stay behind for lack of a boat. Now these are my options. 1. Get another single for my son (and a conversion kit for the trailer).
    2. Get a tandem that can be converted to solo. Probably the Wilderness Tarpon 130T
    Seeing this all written out I am leaning towards another single, but do I get the 120 (12′) or the 100 (10′)?
    Any comments would be appreciated.

  11. Roland says:

    Appreciate all the comments folks. I am glad to hear many agree that the Pamlico 135T and 145T is a great option solo/tandem option. A couple of you mentioned the Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 Tandem. The Ultimate has been one of my favorite all time boats and should have made mention of it. The ability to switch it into a tandem withing minutes makes it another ideal solo/tandem boat.

    Capt Dan, very cool…a true “man’s best friend”.

    Judy, I love your story…you are an inspiration! Can we write a story about you and your experiences? If interested, email me directly at news@austinkayak.com. I hope to hear from you!

    Mary, it depends on a few things. You mentioned something about a trailer, can you share the brand/model with us? Can it only hold one because of the saddle configuration? In terms of the two boats you mention, there has always been some debate between paddlers choosing between a 120 and 100. A few things to keep in mind…100 + lighter, more affordable and the 120 + slightly better capacity, better performance. My personal preference is the 120, it just seems quicker and more stable to me and is only 8lbs heavier than it’s little brother. You mentioned being nervous so I assume that you are probably looking or something with stability in it. While both boats are extremely stable, I think the 120 edges a bit better here.

  12. Mary Ellen says:

    Thank you Roland, Actually, my nerves were from my son being in the boat by himself, even though it was somewhat unwarranted because he did quite well. I have a Trailex aluminum trailer. It is configured for 1 kayak right now but there is a kit I could purchase to convert it to a 2 kayak trailer. I do love my Tarpon 120! I was thinking the 100 might be easier to manuver in tight areas and could double at a surf kayak (small swell off Florida coast) but I am still relatively new at this and not sure if that is correct thinking on my part. I originally wanted our third kayak to be a tandem, Tarpon 130T. Even though I prefer paddling solo, I thought it would be nice to have a tandem for certain circumstances and when we have out of state family visiting, but this is a large purchase and can’t buy one of each! Trying to keep the big picture in mind. Thanks for your help.

  13. My husband and I are thinking about getting a tandem, we already have two singles. Thanks for the overview of the plus and minus! Super helpful.

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