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Tandem kayaks are a great way to save money, paddle more efficiently, and enjoy the collaborative challenge of paddling together with others.
Of course even the best tandem kayaks come with some drawbacks and a there are few things you should definitely consider before making the financial investment and buy a new kayak.
I’ve spent years guiding outdoor trips, including working at kayak liveries and managing paddling expeditions. There are plenty of mistakes I’ve learned to avoid and I’m going to do my best to share my knowledge with you.
Best Tandem Kayaks
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Rated Tandem Kayaks For 2021
- Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Elite Inflatable Kayak
- Vanhunks Voyager Deluxe Tandem Kayak
- Intex Excursion Inflatable Pro Kayak
- Lifetime Beacon Tandem Kayak
- Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 130T 13
- Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135 Tandem Kayak
Tandem Kayak Reviews
- Sit on top style
- Fits two adults plus a small child or pet
- 500 pound maximum capacity
- Large, adjustable seatrests
Ocean Kayak is one of the more well know makers of kayaks so it’s no surprise they are number one on our list.
Honestly the feature I love more than anything about this boat is the wrap around style seatbacks. These really contour the body and they’re taller up the back than other seatrests usually are.
Let me tell you, this is an amazing thing to have on long paddling trips!
This boat has an abundance of storage in the front and rear plus molded-in foot wells. The built in paddle holders are a nice feature along with front, rear and center carry handles.
The sit on top design is forgiving and comfortable to all paddlers. There’s also a third seat in the middle for a child if you want. The third seat has no padding or backrest, however.
Best For: Comfortable seats during long trips and the short maneuverability of a 12’ boat.
- Adjustable for 1-2 people
- Aluminum frame inflatable boat
- Padded seats
- Capacity: 550 lbs
This is easily the coolest kayak on our entire list. It’s inventive and unique and it really solves a lot of problems all in one go. If nothing else on our list seems right for you, this boat is sure to fill the void in your kayak heart.
So here’s what’s up. This boat has three seat locations. Either paddle it solo with the seat in the middle, or paddle it tandem with two seats front and back.
You can swap them around on the fly and the boat performs just fine in either setup.
That’s not all. The aluminum frame on this boat provides the much needed rigidity that most inflatable boats don’t have. However, that comes at a price.
This boat is going to perform much like a traditional rigid kayak, but it’ll cost you a lot more than the inexpensive Intek boat earlier on our list.
That said, I love the space in the front and rear for gear storage. There’s also a zippable spray skirt. All these features are supported by three layers of material to help the boat resist puncture or tearing. That means you won’t have an unexpected “pop”!
Best For: Those who want one of the of the best two person kayaks and need the flexibility of an inflatable kayak.
- 2 Swivel rod holders
- 2 watertight storage compartments
- Two deluxe kayak seats
- Seats 2 adults and one child
- Includes 2 paddles
Ready to hit the water with your partner in crime and do some fishing? If that sounds like you, then this is the boat that’s got it going on!
With tons of features it’s at home for a day of fishing or a day of paddling the lazy river with friends.
Going out all day requires gear, especially if you are going fishing. That’s why there are 2 swivel mounted rod holders and 4 flush mounted rod holders along with plenty of storage front and aft plus 2 waterproof storage hatches.
To add to the features, they included 8 D-Rings for securing gear plus 2 cup holders. Vanhunks put some effort into the seats and the adjustable seats have padding for all day paddling comfort.
There are a handful of built in foot rests for each paddler that you can choose from to maximize comfort. Plus it’s a sit on top kayak so there’s tons of leg room. You can even dangle your legs over the side if you want.
Best For: Kayakers looking for the best tandem sit on top kayak that also might want to do some fishing.
- Removable skeg
- I-Beam floor for increased rigidity
- 2 inflatable seats with backrests
- 400 pound maximum weight
- Includes 2 paddles
So we come to the second inflatable kayak on our list today. Why did this boat make our list? Quite frankly it’s on here because it’s pretty inexpensive and offers good performance.
Not only is it very affordable, it also offers the compact form factor of an inflatable boat. Intex included two paddles as well and a pump so you have everything you need to get out on the water!
Feel like trying your luck fishing? There are two recessed fishing rod holders plus a mounting bracket for a fish finder.
So, remember when I said that inflatable kayaks offer some advantages? These boats are easier to transport because you can deflate them and stick them in the trunk.
Good luck getting a rigid kayak into a passenger car!
They also offer some disadvantages. Because of their shape they can be very squirrelly in the water and tend to zig zag. For that reason using a skeg, like this boat has, helps to keep the boat tracking straight.
Make no mistake, this isn’t going to be as ideal as a rigid kayak. However, for occasional recreational use and people who just don’t have the room for a rigid kayak, it may help you get in the water!
Best For: Paddlers looking for the best tandem kayak for the money who don’t have room for a rigid tandem kayak.
- Adjustable seats with high back supports
- 1 sealed hatch
- Deck lashing for extra storage
- Integrated skeg
- Sit on top style kayak
There’s little doubt that this boat features the greatest combination of quality and price. The value of this boat is outstanding and it makes an excellent choice especially for beginners or those on a budget!
I like that there are plenty of footrests to allow for some flexibility. Maybe the most unique feature is the wheel built into the skeg so you can roll the kayak for easy transport.
The adjustable seats are a nice touch, I would have like to see an little more storage. This boat has one storage hatch between the rear paddler’s legs.
There’s also plenty of bungee rigged storage for coolers, PFDs or other gear. for additional storage. I like they have molded in drink holders for each paddler to keep a beverage handy.
Because this boat is a sit on top model it makes it easier to dump water out. If you happen to tip the boat then you can upright it much easier compared to traditional cockpits.
Best For: Paddlers looking for the best tandem kayak at an insanely affordable price tag.
- Fully adjustable suspended metal frame seats
- Two sealed hatches
- 2 Flush mount rod holders
- Fully adjustable foot rests
- Includes 2 paddles
Let me be clear, this boat is loaded with features! By far the most feature rich tandem kayak on our list, it also sports a hefty price tag. Let’s see if all those features are really worth the higher price, though.
While many other boats offer molded foot rests that are set at predetermined intervals, the Yellowfin takes it up a notch.
These footrests are fully adjustable throughout their range so you can dial in the fit perfectly to your needs. This is common on high end boats.
There are two sealed hatches on the boat. These are doubled up with molded drink holders for a cozy brew on the water. Plus, as if that weren’t enough, you can store two fishing rods in the flush mounted rod holders onboard.
Both front and back of this boat feature shock cord lashing for extra gear or fishing tackle!
Best For: Paddlers looking for the best 2 person kayak and don’t mind spending a little extra for tons of features!
- Traditional Cockpit Design
- Deck lashing
- Fully adjustable foot braces
- Weight capacity: 500 pounds
Wilderness Systems is a brand that has been around making both canoes and kayaks for years. When I worked as a livery hand we had exclusively Wilderness boats and they were nearly bombproof.
I can say first hand that these boats hold up exceptionally well!
The Pamlico is a proven two person kayak model that has been refined over the years. It’s a no nonsense traditional cockpit design that features two fully adjustable AirPro seats with tall backrests and mesh to keep you cool in the warm weather.
I like that the seats are on a rail that slides so you can quickly get the best paddling position. I wish they would have made the seats wrap around a little more, but some will prefer the thin backrest design.
With a maximum load of 500 pounds this boat is capable of handling two people plus gear in most situations. The one downside of this kayak is the small hatch that doesn’t allow for much for waterproof storage.
Of course you can get around this by using waterproof cases for your phone and keys and just clipping them to your set straps.
Tandem Kayak Comparison Table
|Tandem Kayak||Length||Weight||Type||Weight Capacity||Rating|
|Lifetime Beacon Tandem Kayak||12 feet||64 lbs||Rigid||500 lbs||4.1 / 5.0|
|Intex Excursion Inflatable Pro Kayak||12.6 feet||39 lbs||Inflatable||400 lbs||4.3 / 5.0|
|Vanhunks Voyager Deluxe Tandem Kayak||12 feet||77 lbs||Rigid||550 lbs||4.8 / 5.0|
|Ocean Kayak Malibu||12 feet||57 lbs||Rigid||375-425 lbs||4.4 / 5.0|
|Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin||13 feet||80 lbs||Rigid||500 lbs||5.0 / 5.0|
|Advanced Elements||15 feet||52 lbs||Inflatable||550 lbs||4.3 / 5.0|
|Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135 Tandem Kayak||13.5 feet||72 lbs||Rigid||500 lbs||3.9 / 5.0|
How to Choose the Best Tandem Kayak
- Paddling With a Partner
- Tandem vs Single
- Kayak Styles
- Gear Storage
- Kayak Length
- Inflatable Kayaks
- Misc Kayak Considerations
Tandem kayaks are simply longer versions of traditional kayaks that make room for a second person to ride along and help paddle. Make no mistake, however, you’ll be stuck in the same boat so you’d better get along with your partner for the day!
Paddling With a Partner
Tandem kayaks are fun, but they’re also work. If you’ve never spent a long day paddling with a partner in the same boat let me inform you of a few secrets.
Tandem paddling can be hard and frustrating. It’s a great way to make enemies with friends. If the person in front and back fail to communicate about when and how to turn or where to go, chaos and frustration quickly reign supreme.
All that said, once you fall into the rhythm of paddling with your partner you’ll eventually be able to paddle without having to say anything at all! It will take a few trips of practice, tho.
Tandem vs Single
Tandem kayaks have a few advantages over single kayaks like:
- Cheaper than two single kayaks (usually)
- More efficient than paddling two singles
- Can take a break while your partner paddles
- Opportunities to work together
- Easier to carry a single boat with two people
Of course they have a few downfalls you should be aware of:
- You must have a partner all the time
- You must agree and cooperate
- You cannot explore the water on your own – you’re stuck
- They’re quite a bit longer than most single kayaks
These are all things to keep in mind when you’re looking to pick out a new tandem kayak. If the advantages of a tandem kayaking sound like what you’re looking for then move forward! If, however, I’ve outlined a few things that seem iffy then continue to read while you consider whether or not it’s the best choice for you.
There are two main styles of tandem kayak that you’re going to run into. The older and traditional version is the cockpit kayak (sit inside).
The newer version is the sit on top kayak. Each of them are advantageous for certain situations so let’s determine which is your best bet.
These kayaks are the kind where the paddlers sit down inside a narrow hole. Your legs are inside the boat and your torso is exposed so that you can move and paddle.
These boats can feel cramped and leg room is scarce at best! They are, however, generally higher performance than sit on top kayaks and make a good choice for advanced paddlers.
Sit On Top Kayaks
Sit on top kayaks are different. They’re open to the air so you just “sit on top” of the boat. They have tons of leg room, they’re easy to get in and out, and if you flip the kayak will self drain!
They have quite a few advantages over traditional kayaks, particularly for recreational paddlers.
For most users I think that sit on top kayaks make the best choice for recreational use. If you’re paddling for an afternoon once in a while, or exploring the lake at your cottage on occasion then these are for you.
Traditional kayaks are best for more advanced paddling where efficiency, stability in open water, and advanced paddling technique are required.
Think about which type of paddler you are or how you intend to use your boat. These are some rough guidelines that will help you discern the best style to start with!
Which is Better for You: Sit-in-Kayak or Sit-on-Kayak?
If you are still undecided which is better for you, answer these questions to make a determination.
- Will you be paddling in warm weather and water conditions? If you will be using the kayak in cold water/weather conditions, a site in kayak may be best for you.
- Are you a beginner and worried about the kayak tipping over? A sit in kayak is more stable due to the fact you are sitting lower in the kayak and will have a lower center of gravity providing more stability.
- Will you be kayaking in calm/sheltered water or in the ocean? A sit in kayak will keep you more protected from the elements and the ability attach a spray skirt giving you more protection from the elements that a sit in kayak.
You’ll be paddling with two people. That means you should have room for twice the gear, right?
Many tandem kayaks fail to offer adequate storage for both people which can be an oversight. There are a few other pitfalls to watch out for as well!
Storage comes in several flavors when it comes to kayaks. Deck lashing and shock cord is the most simple and is common in traditional kayaks.
Sit on top kayaks may still have some areas available for shock cord lashing as well, however. With deck lashing, whatever you store will be open to the water dripping from your paddle or if you flip the boat. Oops!
The more watertight option is called a hatch (often just called storage compartment). Hatches are not always waterproof though!
Waterproof hatches are necessary only if you’re in danger of flipping the boat or in very rough water where the boat is being soaked. Most paddlers don’t brave these conditions, however.
For that reason, even non-waterproof hatches are a great option. They seal close so that if the boat flips your keys, phone, and wallet won’t sink to the bottom of the lake.
Instead of getting into the details of the pros and cons of various kayak lengths, I’m going to keep it general.
- Tandem kayaks will be longer than solo kayaks
- This means you need to be able to transport them (12’ +)
- The longer the boat the harder it will be to maneuver
That’s really what it boils down to in a nutshell. Of course, there are more details for advanced kayakers to master. However, just remember that you’ll need a vehicle capable of handling a long boat.
These boats have a special place in my heart. On one hand I hate the idea of a blow up boat. On the other hand I love how convenient they are and how many problems they can solve!
Today’s inflatable kayaks are nothing like pool toys. They use high pressure pumps to achieve a very rigid structure on durable materials that will stand up to a lot of use.
Don’t be fooled, however, you can still tear a hole in them if you’re really careless.
Inflatable kayaks can fit into passenger cars without taking up space. They’re ideal for transporting if you can’t find a way to move a traditional rigid kayak. Inflatable kayaks and rafts are also becoming more popular for special backpacking trips called packrafting.
Don’t dismiss inflatable kayaks as junky gimmicks. They’re really quite easy to use and reliable. Some of the best among them even rival rigid kayaks for performance and features!
If you want to see some more recommendations of inflatable kayaks, see my reviews here.
Misc Kayak Considerations
- Spray Skirt – this addition is common among whitewater and touring boats. It prevents waves and water from entering the cockpit and submerging the boat.
- Rocker – One of several design considerations in a kayak’s shape. Rocker describes the amount of arc or “banana” shape that the boat has. The more rocker, the easier to turn.
- Skeg – This often detachable or retractable fin helps to stabilize some kayaks in windy conditions or when paddling straight over long distances.
- Rudder – Not to be confused with a skeg, the rudder is actually use in controlling the direction of the boat as an aid to paddling.
Polyethylene – The most common and least expensive material to produce boats from. It’s cheap but heavy. Polyethylene tends to break down with exposure to UV so store boats in the shade!
ABS – More resistant to sunlight damage than Poly boats. ABS is more expensive but more durable and easier to repair.
Composite – These can be Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber and they’ll cost you a fortune! These kayaks are lightweight and top-performers across all classes but they’re hard to find and very expensive.
There is a kayak on our list for everyone. I tried to make sure that just about every budget, skill level, and preference was represented here. There are boats for angler, recreational users, and power users.
Of course, it’s up to you to figure out exactly which one to go with. If you’re still confused, go back and review the “how to choose” section to get some more ideas. There’s nothing wrong with heading down to your local outfitter shop and examining tandem kayaks yourself!
Just remember to consider all the factors at your disposal before you just buy the first tandem kayak you see.
How We Researched
To come up with the top tandem kayaks we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Dicks Sporting Goods, Cabelas and Backcountry along with our own personal experience.
We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.
With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler has been an avid kayaker and leads kayak camping trips during the summer months in his native state of Michigan.
To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from kayak tour guides and rental shops.
After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good tandem kayak to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a kayak I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.