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.