How to Tandem Paddle an Inflatable Kayak

To answer this question, we have to look at the complete picture of things. There are general considerations that apply for both solo and tandem paddlers, and then there are specific scenarios and expectations to paddling with another person that differ. Understanding and experiences, along with the right fits and cooperation can in time make or break the success of inflatable kayaking with another person.

Things to Consider from the Start

Before you and your friend get started tandem paddling an inflatable kayak, there are a few important things to consider.

What Kind of Water You’re Dealing With

Are you getting out on lakes or rivers, or even the ocean? Comparing these waters, both a lake and an ocean are enclosed while a river is flowing. A lake is generating waves, a river has its currents, and an ocean has extremes to both waves and currents. Each type of water offers its own challenges and a range of intensity.

Generally speaking, you are safest paddling on a lake. As it compares to a river, you are in more control over your vessel and its position on the water, with the lack of current. You have more time to scope out any hazards, with the under appreciated ability to make it a round trip, returning to where you put in. Waves and wind are the key concerns to be aware of here.

With a river, there is no round trip to be had. Therefore, any complications are more heightened. These waters have varying depths to them with hidden hazards inches to feet below the surface. It’s important to understand the feel and look and functioning of currents, hazards, and the overall flow to the water. Seasonal changes in river volume also complicate things further.

An ocean gets the best or the worst (however you look at it) that a lake and river have to offer, with larger waves and stronger currents. These currents don’t mean you are back in one way river trip mode, but they are less obvious and noticeable for paddlers. And while the hidden hazards are less likely, the stakes of losing control of your vessel are just as bad, if not worse. Don’t overlook the possibility of drifting away from shore and out to open sea.

Whether it’s a lake, river, or ocean, the intensity of each of these water types can vary. Much of this is due to size, with smaller lakes and ocean areas having calmer water tendencies. Less momentum can be produced with their waves, along with less open room for wind to blow freely. With rivers, it’s shape, volume or velocity, and resulting hazards or rapids are deciding factors on its intensity. A fast flowing river with any sharp turns to it and exposed rocks is a recipe for high concern for paddlers.

What Kind of Inflatable Kayak You’re Handling

Not all inflatable kayaks are designed to be paddled by two people. It comes down to an inflatable kayak’s dimensions. Since paddlers sit front and back instead of side by side, like in a paddleboat, we are talking about an inflatable kayak’s length mainly. Just start doing the math: how much space do you need for your seated body and extended or bent legs – times two for the other paddler, and don’t forget to factor in space between the two of you and in the back and front of the inflatable kayak.

The nice thing here, is that your bodies, as the paddlers, will let you know with discomfort if your inflatable kayak isn’t long enough for the both of you. Steps can be taken to function better with your inflatable kayak though, before you jump to buying a new, longer version or drop the idea of tandem-paddling. You can maximize the spacing between seats to increase leg room and adjust your sitting and leg positioning to create more space.

Stability is another important consideration for the actual inflatable kayak. It’s width is more crucial of a dimension here, with the bottom surface shape factoring in as well. While more width and a flatter bottom surface is going to increase stability, your inflatable kayak starts to look more and more like an inflatable boat after a while. The width-length ratio of an inflatable kayak allows for speed and maneuvering on different waters, without compromising on stability.

Now factor in the change in weight distribution on an inflatable kayak with an additional paddler. Instead of much of the weight rooting in the back-middle area of the inflatable kayak, where the paddler sits, the weight is now split between two areas impacting stability.

The Actual People Paddling the Inflatable Kayak

The calmest waters and a top notch two person inflatable kayak should equal success, but it’s not always immediately the case. The final consideration to make is of yourself and your fellow paddler. This is part experience and understanding and part communication, connection, and rapport.

Experience and understanding can be done as an individual pursuit, where someone accumulates a better grasp on the many aspects to paddling in an inflatable kayak on different water types and intensities over time. A solo pursuit has limitations though. Just as paddling in a hard shell kayak or canoe is different than in an inflatable kayak, paddling with another person has a different feel and experiences to it than paddling on your own.

Your physical balance is a prime example, where it feels different from solo paddling, along with whether you are the front or back paddler. And you lose half of the control and regulation of your total balance, trusting the other half to the other paddler. The same can be said of your inflatable kayak’s positioning and movement in the water.

For two people to paddle best in an inflatable kayak, it takes clear roles and responsibilities, as well as communication. Starting with roles, the back paddler has the advantage of being able to see the strokes of the front paddler, so it works best if they handle the adjustments to the inflatable kayak’s positioning, adding left or right strokes when needed.

The front paddler can focus on consistently paddling and listening for any specific strokes to perform, voiced by the back paddler. So the back paddler is calling the shots in many ways, but the front paddler can contribute more by communicating what is directly in front and out of view of the back paddler. This comes in handy for hazards on a river, emerging waves on a lake or ocean, and current changes on a river or ocean. Communication is just as vital as these roles and responsibilities to front and back paddlers.

Keep things simple with what you use, but also make sure to have a physical signal for every word of important communication. Strong winds can impair your ability to hear the other paddler, while crazy rapids can alter your vision at times, so it’s important to have both options.

How to Address These Considerations While Paddling

Now that you’re aware of the things to consider initially, let’s learn just what to do in order to get the most out of the experience.

Some of the Best Inflatable Kayaks for Various Water Scenarios

First things first, having the right inflatable kayak for each type of water will go a long way. Based on all the research I’ve done, here are the top two inflatable kayaks for each of the following water types:

A Calm Lake

  • Sea Eagle- 473rl (RazorLite)
  • Aquaglide- Chelan HB Two Tandem

River Rapids

  • Sea Eagle- 380x Explorer
  • Aire- Tributary Tomcat Tandem Inflatable Whitewater Kayak

Ocean Rough Water

  • Sea Eagle- SE370 (Sport)
  • Innova- Sea-Wave-017

How Does an Inflatable Kayak Compare to a Canoe for Paddling with Two People?

While an inflatable kayak can handle well with two paddlers, a canoe is more so designed for this. Spacing is a clear advantage in a canoe, with much more space between paddlers. Body positioning is another perk to canoe paddling. The elevated seat allows your legs to be bent or straight without as much strain on your knees and hip flexor joints. With this elevated seated position, it also becomes easier to see more of the water in front of you as the front and back paddler in a canoe compared to in an inflatable kayak. There is also more sturdiness and weight to a canoe, allowing it to hold its weight and not get blown off course in strong winds.

There are several similarities between the two as well. A high quality inflatable kayak can compete in efficiency with a canoe on calm waters, with similar considerations for things like how to approach waves. Roles and communication between paddlers does not change much either. It is still easier for the back paddler to voice directions and make adjustments.

With similar water types and intensities, there is going to be more concern over balance and stability in a canoe with two paddlers. The angled shape to the bottom surface and it riding high in the water, makes a canoe more susceptible to sudden movements from either paddler. The spread out weight distribution to two people paddling in a canoe plays a role here too, where as in an inflatable kayak, weight distribution is more compact. A canoe is also pretty limited in where it functions best, which is on a calm body of water. An inflatable kayak, even with two paddlers, has high durability and can handle well in most waters, with specific design types available.

Tips for Avoiding Issues when Tandem Paddling an Inflatable Kayak

Here are a few more tips to consider in order to get the most out of your experience when tandem paddling an inflatable kayak.

Balance

  • Don’t overextend when paddling, shifting weight distribution.
  • Back paddler should try to counter the weight of front paddler, or ask them if they can center themselves better if they are off balanced.

Spacing

  • Make sure positions for both paddlers offer similar spacing and levels of comfort.
  • Have go to positioning alterations (posture, legs) for the spacing you have available.

Roles

  • Try out the roles of the back and front paddler early on and see which suits each paddler best.
  • If you both are capable, talk with each other about switching positions and roles (who starts, when switch and where, how and what to communicate).

Communication

  • Have physical signals that match verbals words used to communicate.
  • Maintain a balance of communication that matches paddling experience intensity (more communication for more intense circumstances).

Reflecting on Your Individual Case

Based on everything previously described, you hopefully are left with a better understanding of all possible influencing elements to an inflatable kayak paddling experience with another person. Situation, watercraft, and people all factor in to the equation, with the best success occurring when all three are at their best or properly matched. But this recognition is pointless, if there isn’t objective self-reflection on strengths and areas to improve on for a greater tandem-paddling outing.

To turn the tide, you may be left with a change in inflatable kayaks needed to better fit two people or just more experiences on the water, developing communicative rapport with the other paddler. And just like you can’t will a small inflatable kayak into becoming a tandem watercraft, you can’t force any two people to paddle well together, so a change there may be the case as well.

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