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How to Row a Tandem Kayak

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Tandem kayaks are equipped with two seats and provide a great way for two people to get out on the water. Rowing, or paddling a tandem kayak takes a little practice, communication and coordination. Both riders must synchronize their movements. It’s common to hit the other riders paddle accidentally when you’re first learning, but with practice and timing you can get the motion down.

Decide which person will sit in the front. Typically, you want the weaker, or smaller person to sit in the front, because the person in the back takes on a larger portion of steering the kayak. The kayak is propelled forward largely from the back portion.

Grip the paddle with your hands positioned slightly wider than a shoulder width. Move your left paddle in a sweeping motion so that it angles downward and sweeps into the water and back out again. Follow this by moving your right paddle in a sweeping motion so that it does the same on the right side to complete the stroke. Let one person practice paddling at a time. The goal is to become familiar with the movement and rhythm. Once you feel comfortable, prepare to coordinate your paddling.

Decide which side you will start on. Countdown and start together in a synchronized manner, sweeping your paddles to one side and then the other. The person in the back needs to look at the front passenger’s movement and match the rhythm.

Coordinate your turns. When you need to change direction, it is easiest for the front passenger to swing the paddle in a forward motion, to paddle forward, while the rider in the back performs backward strokes by sweeping the paddle in the reverse direction. Communicate with each other when you need to turn so that each person knows which direction to paddle in.


Longer paddles are easier to use if you are beginner. The weaker paddler can use a paddle with smaller blades until they become used to the necessary movements and pace.

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