Can one person paddle a two-person kayak? Important Facts

Can one person paddle a two-person kayak? Important Facts
Photo by Albert Potjes / Unsplash

Traditionally, kayaks have long been single-use vehicles.

While two-person kayaks were created for you to enjoy with a friend. They have many benefits including more speed, stability, and are great for sharing fun experiences with friends.

There are some scenarios that can arise where you may be wondering if you can paddle a two-person kayak by yourself and how hard would it be?

In short, yes! You are able to ride a two-person kayak by yourself. You may need to make some adjustments to the seating as well as the weight distribution. Also, be prepared to paddle a little harder due to the extra weight and size of the boat.
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Before you go out and start paddling tandem kayaks out all on your own, let's look at a few reasons why you would be kayaking a two-person kayak in the first place.

Why would kayak a two-person kayak solo?

The other person can't paddle

Whether it's because of an injury or they are too young to provide any extra help, there are quite a few reasons that you would be paddling someone else around.

If you are a parent you may want to take your kid out on the water to enjoy the beautiful weather but if they are too young and have no kayaking experience then giving them a paddle may cause more harm than good. They also run the risk of dropping in the water and losing it.

You want to bring your dog with you.

This is my main reason for investing in a two-person kayak (don't tell my wife!). My dog loves coming out on the water and just cruising in the nice summer heat whenever we get the chance.

If it's something that your dog would have the patience with then it can be pretty rewarding to take them out for a quick paddle.

It's your only boat

If you're itching to go out on the water and this is your only boat then you may be forced to paddle it all on your own. Luckily, it isn't that much different from paddling a single-person vessel. With a bit of practice, you should be able to figure it out pretty quickly.

You want more room for gear.

Looking to go out for a big adventure and you want the extra room for more gear? This can certainly be managed with a tandem kayak, especially if you don't have access to a larger single-person boat. Just be sure to account for the extra weight and balance it out.

Quilotoa, Ecuador.
Photo by Jorge Orozco / Unsplash

The challenges of paddling a two-person kayak solo

Learning curve

The learning curve for kayaking a two-person kayak by yourself can either be quite easy or challenging depending on your kayaking experience. You may need to account for a wider kayak, longer paddle, and a boat that is less maneuverable among other things.

If you have lots of experience kayaking then it may not take you a long time for you to pick up these skills. However, unless you've done this before, you will have a bit of learning to do.

As always, when trying new kayaking skills, be sure to practice bunch in shallow waters until you are comfortable enough to venture away. 

Harder to steer

With the combination of boat size combined with paddle length, two-person kayaks can be harder to steer and maneuver. Unless you are in a large body of water, you can get yourself into a bit of trouble if you cant properly navigate and maneuver your boat.

Harder to attain high speed

When kayaking a two-person kayak by yourself, there are a few factors that if unaccounted for, can negatively impact your speed. In order to attain your maximum speed potential in a kayak, you want a long, thin, and light kayak that is evenly balanced. Depending on how you set up your tandem kayak, you may have a few issues that counteract those points. These include:

The size of the kayak

Because two-person tandem kayaks are on average larger than single-person kayaks, they won't cut through the water as efficiently and create more drag for the paddler.

The weight of the kayak

Since the kayak is meant for two people, the extra space being unoccupied is extra weight that is unnecessary, which would give you a small speed disadvantage

The weight distribution

Depending on your kayak, this can either make a drastic change or almost none at all. If all your weight is towards the back (which it may be since that is where you will likely be seated), then this can cause the front of the kayak to rise up.

This would make it harder to go fast since you won't be cutting through the water as efficiently, your kayak will have worse tracking and your boat may get pushed around more easily, especially by the wind.

Luckily, if you've managed to find this page, you probably aren't looking to race in a two-person kayak. That being said, it's still worth noting that going solo can slow you down.

Camino de los Siete Lagos. San Martin de Los Andes - Villa La Angostura, Neuquén, Argentina.
Photo by Miguel Tejerina / Unsplash

How to paddle a two-person kayak by yourself

If you are in a situation where you want to paddle a two-person kayak by yourself, you hopefully have some experience paddling just a regular kayak. If so, it is a very similar experience with a few minor differences. Depending on what boat you have, the differences might not even feel that different.

Here are some quick tips to get you started with paddling in a two-person kayak by yourself:

Adjust the seat

One quick improvement you can make is to slide your seat as close to the middle as you can if your kayak permits it. Doing this will help distribute your weight and prevent the front from dipping down too much or tipping too high.

In doing this, you help close the gap on the differences tandem kayaks have from single-person kayaks. This also greatly helps with managing weight distribution, which can sometimes be a real drag (pun intended!).

Evenly distribute the weight

As mentioned above, in the previous section, not having a proper weight distribution can cause you a few problems and negatively impact your performance.

By sitting too far back, the front of the boat becomes a lot lighter which may cause you a few issues. When this happens, the front of the kayak may come out of the water making your kayak less efficient when cutting through the water. This can also affect the steering and the balance of your boat as it's more susceptible to crosswinds.

A solution you can apply to fix this, if your kayak doesn't have an adjustable seat, would be to add some counterweight to the front of your boat. You can do this by piling all your gear in the front and if you have to, bring some extra weight with you to help out. Sometimes, the extra weight may be worth the headache of having to paddle a back-heavy lopsided kayak.

Install a rudder or skeg to help with maneuvering

If you know that you will be kayaking in a two-person kayak in advance, one proactive measure you can take would be to install a rudder or skeg to the bottom of your kayak. This will give you an easier time when trying to maneuver the boat and dealing with crosswinds.

If you have a rudder installed on the bottom of your kayak then you would get the nice benefit of having easier turns which can greatly help your arms out when they start to get tired.

Having a rudder or skeg will also help with more violent weather as it will help prevent your boat from getting tossed around so much.

Avoid areas that are hard to navigate

Unless you are feeling really comfortable in your tandem kayak, I would suggest avoiding any tight or narrow waterways. In doing so, you are preventing yourself from getting stuck and having to wait for someone to come and rescue you.

The extra size of the boat as well as the other challenges listed above can make it hard to properly maneuver the boat. If you do plan to venture away from open waters, be sure to use proper caution.


To conclude, yes, you definitely can paddle a two-person kayak all by yourself.

While there may be a few challenges, these can easily be overcome with good preparation. If it is something you plan on doing often then practicing and getting comfortable with your boat is the best approach. Familiarize yourself with all the challenges you may face and how best to prepare for them.

Lastly, if you can, perhaps look at buying a tandem kayak that can easily be converted into a single-person kayak. This way, you get the benefits of both worlds!

Happy Paddling!!