Can You Use A 2-Person Kayak Alone?


Paddling / Thursday, May 20th, 2021

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Two-person kayaks are great when there is an inexperienced person on your trip or if you want to tandem kayak with your spouse, child, date, or friend. But what happens if you want to kayak alone? Can you paddle a 2-person kayak by yourself?

You can use a 2-person kayak alone though the difference in weight distribution can cause problems with tracking, steering, and responsiveness. Many possible performance problems can be overcome with the use of a skeg, rudder, repositioning seats toward the middle when possible, and the placement of gear.

The decrease in tracking, steering, and responsiveness when solo paddling a tandem kayak can lend itself to an increase in error or potential problems especially if you are paddling on an ocean or a river with whitewater, low hanging branches, rocks, or debris.

Converting a 2-Person Kayak into a Solo Kayak

Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack Inflatable Kayak Tandem Deluxe Package, 385FTK_D.
Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack Inflatable Kayak Deluxe Solo Package, 385FTK_DS.

There are 2-person kayaks with movable seats and stationary seats. It is much easier to paddle a tandem kayak alone if you are able to move the seat to the middle of the kayak. This effectively converts the tandem kayak into a solo kayak.

Converting a 2-person kayak to a solo kayak is simple IF you have the right kayak. There are both hardshell 2-person kayaks and inflatable 2-person kayaks that can be easily set up with one or two seats without significant deficiency in performance, like the Sea Eagle 385ft Inflatable Kayak pictured above or the Sea Eagle 380x Explorer Inflatable Kayak below.

The tracking, steering, and responsiveness issues of using a tandem kayak alone are caused by improper weight distribution when one paddler is in the bow or stern seat. Repositioning the seat to the center of the kayak overcomes these weight distribution problems.

These kayaks are stable and responsive in either configuration making them a great option for many paddlers. You have the option to bring someone with you or paddle alone.

Note: The length of the kayak has an effect on steering. Tandem expedition kayaks are shorter and easier to steer when set up as a solo kayak.

Flatwater kayaking in a Sea Eagle 380x Explorer inflatable 2- person kayak. This model kayak can be set up with seating for 2-people or just one person making it incredibly easy to switch between tandem kayaking and kayaking alone

Where to Sit in a 2-Person Kayak When Paddling Alone

Well, if your kayak converts to a solo kayak. Sit in the center position.

Tandem kayaks with stationary seats are harder to paddle alone. If your seats are stationary, you should sit in the rear. This will make steering easier especially when you have access to a rudder.

There is, however, a problem. The weight is all in the back. This can drastically affect the performance of the tandem kayak. Let’s look at how to overcome this problem…

Weight Distribution When Using a 2-Person Kayak Alone

A woman on a lake paddling a 2-person kayak alone with a large dog in the front cockpit to balance the weight in the kayak..

There is a problem when you sit in the rear seat and paddle solo in a 2-person kayak. It’s weight distribution. There is a disproportionate amount of weight in the back of the kayak.

When the front of the kayak is light…

  • The front of the kayak can rise up out of the water especially if you are a heavier person.
  • The hull may not have the same efficiency in cutting through or riding on the water.
  • The steering and speed are compromised.
  • The kayak will have poor tracking.
  • Wind can push the bow around more easily.

Solutions for Overcoming Weight Distribution Problems

When a seat can’t be positioned in the center of a 2-person kayak, even distribution of weight is the best solution. Tandem kayaks are designed for two people. The lack of weight in the second seat has to be replaced.

  1. Place what gear you can at the bow of the kayak. This usually isn’t enough weight unless you are on a kayaking/camping trip.
  2. Fill up a large dry bag or multiple dry bags with water and place it in the front seat. Bags of water get really heavy. You might want more than one so you don’t break your back. For best performance, the weight of your gear and dry bag(s) with water should roughly equal your weight.
  3. You could let your dog come along for a ride but if your dog is like mine. It will go for a swim and throw off the weight again… Well, my little dog is too light anyway.
  4. If your kayak has two separate cockpits, get a cockpit cover for the unused cockpit to keep water out of the empty one in rough conditions.

When using a dry bag, you’ll need an extra-strong, durable, and abrasion-resistant bag like the Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bags. This is my favorite dry bag. I’ve had mine for years. Get you 2 or 3 of the 20L or one of the 65L bags.

Kayak Skegs and Rudders Improve Performance

Sea Eagle Explorer large, removable, rear, center, slide-in skeg for flatwater touring. This skeg will improve tracking when paddling a 2-person or 3-person Sea Eagle inflatable kayak alone.

Kayak skegs and rudders will improve the performance of your 2-person kayak when used alone. Consider buying a 2-person kayak with a skeg or rudder to prevent tracking and steering problems when using the kayak alone. If your current kayak lacks a skeg or rudder, you may be able to add one.

A rudder will dramatically improve the problem of turning longer kayaks when solo paddling.

If you are using a kayak with a dropdown skeg, make sure it is down.

If you have a kayak with a removable skeg like those that come with Sea Eagle 380x Explorer Inflatable Kayaks, make sure you have the skeg installed.

Conclusion

It might not be as easy to paddle many 2-person kayaks alone. It depends on the kayak’s shape, length, and design features.

Longer tandem kayaks will be harder to paddle solo. Some shorter 2-person kayaks, like the 13′ 6″ Old Town Twin Heron, perform well when paddled solo.

If you haven’t already purchased a 2-person kayak, consider one that allows you to reconfigure the seats so you can position yourself in the center position when solo paddling. This will be your best solution.

If you already have a tandem kayak with immovable seats, proper weight distribution will make your kayak much easier to control when used alone.

A man paddling a 2-person kayak alone at sunset. The graphic asks... Can You Use A 2-Person Kayak Alone?