Buying a tandem kayak for your family can turn out to be quite a task. You think you know what you want until you start browsing the market.
Kayaks come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. There are many tandem kayaks out there and not all are great for family use.
I’ve rounded up my pick of the best tandem kayaks for families. My top choice is the NIXY Tahoe. It’s a lightweight inflatable kayak with tons of features to see you through years of family adventures.
That said, some of my other recommendations may better suit families with young children or paddlers who are prepared to pay a bit more to get the best performance.
Read on to find out which tandem kayak best suits your family.
If you’re in a hurry, here are our top inflatable Tandem kayaks for families. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best Overall: NIXY Tahoe
“The Tahoe is a great-value inflatable tandem kayak that comes with high-quality paddles and accessories. The storage and mounts make it the perfect companion for all sorts of adventures”
- Best Hardshell: Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL
“The Malibu Two XL is roomy enough for two adults plus a child or large dog. It’s super stable and easy to paddle, though not particularly fast”
- Best 3-Person Kayak: Aquaglide Chinook 120
“Designed for comfort rather than speed, the Chinook is a wide, stable kayak that comes with an inflatable booster seat for kids. It also has paddle holders and rod holders on the seat backs”
- Best Performance: Advanced Elements Tandem
“This long, narrow kayak performs more like a hardshell than an inflatable, especially if you add in the optional floor. It’s durable and can be converted to a sit-in kayak”
- Best Budget: Sea Eagle SE370 Pro
“The SE370 Pro package comes with upgraded seats, a pump, and a pair of paddles. The no-frills design will suit families wanting a cheap kayak for short outings”
- Top Sit-In Kayak: Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135
“The Pamlico 135 handles really well on the water, even in choppy conditions. It’s stable and gets top marks for comfort”
- Best For Fishing: Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122P
“This is a great recreational/fishing kayak hybrid. The 770-pound capacity makes it a great choice for heavier paddlers. It’s not cheap, but it’s durable and comes with a 5-year warranty”
7 Best Tandem Kayaks for Families
1. NIXY Tahoe – Best Tandem Kayak for Families
The NIXY Tahoe is my pick for the best tandem kayak for family paddling. It’s a lightweight inflatable kayak that comes with everything you need to get out on the water. Add a pair of PFDs and you’re good to go!
This do-it-all kayak is perfect for family adventures. Attach rod holders and other fishing accessories to the 4 Scotty mounts for a day’s fishing or set up your GoPro and phone to record your trip down the river for the family album. The two bungee storage areas give you plenty of space to stash spare clothes and a picnic lunch if you want to.
The Tahoe comes with two adjustable, padded seats. It’s designed to be a two-person kayak, and you’d struggle to squeeze a child in along with two adults. I recommend it for families with a child old enough to paddle. Pop them in the front seat and you can go at the back to provide muscle power when they get tired.
Inflatable kayaks are a great choice if you’re short on storage space at home. The Tahoe weighs just 33 pounds and packs down small enough to fit into your car’s trunk. The dual-chamber pump makes it quick and easy to inflate and deflate the kayak.
NIXY flies high above the other brands in this review for its accessories. You get two lightweight carbon fiber hybrid paddles, and the quality pump and a wheeled backpack. It’s a complete package that you can take anywhere you go.
I’ve been a fan of NIXY’s paddle boards for years. The Tahoe’s floor has the same drop-stitch construction, which makes it extremely rigid. This gives the kayak a huge 600-pound capacity, making it a great choice for larger paddlers.
2. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL – Best Hardshell Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak (Full review)
The Malibu Two XL is a longer version of the popular Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem recreational kayak. I recommend the Malibu Two XL if you want a hardshell kayak for two adults and a kid or an adult and two kids. You can also configure it for solo paddlers.
When I took my kids out on the water when they were younger, my top priority was safety – I didn’t want to have to deal with trying to right and get back into a capsized kayak. That’s one reason why I rate the Malibu Two XL. It’s super stable, so you don’t have to worry about taking an unexpected swim.
If your kids fancy jumping in, then a sit-on-top kayak is a great choice, as it’s easy to get back on board.
Hardshell kayaks generally perform better than inflatables in the water. The Malibu Two XL isn’t particularly fast, but it tracks well and is easy to paddle and maneuver.
The downside of a hardshell kayak is they are harder to store and transport. The Malibu Two XL weighs 61 pounds and as it’s 13-feet-4-inches long, you’ll need a large vehicle with a roof rack or a trailer to transport it. It’s possible to load it with one person, but it’s not easy.
The kayak only comes with two seats, so you may want to add a cushion for your child to sit on. There are small bungee storage areas at the bow and stern. It’s possible to add storage hatches to access space inside the kayak, but it’s a shame these aren’t included given the price.
As it’s a hard shell, you have much more flexibility to customize the kayak and add mounts and other features. Just be aware that by cutting into the hull, you may invalidate your warranty.
3. Aquaglide Chinook 120 Inflatable Kayak – Best 3-Person Kayak (Full review)
This inflatable tandem kayak is also designed to carry an extra passenger. Unlike the Malibu Two, however, the Aquaglide Chinook 120 comes with an inflatable seat that sits between the two full-size seats. This looks a lot more comfortable for kids to sit on!
That said, the kayak is only 12 feet long, so there’s not a ton of space. I’d recommend it to families with younger children. You can even turn the seats round to face each other, for a family picnic on the water! Theoretically, you can configure the seats for paddling solo, but in practice, it’s tough to paddle on your own.
The Chinook is designed for comfort rather than performance. The wide design makes it very stable and it’s ideal for paddling on calm, flat water. If the wind gets up, I’d recommend getting off the water, unless you’re happy being carried by the wind.
Aquaglide redesigned the typical I-beam floor construction to give you a flat kayak floor. It’s not quite as rigid as the drop-stitch floor sported by the Tahoe, but the Chinook still has an impressive 550-pound weight capacity.
At 28 pounds, the Chinook 120 is the lightest tandem kayak I’ve reviewed here. The material is durable, but the Boston valves can make it a struggle to inflate. The strings for the caps get in the way when you’re fastening the valve, which can cause it to leak.
While I wouldn’t rate Chinook as one of my top fishing kayaks, the seats do have fishing rod holders on the back, so if you want to give it a go, you won’t need to buy extra mounts. It comes with paddle keepers to secure your paddle and there are extra D rings to lash down gear.
The Chinook doesn’t come with paddles or a pump, so you’ll need to buy these separately.
4. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak – Best Performance
The Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem is the longest kayak in this roundup. It’s 15 feet long and just 32 inches wide. It would be my top choice if you want an inflatable kayak that performs great in the water.
The narrower design makes it easier for short-armed people to paddle. The extra length and the internal aluminum frame in the bow help the kayak slice through the water.
You can improve the tracking by adding one of two optional floors: the BackBone®, a keel beam that improves tracking, and a drop-stitch floor that adds rigidity and stability. If you can afford it, I’d recommend getting one of these floors. You’ll notice the difference in performance!
This kayak sits lower in the water than most inflatables. This improves stability, so even though the kayak is narrower than other models, it still feels stable. It also reduces wind resistance, making the kayak easier to paddle and maneuver if the wind picks up.
Most inflatable kayaks have two separate air chambers that you use to inflate each side of the kayak, plus one for the floor. The Advanced Frame Convertible kayak has a different construction. The two main inflation chambers encircle the kayak. This means that if the outer chamber punctures for any reason, you’ll still have the inner chamber to keep you afloat while you paddle to shore.
It’s unlikely you’ll have to worry about this as the puncture-resistant PVC makes this kayak super durable!
The Advanced Elements kayak only has two seats. However, the inflatable thwart that sits behind the front seat in tandem configuration could provide a perch for a small child. Another nice feature is the optional spray skirt which zips into the cockpit to create a sit-inside kayak. You may find this useful if you do a lot of cold-weather kayaking.
It may sound perfect, but the kayak does have some significant downsides. At 52 pounds, it’s very heavy for an inflatable kayak (24 pounds heavier than the Chinook). It’s a little tricky to set up until you get used to it, and it takes forever to dry!
In fact, unless you can leave it out in the sun for a couple of hours or you have somewhere at home you can spread it out to dry, I’d give this kayak a pass. You don’t want to store it wet and get it out months later to find it moldy.
It’s also a bit of a fight to get it back in its bag once deflated! However, if you can get past these issues, this is a great family kayak, especially if you want to do longer trips with older kids.
5. Sea Eagle SE370 Pro – Best Budget Family Kayak (Full review)
The Sea Eagle SE370 is an affordable, high-capacity inflatable kayak. If you want to dip your toes in the water (so to speak) without shelling out for an expensive boat, this is a great kayak to get you started.
The kayak is rated for 3 people, though there’s only really space for two adults. You could probably squeeze a small child in front of one or both paddlers for short trips if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort. You don’t have to worry about overloading the kayak — it has a huge 650-pound weight capacity.
The Sea Eagle comes with paddles, a foot pump, a repair kit, and a carry bag. Add PFDs for you and the kids and you’re ready to get out on the water. That said, I don’t rate the quality of the accessories. The paddles and pump you get with the NIXY Tahoe are far superior, but you do pay more for it!
The two inflatable seats you get with the Pro package are a lot more comfortable than the basic seats. You can place them anywhere in the kayak, which lets you set up the seating arrangement exactly how you want.
The Sea Eagle SE370 has an inflatable I-beam floor. This isn’t as rigid as the drop-stitch floor sported by the Tahoe, but it feels stable enough. It performs best in calm conditions on flat water. If you want a cheap kayak for short paddling trips, this is it!
6. Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135 Tandem Kayak – Best Sit-Inside Kayak
You don’t see many tandem sit-inside kayaks that are suitable for kids. However, the Pamlico 135’s large cockpit gives enough space for you to squeeze in two adults and a child. One family even fitted in a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old!
The Wilderness Pamlico 135 is the narrowest kayak in this roundup, which may make you concerned about stability. However, the sit-inside design makes it feel incredibly stable, even in rough water. The low center of gravity also makes it easier to handle than most inflatable kayaks when the wind gets up. It tracks great and is easy to maneuver, even when paddled solo.
A slide-rail system gives you flexibility in where you position the seats and lets you convert it to a solo kayak. The hard plastic floor may not be that comfortable for little ‘uns, but you can always pop them on a cushion.
There’s plenty of storage space for dry bags under the bow and behind the rear seat. The rear bulkhead gives a limited amount of dry storage, which you can access through a hatch in the stern.
One thing to bear in mind is drainage. The Pamlico 135 doesn’t have a drainage plug, so any water that gets in the cockpit will stay there. Also, this kayak is heavy! It weighs 72 pounds, so it’s a two-person job to move it around. This may not make it the best choice for single parents.
7. Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122P – Best Tandem Fishing Kayak
Want to take your family fishing? This is the kayak for you. The Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122P is a sit-on-top fishing kayak that’s best suited to two adults or two adults and a child. It comes with two memory foam seats, and there’s a third, unpadded, seating position behind the front seat.
The TK122P has the largest weight capacity in this roundup – a whopping 770 pounds – making it a great choice for larger paddlers. Basic paddles are included in the package, so the only extras you’ll need to buy are PFDs. This is the most expensive kayak in my roundup, and I’m a bit disappointed you don’t get better paddles. The aluminum paddles are heavy and feel cheap.
The kayak comes with 2 flush-mounted fishing rod holders and 2 articulating rod holders, which you can use for baited lines. There are 4 accessory rails (two in front of each seat) for accessories such as a fish finder or cup holder, plus a large tankwell in the stern that can take a 20-liter cooler.
I love the watertight hatches in front of each seat. They’re convenient and large enough to store your phone, lunch, and bait.
The memory foam kayak seats are fine for short family outings, but if you’re going to be using the kayak for longer fishing trips, I’d recommend upgrading to an aluminum frame seat. They’re more comfortable and give you a higher position for fishing.
This kayak isn’t designed to be paddled solo. It’s not impossible, but the seating positions are fixed, so it’s hard to balance the kayak for optimum paddling. If your primary use is fishing, there are bigger and better fishing kayaks. If you want a family kayak that you can also use to sneak off for some solo fishing time, this is a great choice.
Paddling with Your Family
Paddling alone is peaceful. It helps you forget about all the craziness going on around for a while. This is something we all need every once in a while.
Kayaking with your family, especially kids, may not be as quiet. But the excitement, and the experience in general, is incomparable. Everyone gets to go outside, enjoy the sun and make happy, lasting memories. Even the dog can come!
Paddling a kayak is good for your family’s health too. It keeps them active, gently engaging their muscles. And did you know that kayaking burns quite a few calories? And they also get vitamin D from the sun. So don’t hesitate to buy a tandem(s) and bring them all along.
Tandem Family Kayak Pros and Cons
Buying a tandem kayak to use with your family makes sense. Why would you buy two kayaks when one will do?
But you should know that tandem kayaks have pros and cons.
Can you handle the cons? Read and decide for yourself.
Pros of a Family Tandem Kayak
- A tandem boat allows you to bring small kids and/or a dog. With a single-person kayak, there may not be room for passengers, and younger children can’t paddle their own boat. Tandem kayaks for families ensure no one is left behind.
- A tandem can help you save some energy – as kayaking is not as easy as it looks. When kayaking over a long distance, you can quickly get worn out. A tandem kayak has space for two paddlers. If you get tired, your partner can continue paddling as you rest your arms. You won’t have to stop and you get there faster.
- Two paddlers do the job more efficiently than a single paddler can. This means more speed. When kayaking alone, you’ll have to use more effort if you want speed. When tandem kayaking, you can paddle farther without wearing yourself out. It is awesome for a family touring or camping trip.
- You get to save money with a tandem kayak. Instead of buying two kayaks, one for you and another one for your spouse or kids, you can just use one. In many cases, it is the cheaper option.
Cons of a Family Tandem Kayak
- You have to communicate (which could be stressful). Have you ever heard of the term “divorce boat”? Well, that is what some people call a tandem kayak. You see, if your paddling is not in sync, you’ll start blaming each other and this may lead to a bad argument.
- Tandem kayaks are bulky. It’s bigger to allow for two paddlers and more cargo. If it’s a hard shell kayak, transporting and storing it won’t be easy. You will require a roof rack or trailer and this translates to more costs.
- There is no freedom with a tandem kayak. Paddling with your spouse or kids is fun, but you may want to do your own thing every once in a while. With tandem kayaks, you have to check and coordinate with the other person.
Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-Inside Tandem Kayaks for Families
Anytime you are buying a kayak, tandem or not, you have to choose between a sit-on-top (SOT) and a sit-in kayak.
So which one should you get?
a. What Is a Sit-On-Top Tandem Kayak?
As the name implies, a tandem sit-on-top kayak is one where you sit on top of the kayak. You don’t get inside a cockpit and your entire body is exposed.
Tandem sit-on-top kayaks typically have two storage wells, at the front and back, with bungee cords.
b. What Is a Sit-Inside Tandem Kayak?
A sit-inside tandem kayak has two cockpits. Paddlers get in, such that the lower body is inside the hull and not exposed.
Most sit-in kayaks have dry hatches and bungee cords for storage.
c. Which One Is Better?
Now that will depend.
When going kayak fishing, a sit-on-top is best. You will be sitting higher (and some seats allow you to adjust the height), giving you a better point of view. If you get a stable enough boat, one paddler can stand and fish as the other one paddles and controls the yak.
You should also consider a sit-on-top if you expect to jump for quick swims. Kids and dogs, especially, will love this. Sit-on-tops offer ease of exit and reentry. They will enjoy playing in the water and getting back on the kayak freely.
A sit-in kayak would be ideal in colder weather. The enclosed cockpit, plus a spray skirt, will keep you and your paddling partner warm and dry.
It is also suitable for a family of kayak touring enthusiasts, more so, if you have to paddle open waters. With a spray skirt, water won’t fill the cockpits.
Inflatable Vs Rigid Tandem Kayaks for Your Family
This is another key decision you will have to make.
a. What Is an Inflatable Tandem Kayak?
An inflatable kayak is one that you inflate to use and deflate once you are done.
Blow-up boats may not have been reliable when they were first introduced, but they are now, thanks to technology. Modern inflatable kayaks have multiple air chambers and are constructed from puncture-resistant PVC.
b. What Is a Rigid Tandem Kayak?
This is the traditional kayak type – the kind that doesn’t need inflation or deflation. Rigid tandem kayaks can be made of polyethylene, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or wood.
c. Which One Is Better?
This also depends on your situation.
Inflatable tandem kayaks are ideal for families with limited storage space. Once deflated, they fold into small, compact sizes that can even fit under a bed.
You will also love a blow-up boat if you’re not ready to deal with the transportation of a rigid kayak. You won’t require a trailer or roof rack with an inflatable. They’re also very lightweight.
Besides, the blow-up material isn’t hard. It is comfortable for kids and dogs.
Lastly, inflatable kayaks are cheaper. You don’t have to go broke for the entire family to have some fun in the water.
Generally speaking, rigid kayaks perform better than inflatable kayaks. So if you are looking for a performance kayak – maybe a tandem touring kayak – a hardshell would be great.
Tandem Kayak for Families Q&A
Can a Two-Year-Old Go Kayaking?
Yes, you can take a toddler kayaking. It’s always a good time to introduce your kid to kayaks. But you should know that it requires extreme caution. Make sure they have a suitable PFD for kids and are within reach at all times.
Can a Child Ride in a Kayak?
Yes. You can buy them a kids’ kayak or have them help you paddle in a tandem boat.
Are Tandem Kayaks Hard to Use?
Tandem kayaks can take a bit of getting used to, but as long as you and your paddling partner communicate well and work as a team, they’re easy to paddle. It only gets hard when you paddle out of sync and/or start blaming one another.
Tandem Kayak with Child Seat?
There are family tandem kayaks that allow for three passengers, two adults in the front and back seats, and a child in the center. These are amazing because nobody will be left behind. The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL or Aquaglide Chinook are good examples of tandem kayaks for three people.
How Much Weight Can a Tandem Kayak Hold?
Every tandem kayak has a set weight limit. Most tandem kayaks have a capacity of 500 pounds or more. Manufacturers usually include this information along with the boat measurements. Make sure you buy something that can hold your family plus luggage.
Can a Two-Person Kayak Be Used by One Person?
Yes, a single person can handle a tandem kayak. However, if you sit at the front, it will be very difficult to steer. Sit at the back and put some luggage in the front seat for weight distribution.
Some tandem kayaks allow you to remove the front seat and move the back seat to the center. This will make it much easier to maneuver the boat.
Where Should the Heavier Person Sit in a Tandem Kayak?
The heavier person should sit at the back. If they sit at the front, the nose is likely to sink into the water and this makes paddling a challenge. It also slows down the boat.
How to Kayak with a Kid?
Where you kayak and for how long will last depend on your children’s ages and abilities. You may not be able to go very far with younger kids.
Toddlers will be better off sitting between two adults in a tandem kayak. It is safer and the paddler at the back can keep an eye on them.
Older kids, above the age of 8, can sit in the front seat and help you paddle. They are not very strong so you will be doing most of the work.
Make sure your children are good swimmers and they always wear a life jacket.
What Are the Best Tandem Kayaks?
These are the best tandem kayaks in various categories:
- Best overall tandem kayak for families: NIXY Tahoe
- Best hardshell tandem kayak: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL
- Best budget tandem kayak for families: Sea Eagle SE370 Pro
- Best fishing kayak for families: Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122P
Paddling with your family is a great opportunity to bond and make beautiful memories. But for this to happen, you have to get the best tandem kayak for your family.
It could be an inflatable or hardshell, sit-on-top or sit-in kayak, but it must have all the features you need and be within your budget. And don’t forget to check the weight capacity.
My top pick is the NIXY Tahoe, but there are plenty of other great tandem kayaks that are perfect for family outings.
Do you have any questions about tandem kayaks for families? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!