Let’s be honest: kayaking is more fun with friends. Heck, there aren’t actually many outdoor pursuits that aren’t more enjoyable with a trusted companion at your side.
That said, finding the right kayak for your entire family can be a struggle. Remember the last time you all sat down and tried to agree on just one movie that you all actually wanted to watch for family movie night?
Well, deciding on a kayak that meets the needs of everyone in your family can be just as difficult. So we thought it would be nice if you had a collection of kayaks at your disposal that will meet the vast majority of family needs.
For the most part, you will find some of the best inflatable kayaks and excellent rotomolded kayaks on our list. Plus, we have also outlined some pretty clear criteria that you can use to select the perfect kayak for your family.
Without further adieu, let’s go shopping for a family kayak!
Also Read: Tandem Kayak vs Canoe
Photo by Zetong Lu on Unsplash
- Best Tandem Kayaks For Family
- Buying Guide
- Reviews of Tandem Kayak For Family
- Our Pick – Ocean Kayak Malibu 2
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- Elkton Outdoors Cormorant
- Intex Excursion Pro
- Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122P
- Intex Explorer K2
- Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122K
- Sea Eagle 370 Pro
- Intex Dakota K2
- Brooklyn Kayak Company PK14
- Aquaglide McKenzie 125
- Ocean Kayak Malibu 2
Photo by Durmus Kavcioglu on Unsplash
Buying a tandem kayak is different than shopping for a solo kayak because you will need to keep multiple people’s needs and preferences in mind. So, let’s go over a brief spectrum of the most important factors that will go into this buying decision.
You might think it odd that we start this guide with things that have absolutely no bearing on how a kayak performs on the water. The reality, however, is that your kayak is most likely going to spend more of its life in storage or on top of a vehicle than it is going to spend on the water.
Unless your kayak is one of the lucky few that gets to live at a lake house year-round, transportation and storage are going to be a big part of the time you spend with your new family kayak.
For starters, the improvements in inflatable kayaks over the years have created a healthier debate over the pros and cons of these kayaks versus rigid, rotomolded kayaks. In terms of ease of transportation and required storage space, inflatable kayaks are unbeatable.
Try as you might, you simply aren’t going to find a rigid kayak that takes up less space at home and is easier to carry than any inflatable kayak on the market. If you do, we would honestly love to hear from you!
Inflatable kayaks just have that all-important benefit of being…well..inflatable! That is why they are the easiest tandem kayaks to store and transport, and we honestly don’t think there is much of a debate here.
Where there does begin to be some debate, however, is when it comes to the amount of time you will need to spend to set up and, conversely, break down your kayak every time you decide to go out for a paddle.
While you won’t need one of the best kayak roof racks to transport an inflatable kayak, you will certainly need a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes at your launch destination to inflate your kayak and get all of your gear into it.
A rigid, rotomolded kayak will still need to be loaded and unloaded every time you set up and break down for a paddle, but it will require much less time. You will simply need to get your kayak off your roof rack (or kayak trailer) and down to the water’s edge.
Then, it will be ready to go once all of your gear is loaded in. You will save time that you would otherwise spend manually pumping up an inflatable kayak or waiting for an electric kayak pump to do the work for you.
The problem with some tandem kayaks is that they can be extremely difficult for a single paddler to maneuver. While you are likely here because you know that you are going to be paddling with a partner the majority of the time, some kayak seats offer the kind of adjustability that allows them to be set up for a single paddler or a tandem.
If you even think there is a remote possibility that you will use the kayak as a solo paddler, you will want a model in which both of the seats are removable and adjustable. In the best-case scenario, you can find a kayak with an optional third center seat that can either be used for an extra paddle companion (of the smaller variety) or to paddle solo.
Tandem kayaks are obviously built to hold larger weight capacities than solo kayaks, but that doesn’t mean you can go crazy and overload them until the cockpit is below the surface of the water.
Understanding kayak weight capacities is important when you are buying any type of kayak because the manufacturers’ advertised weight capacity is often different from the amount of weight you should actually load into the kayak.
For us, we recommend keeping the total combined weight of gear and paddlers in your kayak below about 80% of the recommended maximum capacity from your kayak’s manufacturer.
There are a few reasons for this. On the safety side of things, your kayak will ride lower in the water as you load more weight in, which makes your kayak more likely to fill with water on especially windy or wavy days.
In terms of performance, it is much harder to make your kayak go wherever you want it to go when it has too much weight in it. You are going to expend much more energy to propel and steer your kayak than you would if it had less weight inside of it.
So, a good way to determine how much weight your kayak should be able to handle is to add up your weight and your paddle partners’ weight. From there, add at least 50 pounds to account for water bottles, lunches, and other essential kayaking safety equipment you might load onboard.
Your result will give you a baseline, but remember that the number you come up with should never exceed roughly 80 percent of the kayak manufacturer’s stated weight capacity.
It comes with two padded seats made out of EVA foam, as well as two adjustable bags, a high-output pump, a convenient carry bag, and a total of six fishing rod holders. Two of those holders are swivel-ready and the other four are vertical rod holders for trolling purposes.
The material that comprises the body of the kayak is 18-gauge PVC with a 1000-denier fabric thickness. This material is plenty resistant to rips and tears, whether you are worried about rocky shorelines or fishing hook snags.
Both of the seats are also adjustable for your particular seating position preferences and they can also be removed completely. This makes the kayak able to be set up for a single paddler or even a human paddler and a furry paddle partner.
When you need to take a break from paddling, there are snap-in paddle parks on both sides of the kayak. So you keep the cockpit free while being able to use both hands to bait a fishing line or grab lunch out of one of the best kayak cooler bags.
This is also a nicely versatile tandem kayak because it comes with a removable and adjustable mounting bracket. That bracket allows you to mount a wide variety of kayak accessories and equipment, such as GPS units, fish finders, fishing rod holders, and tackle boxes.
Speaking of rod holders, there are already two recessed rod holders integrated into the body of the kayak. Plus, this is one of the few inflatable kayaks out there with floor-mounted footrests that will help you maintain an ergonomic paddling position with a slight knee bend.
The Excursion Pro also includes two removable skegs for better tracking, adjustable bucket seats for all-day comfort, a high-output pump, two 86-inch collapsible kayak paddles, a repair kit, and a carry bag that is big enough to store all of it.
Its additional dimensions include a 34-inch beam (width) and a weight capacity of 770 pounds. That added width makes this kayak very stable and plenty capable of handling heavier loads.
It comes with the same style of padded EVA foam seats at the Elkton Outdoors Cormorant and they can be adjusted and even removed according to your preference. It also comes with two adjustable paddles and four built-in fishing rod holders.
This is the first family kayak on our list that includes waterproof storage hatches. So it is great for longer trips when you want to be prepared with extra layers or plenty of food and snacks to keep everyone comfortable and satiated.
The TK122P also includes a bungee tie-down compartment in the stern and it has two paddle holders on either gunwale (side). Plus, it has quite a deep cockpit for a sit-on-top kayak, which allows it to handle windy and choppy conditions better.
Designed for smaller bodies of water, calm lakes, and slow-moving rivers, it offers a maximum weight capacity of 400 pounds. It also comes with a removable skeg to improve its tracking ability over some of the lower-priced inflatable kayaks.
If you frequently paddle in locations with dense fog or low visibility, the Explorer K2 is a great choice. The reason is probably obvious, but its bright color will ensure that other boaters can see you out on the water.
This kayak comes with two inflatable seats with backrests, two collapsible kayak paddles, a high-output pump, and a carry bag that keeps everything tucked away in one place until it is time to paddle.
PC Ocean Kayak
The Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL is a great rigid sit-on-top kayak for larger paddlers. It measures 13’4” long by 34 inches wide and weighs 68 pounds before being loaded.
It can handle a maximum weight capacity of 500 pounds and it includes an optional third seat in the center. This makes it a great tandem family kayak because it easily accommodates small children or furry companions.
This kayak includes molded footrests with multiple positions for paddlers of varying heights. It also includes bow and stern storage areas with bungee rigging and a center strap for tying down gear.
So, it has the ability to adapt between flatwater and whitewater, which is nice because, at 32 pounds when fully inflated, it is also extremely transportable.
One great benefit of this inflatable kayak is that it is designed with five separate internal air chambers. Each chamber is filled through its own deluxe one-way valve to increase the overall air pressure the kayak can hold.
That added air pressure makes it more rigid for better performance and it also has two skegs on the hull for better tracking. Having multiple air chambers is also great because your kayak will keep floating if something happens to one of the chambers!
That added depth is great for inclement weather because it will keep the cockpit of the kayak from accumulating so much water. Plus, it will keep your gear drier if you have it stored in the covered bow or stern storage areas on this kayak.
The Dakota K2 offers a 400-pound weight capacity and includes a long and short skeg on the bottom. The long skeg provides better tracking ability over long distances and the short skeg is better for quick and easier turning.
This kayak also boasts an inflatable I-beam floor for added rigidity and there are a total of three air chambers to protect you from sinking if one is compromised. It also comes with inflatable seats with backrests, his-and-hers dry bags, a high-output pump, two collapsible kayak paddles, and a carry bag.
That being said, this kayak does come with two adjustable aluminum paddles and there are paddle parks on both gunwales to keep those paddles secure when you are not using them.
There are also hand-operated rudder controls that you can use to steer the kayak as your legs are doing the majority of the propulsion work. Unlike many larger tandem kayaks, these rudder controls allow you to make sharper, quicker turns as needed.
In order to make it more comfortable to use the bicycle-style pedals in this kayak, the seats are elevated on an aluminum frame. This also gives you a higher vantage point for increased visibility when fishing or on wavy days.
The only small drawback to this kayak is that it is 14 feet long and it weighs 95 pounds when fully empty. While it does boast a useful maximum weight capacity of up to 670 pounds, it may be more difficult to store and transport than some of the others on our list.
It is made with the same technology used in whitewater rafts that are trusted by renowned whitewater guide companies. The Halkey-Roberts valves ensure zero air leakage and the Duratex construction can handle bumps against rocks, sticks, and other river debris.
Inside the cockpit, there are a total of four mesh drains that naturally allow water to evacuate when it spills over the gunwales. Plus, a Posi-track fin on the hull makes this kayak more responsive to your paddle strokes.
This whitewater inflatable kayak also has two small covered storage areas at the bow and stern. Still, we would recommend keeping your valuables inside a dry bag before securing them in one of these storage areas.
This is a great perk if your family is particularly hard on kayaks or if you store it outside when it is not being used. Just make sure to store it with the drain plug open to prevent damage if you live anywhere that experiences freezing overnight temperatures!
The seats on the Malibu 2 are simple and easy to clip into place. From there, the seatback can be adjusted using two straps that will be situated at your hips when you are sitting inside the kayak.
In addition, this kayak has two straps for securing dry bags or other gear at the bow and stern. While it isn’t made to transport a whole lot, these straps are sufficient for the gear you will need for a few hours on the water.
Our Pick – Ocean Kayak Malibu 2
The best part about the Malibu 2 is that it is extremely simple and very stable for beginners. The seats are completely removable to make transporting it easier and it also allows you to set up a third seat in the center of the kayak for small children and/or furry paddle partners.
The nice part about this setup is that the Malibu 2 can also adapt to become a solo kayak for larger paddlers. You can install one of the removable kayak seats centrally to make it easier to control this tandem kayak as a single paddler.
In addition, we believe that family kayaks should be prepared for the unexpected because we know that families can often be unpredictable. That is why we love that the Malibu 2 is a sit-on-top kayak with scupper holes and a large drain plug.
These features make it easier to turn the kayak over and climb back into it if you capsize (scupper holes) and also drain any water that gets inside the hull (drain plug) over time.
All in all, I have seen both experienced and first-time paddlers find ample comfort with a Malibu 2. That versatility is the primary reason why I have selected it as my top pick for the best tandem kayak for a family.