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Paddle vs Pedal Boat: Which Should You Pick?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

paddle vs pedal boat

Pitting a paddle vs pedal boat is commonplace, especially among families and friends who want a more enjoyable water-related activity for everyone.

Unfortunately, these vessels’ differences are quite numerous. Please continue reading to learn more about the pedal boat vs paddle boat dichotomy.

But first, refer to this rundown of their principal variances.

  Paddle Boat Pedal Boat
Propulsion system Paddles or oars Pedal and lever
Shape Oval, long, and thin Square with rounded corners
Pros Fast Easy to control and maneuver
Cons Challenging to maneuver Slow
Price $300 to $10,000+, depending on type $900 to $7,000+
Passenger capacity 1 to 2 Up to 5
Suitability Type dependent Calm waters
Skill requirement Paddling None

What’s a Paddle Boat?


Getting a paddle or pedal boat for your family or friends hinges on how well you understand these two small vessels.

As the name suggests, a paddle boat requires a broad blade-ended short pole (a paddle) for propelling and maneuvering the vessel in the water. The boater relies on hand and arm strength to “paddle” the boat over the water. That solves the mystery behind “How do paddle boats work?”

Paddle boats have been around since humans learned to travel on the water to fish, ferry passengers, or transport cargo. For instance, the world’s first rowboat is more than 7,800 years old, dating back to 5800 BC Finland.

If you’re like some folks who ask, “What is paddle boating?” we’d say it could be adrenaline-pumping. Treading the waters on a paddle board is also invigorating for some.

So, should you get a paddle boat or pedal boat? Let’s look at the other leisure craft before you decide.

What’s a Pedal Boat?


Like paddle boats, pedal boats also require human-powered propulsion. So, what is a pedal boat?

A pedal boat has a “paddle wheel” mated to a crank mechanism instead of a handheld paddle or boat-mounted oar. Boaters will “pedal” the crank system to turn the paddle wheel. You can think of a pedal boat as a bicycle’s aquatic version.

History shows humankind invented the paddle or oar first before the wheel. And while some folks automatically think about the steam-powered paddle wheelers of the Mississippi River, its origin dates as far back as the 8th century in China during the Sung Dynasty.

Europeans were slow to adopt the invention, introducing only the first human-powered paddle wheel boat in 1543. The 19th-century paddle wheel boats plying the Mississippi relied on steam power to turn the wheel. Modern pedal boats ditch the steam engine for good ‘ol human leg power.

So, are pedal boats safe if boaters must use their legs to propel the watercraft?

We’ll answer this question in the following sections. For now, you should already have a vessel to pick for a weekend water holiday: a pedal boat or paddle boat.

Types of Paddle and Pedal Boats

Pedal boats don’t have specific types except for their appearance. Some pedal boats look like ducks, swans, cars, and other styles. Manufacturers try to outdo one another by integrating fun features (i.e., sunroofs and kiddie slides).

On the other hand, there are at least four types of paddle boats. These include kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and paddle boards (standing or sitting).


  • Canoes – Bigger, heavier, and wider than kayaks, canoes can carry more people and gear.
  • Kayaks – Seating one or two kayakers, a kayak is perfect for sprinting because of its sleek and slim shape.
  • Rowing boats – Also called racing shells, row boats are uber-fast and can carry more rowers than canoes and kayaks.
  • Paddle boards – It’s like a thick surfboard with the boater either standing or sitting, holding a paddle to move the boat.

Principal Differences between a Paddle and Pedal Boat

Deciding whether to get a paddle or pedal boat depends on how well you appreciate these two watercraft’s principal differences.

1. Size


Unfortunately, we cannot offer a definite answer. Everything depends on the paddle boat type.

For example, a fiberglass canoe weighs 55 to 70 pounds, while a polyethylene version can tip the scale at 50 pounds. Meanwhile, aluminum canoes could be as light as 60 pounds or as hefty as 75 pounds.

On the other hand, kayaks range in weight from 20 to 100 pounds. Rowboats tip the scale at about a hundred pounds.

Hence, it’s safe to assume that paddle boat size varies across types. For example, the Guinness World Record-holder for the longest canoe is about 149 feet, while The Wee Lassie is the smallest at nine feet. Meanwhile, standard canoes measure 14.5 to 17 feet.

Because a canoe is bigger than a kayak, we can assume a small paddle boat will be shorter than 14.5 feet. The average is 12 to 14 feet for day-tourers and 8 to 12 feet for recreational purposes.

You have limited (if not rare) options for a family paddle boat. You’ll be better off with a pedal boat.

  • Pedal boats vary in size depending on the seating capacity. For instance, a 5-seater unit can be 65 inches wide and 96 inches long, while a 4-seater could be slightly smaller.

2. Shape


What does a paddle boat look like? These small vessels have a slim profile, often long and narrow. Of course, unique paddle boats might have different shapes.

Meanwhile, pedal boats are squarish with rounded corners. They’re like bump cars on the water.

3. Capacity

Single person pedal boats are common, although you can also get a four- or five-seater unit. On the other hand, most paddle boats can only accommodate a maximum of two (for a two person paddle boat). Rowboats are an exception, of course.

4. Pros and Cons of Pedal and Paddle Boats

Here are the advantages and drawbacks of pedal and paddle boats to help you better decide.

  Pedal Boats Paddle Boats
  • Excellent maneuverability
  • Requires no experience to use or operate the boat
  • More stable than paddle boats because of their squarish design


  • Fast and nimble
  • Some types are easy to flip without endangering the boater if the boat rolls
  • Not recommended for navigating tight and narrow waterways
  • Slow
Requires paddling or rowing skills and hand/arm strength

Suitable Usage Scenarios for Paddle and Pedal Boats

Thanks to its squarish design, a pedal boat is perfect for a more relaxing water activity. You could go pedal boat fishing or a leisurely cruise on a lake, pond, or other calm and still bodies of water. Kids can also have fun with the built-in slides on some pedal boats.

Meanwhile, paddle boats are perfect for different water adventures. You could take a canoe and shoot the rapids or go fishing on a kayak.

Steering Guide for Pedal and Paddle Boats


Steering a 1 person pedal boat is as straightforward as pedaling a bike and moving the handle left or right.

On the other hand, paddling skills and upper body/arm strength are necessary to steer a paddle boat. Maneuvering a two-person paddle boat can be challenging because you must coordinate movements with the other person.

How Much Do Pedals and Paddle Boats Cost?


Pedal boats can cost you $900 to $7,000, depending on the brand, seating capacity, and features.

Meanwhile, the cost of paddle boat options depends on the type, brand, material, size, and more. Inflatable versions cost $300, while top-of-the-line canoes can fetch at least $4,000. Rowboats range from $700 to $10,000.

So that’s how much is a paddle boat.

Paddle vs. Pedal Boat: Which is Better?

Your choice reflects your needs and preferences. Families with kids are better off with pedal boats because these vessels are more stable, easy to maneuver, and require no experience. It’s perfect for beginners, too. Although sluggish, you can always pick the fastest pedal boat.

Meanwhile, paddle boats are perfect for more adventurous folks (i.e., kayakers and canoers) and competitive groups (rowers).

Factors to Consider When Choosing

You can consider the following factors when choosing a pedal or paddle boat.

  • Brands – Sun Dolphin and Pelican are two of the most trusted brands of pedal and paddle boats. You could pick other manufacturers, but please research their reputation and offerings before deciding.
  • Boat model – Recreational boat manufacturers have various offerings, each with dimensions, features, and pricing different from other options. You can pick the best pedal or paddle boat model based on your needs.



Do paddle and pedal boats require any special permits or licenses?

Regulatory requirements for pedal and paddle boats depend on the state. For example, Pennsylvania requires canoes and kayaks to have a valid boat registration. Meanwhile, Oregon requires all manually-powered watercraft (including pedal boats) to have a permit.

Are there any restrictions on where paddle and pedal boats can be used?

Pedal boats must only be used in bodies of water that don’t have a current (i.e., reservoir, lake, and pond). Meanwhile, paddle boats don’t have restrictions, although paddle boards are best near the coast, kayaks in whitewater rapids and rivers, and canoes in ponds and lakes.


Taking a side in the paddle vs pedal boat debate is as easy as knowing your priorities. Pedal boats are perfect for families, especially with kids. Operating these recreational boats is a cinch. They’re safe and suitable for leisurely cruising on still bodies of water.

Meanwhile, paddle boats are ideal for adventure-seekers. They could shoot the rapids in a kayak, go fishing on canoes, explore the coast on paddle boards, or compete in a rowboat.

You can now decide what recreational boat you need.

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