Is it a paddle boat or a pedal boat? The success of your vacation may depend on the paddle vs pedal boat distinction. Did your family rent the right boat?
If your family is from a landlocked state, you have no reason to know anything about all the different types of boats. It’s a common mistake that families make: reserve a boat for their vacation, get excited about taking the kids out on the water, and then they show up and realize that they reserved the wrong kind of boat. It can ruin a vacation, but it is completely avoidable once you understand the difference between a paddle boat and a pedal boat.
A paddle boat and a pedal boat are actually two different types of boats. A pedal boat is a vessel that is powered by pedaling, and it is best for slow, leisurely sightseeing. A paddle boat is a type of boat that uses oars or paddles, so it is ideal for adventuring and getting a workout.
Pedal boats and paddle boats also have different functions. Pedal boats are most commonly found at carnivals, activity centers, or tourist destinations. Because they are easy to use, pedal boats are targeted at inexperienced boaters who want to take a quick loop around a pond. Paddle boats require more strength and expertise because they are designed for experienced outdoorsmen who are going on longer trips.
Sources include Watercraft 101, The Boating Buds, The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, How It’s Made, Paddle Camp, and Scientific America.
Is it a Paddle Boat or a Pedal Boat or a Paddleboat?
Many people who are not familiar with boats may use these terms interchangeably. This also happens with the terms rollerblades and roller skates; it’s common to use them interchangeably, but rollerblades and roller skates are actually two different things. It is the same with paddle vs pedal boats; these are actually two different types of boats that are commonly mixed up, even by Wheel of Fortune participants.
A paddle boat is a category of boat that must be propelled along with a hand-held paddle. A few boats that you may be familiar with fall into this category:
- Standing and seated paddle boards
Technically, single-person sculls and rowing crew racing shells can also be considered paddle boats because they use oars to propel the boat forward.
A pedal boat is a kind of boat in which the occupants use bike-like pedals to move the boat. Pedal boats are generally designed for people who want leisure and an easy loop around a safe pond. Because pedal boats are designed for boat newbies, they are bigger, more stable, and are frequently found as part of a lakeside attraction.
The mechanism behind pedal boats is the paddle wheel, which was invented in the late 1850s by Nathan Smith. When you use your feet to turn the pedals, it also turns the paddle wheel which propels the boat through the water.
What is a Paddleboat?
To make the paddle vs pedal boat discussion even more confusing, there is also a third type of boat with a similar name.
A paddleboat is also called a paddle steamer. Paddleboat is often misspelled as “paddle boat” and mistaken for the smaller vessel. If you have ever read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, this is the type of boat that appears in the story and was once a common sight on the Mississippi River.
There is currently only one paddle steamer still in operation. The Waverley was built in 1946 and made frequent voyages until 1973 when she became too costly to operate. In 2003, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society bought the Waverley and restored her to her 1947 state. The restoration included adding two new boilers and making updates to the ship’s passenger areas to meet modern standards for safety.
Whereas paddle boats and pedal boats are small and only designed for 1 or 2 people, paddle steamers could carry hundreds of passengers. Most old paddleboats had restaurants and passenger cabins aboard them for long trips.
Despite the difference in size, both old fashioned paddle steamers and modern pedal boats have the same mechanism to make them go, a paddle wheel. Whereas the paddle wheel is powered by the occupant pedaling in pedal boats, paddle steamers had huge steam engines to make their paddle wheels turn.
How is a Paddle Boat Different From a Pedal Boat?
If you and your family want to rent a small non-motorized boat for a little getaway on your vacation, it is important to understand the difference between a paddle boat and a pedal boat. Although both boats are similarly sized and person-powered, they are designed for different uses and different environments.
There are 6 key differences between a paddle boat and a pedal boat:
- Size & shape
- Number of people
- How strenuous they are to use
- Where each boat can be taken
The Size & Shape of Paddle vs Pedal Boats
Pedal boats are normally shaped like a square with rounded corners. They may have a fabric top to provide shade or be open to the sun. 5 seat pedal boats like the Sun Dolphin 5 are around 96 inches long and 65 inches wide. Pedal boats can come in different shapes; for example, some pedal boats are designed to look like cars, swans, giant tricycles, or ducks. Some pedal boats even have a slide attached to the sun roof for children to play on.
Paddle boats, on the other hand, are normally shaped like a long, thin oval with pointed ends. Paddle boats can come in many different sizes depending on the type of boat. For example, the standard 2 person canoe is normally between 14 and 16 feet long. Recreational kayaks are 10 feet long and whitewater kayaks are normally less than 8 feet long.
Most paddle boats are narrow, eye-shaped, and relatively flat. Unlike pedal boats, most paddle boats are not one-size-fits-all because paddle boats must be sized relatively to weight, height, and experience level of the user, as well as where it will be used.
The Stability of Different Recreational Boats
Because pedal boats are designed for casual use with no experience required, they are very stable and extremely hard to tip. Generally, paddle boats are not as stable and require more skill to use. Some types of paddle boats are easier to flip than others, such as whitewater kayaks, whereas canoes are almost as stable as pedal boats.
Capacity of Pedal Boats vs Paddle Boats
Pedal boats can fit between 2 and 5 people. Some models only have 2 seats in the front with pedals for each seat. Other models have 2 pedaling seats in the front and 2 or 3 passenger seats in the back.
Paddle boats are normally only built for 1 or 2 people. Stand up paddle boards can only fit a single person, whereas most canoes require 2 people. For kayaks, there are single person kayaks and tandem kayaks.
Is a Paddle Boat or Pedal Boat Easier to Steer?
Pedal boats can be steered with the rudder or by only 1 person pedaling on their side. Pedal boats are easy to maneuver, although they have a wide turn radius and are not designed for tight spaces.
Paddle boats must be steered using the oar or paddle; this requires the boater to understand how rotation works in the water. While kayaks are better for maneuvering in tight spaces, paddle boats require both strength and knowledge to steer them properly.
Is a Pedal Boat or a Paddle Boat a Better Workout?
Some types of paddle boats are a phenomenal workout. Paddling in a kayak uses muscles that most people don’t use much in their everyday lives. Canoeing can also be a good workout, especially if it is a longer trip and you need to carry the canoe between different bodies of water.
Pedal boats are not much of a workout; they are better as a leisurely recreation activity. The pedaling is not strenuous because the water does not offer much resistance.
Where Can I Use Pedal and Paddle Boats?
Paddle boats and pedal boats also differ in terms of where they can be used. Pedal boats can only be operated on a lake, pond, or reservoir that does not have a current. Paddle boats are suitable for a few different types of water. For example, canoes are best for lakes or reservoirs. Kayaks can be used in rivers and whitewater rapids. Stand up paddle boards are often reserved for beachy areas that have minimal waves.
Which Type of Boat is Better for Families with Kids?
Both pedal boats and paddle boats can be part of a fun vacation for the entire family. All types of boating can be appealing to kids; however, some types of boats are better for certain ages than others.
Activities, like stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking, are best for adults, teens, and tweens. It requires coordination and balance that younger kids may not always have. Because everyone is on their own paddle board, it can be hard for parents to keep smaller children safe in the water.
Canoes and pedal boats are a better choice for families with small children. In both vessels, there are enough seats for passengers while the parents row or pedal the boat. Pedal boats in particular are ideal for families with young children because they are very stable and some have sunroofs to prevent sunburn.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson