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My grandpa has also been super paranoid about safety. He was nervous about his grandkids sleeping with blankets (suffocation), piling up grass clippings (spontaneous combustion), and everything water-related (drowning, sharks, etc.)
So when we told him that we were getting a pedal boat I was fairly shocked to see his eyes mist over and hear him tell me, “Oh yeah! Pedal boats are great, we used to have one. So stable and safe.” Well, after a couple of seasons paddling around our local lakes and ponds, I’d have to agree.
Pedal boats are among the safest small watercraft when used correctly on calm water. They are very stable in the water and quite difficult to flip or sink. The most common dangers come from exceeding the weight capacity, not distributing weight correctly, and using the boat in rough waters.
There are, of course, all of the dangers that come with water sports in general. However, if you are aware of what the dangers are you can properly prepare for and (hopefully) prevent them.
Can Pedal Boats Capsize, Flip, or Sink?
In the past, several manufacturers of pedal boats (and their corresponding salesman) have told buyers that their pedal boats were impossible to capsize or sink. This myth is still perpetuated today when people cite how safe pedal boats are but the truth is quite different.
In general, pedal boats are quite difficult to capsize or flip. However, if the weight capacity is exceeded, the drain plug is disrupted, or the paddle area is damaged they can take on water and/or flip. Pedal boats are typically filled with foam and rarely sink, even when capsized or upside down.
The other problem which can cause them to ride low in the water and sink is a lack of proper care and maintenance. If a pedal boat is not drained correctly the foam inside can soak up water, increasing the weight of the boat, and raising the chance that it will capsize or sink.
While most pedal boats are rated for 5 passengers, this typically means 2 adults and 2-3 small children. If you try to put 4 adults in one, don’t count on it ending well.
Are Pedal Boats Safe For Kids?
We take out our pedal boat several times a month with our two kids (ages two and four) and feel very safe with them on the water. In fact, they both absolutely love the boat! We fish from it, use it to explore, and even use it as a swim platform for the kids!
However, we are vigilant about safety and explain to our girls that, while they shouldn’t be scared, they should be smart and cautious.
Even though pedal boats are comparatively safe, water sports are inherently dangerous for kids. It is possible that kids (or even adults) could be injured or killed while using a pedal boat. Kids can safely ride and even pedal a pedal boat but should only do so with adult supervision after they have received proper instruction.
7 Tips for Safe Pedal Boating
Knowing the dangers is a crucial element to staying safe while pedal boating. Here are a few of the tips that we’ve employed to stay safe while pedal boating with our kids on lakes and rivers over the past couple of years:
1. Launch Safely
One of the easiest ways to get hurt on a pedal boat is during the minute or two when you’re launching the boat and getting in.
One of the first times I kayaked I was trying to get into the kayak from the beach. I still don’t know what happened but I ended up facedown in the water with a bloody knee (from a rock). And that was in less than a foot of water.
Despite my mishap, I still feel that the safest way to get into and out of a pedal boat is on the beach. The main problem with this is that you’ll need someone to push you off but it’s a small price to pay.
Avoid getting into your pedal boat from the water (because it could capsize the boat) or from a dock (same problem).
2. Wear A Life Jacket
This should go without saying but, if you’re on the water, wear a life jacket. If your kids are not wearing a life jacket, shame on you.
Being able to swim (or being near the shore) is not an excuse for not wearing a life preserver of some sort. Many people who end up drowning do so because they’re unconscious in the water. It’s pretty hard to swim when you’re unconscious.
3. Stay In Calm Water
Pedal boats are extremely stable as long as the water is smooth and calm. However, they site quite low in the water and don’t handle waves or rough water well.
If the boat you’re in starts taking in water on one side it becomes far more likely that your boat will list to that side and possibly capsize or flip.
While a pedal boat can be used in rivers, it also increases the danger to have a current that you’re fighting against. To stay safe, spend your time in smooth calm waters where you won’t be hitting the bottom.
4. Stay Within The Weight Capacity
One of the biggest problems is when a bunch of adults decides to hop in a pedal boat together with the idea that we “won’t go far”. Some pedal boats with four seats have under a 500lb capacity. This isn’t even enough for me, my wife, and our two little kids.
If you overload the boat, you can expect to start filling with water.
Along with staying within the weight limit, make sure your weight is distributed as evenly as possible. The seats are sized the way they are for a reason. Most of the weight should be towards the front of the boat with a smaller portion in the back.
Also, don’t forget that your gear (and your batter if your pedal boat is electric) needs to be subtracted from the overall capacity of the boat.
5. Have A Plan
If you want to get through a crappy situation, you better know what you’re going to do before it all hits the fan. Knowing what to do if your boat flips or capsizes is crucial, especially for kids.
First off, if you’re certain that your boat is going to flip, bail. The biggest danger is getting trapped under the boat or the boat hitting you as it flips. If you can get temporarily away from the boat you’ll be better off.
Don’t, however, leave your boat. Unless you can walk to the shore, stay with the boat. It is unlikely to sink and striking off on your own can be extremely dangerous and make it less likely that you’ll be found/picked up.
While no hobby is without dangers, following these tips will make a safe hobby even safer.
Despite all the warnings and doom and gloom, pedal boats are easy to use and are quite safe. If you are looking for a good way to get out on the water (even with kids) then a pedal boat is a great way to do it! Pedal boats are great exercise, provide a great spot for fishing, and an even better spot for lounging.
See you out on the lake!