Pedal Boats vs. Paddle Boats: What’s The Difference?

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It may seem strange, but there have been arguments from people insisting that pedal boats are terrible when they actually mean paddle boats. Despite their similar-sounding names (and similarities in design), there are several distinct differences.

A pedal boat is any boat that has one or more sets of pedals that drives the motor, pushing the craft through the water. A paddleboat is a pedal boat that uses paddles instead of a rotor to push the craft forward; it has less maneuverability but is more efficient.

To understand how these two types of boats can be different and how they can be similar, we are looking at every part of them. The basic definitions of each type of boat, the construction methods used to make them, and each type of boat are most likely to be used worldwide.

What Defines a Pedal Boat?

pedal boats vs paddel boats

A pedal boat is any boat that has a set of pedals for the driver and passengers to step on to provide power for the motor. Pedal boats are all steered by either a rotor that is directly turned or a flat sheet of material placed at the rear of the boat.

Pedal boats come in almost every shape and size, with some even looking like tricycles that are on the boat, while others are single-seat crafts. The ingenuity of pedal boats has seen them being used worldwide as easy-to-use ways to move around a large body of water.

There are some oceans and peninsulas where the water is calm enough to allow pedal boats. Making some pedals boats even usable on saltwater within a certain range of the shore has greatly increased their popularity.

Some brave souls have even decided to use their pedal boat on rivers, where paddleboats are much more at home.

What Defines a Paddle Boat?

Paddle boats are grouped in with pedal boats as they use pedals to power a set of paddles that are either on the side of the boat or underneath it. These paddles can be a part of a solid wheel or several sheets of flat material that are attached to a ring that turns when the pedals are used.

paddle boat vs pedal boat

Paddle boats are usually directly driven by the pedals on them, making them transfer the power from your pedaling directly into movement. However, they can be significantly harder to use because you will be experiencing the same level of resistance as you would while rowing.

Usually, these will be larger than normal pedal boats because of the relation between size and power, as larger paddle boats can be used on larger bodies of water. It is important to remember that not only will you get wet on these, but you will also tire quite easily as there is rarely a chain system.

What Is the Purpose of a Paddle Boat?

Like all pedal boats, paddle boats are usually used for exercise or just for sightseeing on lakes, dams, or quiet bodies of water on the ocean. They are used by anyone from the young to the old as you do not need a license to be on them, and they are relatively safe to use at all times.

It should be noted that these boats will usually allow several people to ride on them, as paddleboats can be quite large. This has made them popular with people who live close to a large body of water, using them to shop or visit friends around the shore.

Often, vacation hotspots will have these available to be used, focusing on making them free and fun to use for those on holiday. It should be noted that there are motorized paddle boats, but in the modern era, they are meant more as oddities than as functional ships.

Why Are Paddle Boats Considered Pedal Boats?

While we know that paddleboats are part of pedal boats, many people may be wondering why they are not classified as something all on their own. To understand how these two types of boats are similar and why pedal boats are the larger category, we need to look at boats.

Four things make up the general way we look at pedal boats that makes paddle boats included with the category. These boats are all similar in many ways, and it will be important to understand how to recognize these boats in the future.


Put, both of these boats get their power from pedals, the same type of pedals that you will see on a bicycle. These paddles are connected to a rotor or set of paddles, either through a chain or even directly driven, with most paddle and pedal boats only having one gear.

This is the only source of power for the pedal boat or paddle boats as they both use the same system and will never have different gears. The only difference that you will find between the two is that the gear and chain system might be larger for a paddle boat than normal pedal boats.


Above the water, in the boat, the steering system will be extremely similar between these two boats, and many pedal boats use the same system as paddle boats. However, there is a slight difference under the boat, with paddleboats using a divert system, with the steering diverting water flow to turn the boat.

Whereas pedal boats usually have the ability to turn the entire rotor because it is so much smaller, giving them much more maneuverability and control. In some pedal boats with rotors, the divert system might still be used, but it is usually not as effective in controlling the boat.


Unless you are on one of the paddle bikes, the seating in both of these boats will be the same as they are built on the same framework. The pedal boat is the most common one and will usually have a roof overhead, with space for four adults to sit comfortably, with only two driving.

There are much larger pedal boats out there; however, these are usually custom-built boats that require a fair bit of money to work properly. Further, they may also be smaller, with pedal boats that look like miniature jet ski’s slowly becoming popular worldwide.

Unless you are in the pedal boat or the paddles are sticking out of the water, the chances are you will not be able to tell which type of boat you have. Many people mistakenly call pedal and paddle boats simply because they have always seen and worked with them.

However, it should be noted that there are a few exceptions, with custom-built or expensive pedal boats having designs all of their own. The paddle tricycle is a good example of this, with a few rotor-powered pedal boats also having swan necks or something that is extremely flamboyant.


Pedal and paddle boats are only different in one way, and you will easily find this out when you start using them to go around your local lake. However, we always recommend that you look at the local laws of your lake, dam, or beach as it is sometimes completely illegal to use them.

Please remember that your pedal boat is no match for the lone kayaker that is going as fast as he can!

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