Why Are Pedal Boats So Slow? (And Can You Speed Them Up)

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I’ve owned a few pedal boats over the years and I’m still amazed at how slow they go.

Maybe that’s mostly on me and my lack of leg muscle but, then again, no one else seems to be passing me on the lake.

However, they are so much fun to use that I just can’t stop. No matter how slow they are you can use them to get from Point A to Point B…it’ll just take some time.

However, there are a few easy-to-understand reasons why pedal boats are so slow and a couple of things you can do to speed them up. Just don’t expect to win any races.

4 Reasons Pedal Boats Are So Slow

1. They’re Inefficient

Pedal boats by their very nature are incredibly inefficient. The paddle-wheel design is far less efficient than a prop, screw, or even paddle.

Unfortunately, there is very little to be done about this problem as every pedal boat out there uses roughly the same mechanical setup. The only way that they can possibly be less efficient is if you have a chain-drive pedal boat with the wheel in the back.

Direct drive is the best option (and what most boats use) unless you’re really handy and could figure out a gear system for your pedal boat.

2. Weight

One of the reasons that pedal boats are considered so safe is that they way a literal ton and sit super low in the water.

Okay, I guess the average pedal boat weighs around 120 lbs but when you consider that the average two-seater kayak weighs about half that (with a more efficient propulsion system) you can understand why the weight is such a….drag…

The best way to lose weight off a pedal boat is probably to leave your kids on shore. However, not loading yourself down with any gear will probably have a small but noticeable effect on your speed.

3. Shape

If you look at pretty much every human-powered boat out there you’ll find a commonality: they are streamlined (shaped like an arrow) and limit contact with the water.

The main factors that determine a boat’s speed are its propulsion system (bad, in a pedal boat) and the amount of drag that the boat has from the water (really bad…)

Whoever was designing pedal boats seemed to be protesting against all forms of speed as they are made to glide through the water like a brick.

They have as much surface area as possible and their block-like shape mitigates just about any amount of effort you push through the pedals.

If you’re creative with fiberglass you could likely improve the efficiency of a pedal boat by making the front slice through the water more efficiently (or by adding a foil…).

4. Size

In addition to the weight and shape, the sheer size of pedal boats pretty much excludes them from any speed competition.

Any pedal boat designed for speed has a single passenger as opposed to the swan-shaped monstrosities at most parks that fit 2, 4, or even 6 people.

They’re really no easy fix here beyond not putting butts in all of the seats to try and reduce the weight as much as possible. However, you’ll still be displacing a huge amount of water which will ensure that you never break 3-4mph.

How Can You Make Your Pedal Boat Go Faster?

We talked about a fix major fixed up above but there are a few pedal boat maintenance issues (and some modifications) that can speed up your trips across the lake.

1. Drain Your Boat

Pedal boats are notorious for getting slower as they get older. This is typically because the foam inside gets waterlogged as boats are improperly drained (or left in the water at the dock).

Not only does the boat get heavier and sit lower in the water (creating more drag) but it can weaken your boat and start molding.

Popping the drain plug out of your boat and turning it up to drain all the water out will ensure that your boat will at least not get slower over time.

2. Keep Your Bottom Clean

Another problem with boats that are left in the water is that they build up all sorts of junk on the bottom. This creates additional drag which a pedal boat needs about as much as a hole in the hull.

Pressure washing the bottom of your boat regularly is typically sufficient to keep it “smooth enough”. You might want to go the extra yard and chuck some boat wax on there so you can really glide through the waves.

3. Add A Trolling Motor

Apart from hitting the gym and growing tree trunk legs the best thing you can do to speed up your pedal boat is simply to add some extra help.

Mounting a trolling motor on a pedal boat can be an effective way to speed things up, give your legs a rest, and make your fishing trips more enjoyable.

While some pedal boats can be purchased with integrated batteries and motors, many also have a mounting platform at the back where you can bolt up the motor of your choice.

If your boat doesn’t, all hope isn’t lost. Many people have successfully sped their boats up by adding a wooden block on the back and clamping a motor to it. Just be sure to seal it all up again so it’s all watertight!

Conclusion

Long story short, if speed is a necessity, don’t hop in a pedal boat.

Nearly any other human-powered watercraft is more efficient if you’re trying to cover any distance.

A kayak or canoe is a solid option for moving faster and carrying more gear. The main pull for a pedal boat, however, is not the speed but how stable and fun they are.

So, instead of complaining about how slow they are next time you’re out on the lake, just appreciate that they can haul you and your kids, make a great swimming platform and can hold a cooler of cold ones (and the fish you catch) so you can spend the whole day on the water.

However, if you choose to be on the lake, just slow down and enjoy the scenery. When I started to, it made all the difference. But I’m still slow.

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