How to Choose a Pedal Kayak

Like regular kayaks, pedal kayaks come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. Here is what you should consider when buying a pedal kayak.

Build Quality

The construction of a kayak determines its durability and weight.

Manufacturers use different kinds of materials to make pedal-driven boats. Some of the most common ones include rotomolded plastic and composite/fiberglass.

Pedal kayaks can be really heavy—with some of them weighing about 100 pounds. So you want something that is well-made but also lightweight. If it is too heavy, transporting it will be a struggle.

Rotomolded plastic kayaks are the least expensive but they are super heavy. The quality of construction varies from kayak to kayak. If you get a good one, it can last a long time. Just make sure it features UV treatment so it doesn’t degrade when exposed to the sun.

Composite or fiberglass kayaks are lighter and glide remarkably on water. The only downside is that they can be expensive.

Note: Some manufacturers have started making inflatable kayaks with pedals like the Hobie Mirage i9s. This is amazing, especially because inflatables are extremely durable. They are also lighter and easier to transport compared to hard-shell pedal kayaks.

Propulsion

A pedal canoe can either be a rotational pedal kayak or a push pedal kayak.

a. Rotational Pedal Kayak

This boat type has rotational pedals. The movement you make is similar to that of riding a bike. As you rotate the pedals, you activate a propeller under the boat, allowing the kayak to move forward or in reverse.

This propulsion method is easier because you use all the muscles in your legs. The continuous movement is also efficient. And momentum is maintained even after you stop.

Because of how efficient and smooth the rotational system is, you can paddle faster for longer.

This video accurately shows how the rotational pedal system works.

b. Push Pedal Kayak 

This one involves pushing the pedals down. This movement activates blades that flap causing the canoe to move forward or in reverse.

Once you stop, the kayak will quickly slow down.

The system is not very energy-efficient. In most cases, it is harder than the rotational system because you only use your ankles and feet muscles. As a result, your muscles strain and this may lead to cramping or something more serious.

The push pedal system has stronger propulsion than the rotational system. 

While still on propulsion, you should know that pedal kayaks are not suitable for shallow waters. They are more likely to run aground.

If you expect to kayak in shallow water, pick a kayak that will allow you to do that. With some push pedal canoes, the blades or fins can fold flat in such cases. As for rotational pedal kayaks, there are those that let you disengage the system seamlessly. The Pescador Pilot shown below is a good example. 

Performance

a. Stability

The stability of a boat largely depends on the length and width. Longer and wider kayaks are more stable. The bigger platform enhances balance.

Pedal kayaks tend to be wider than traditional kayaks.

With a regular kayak, you can easily use your knees or the paddle to improve stability. This is not an option with a pedal-driven canoe, hence the extra width.

While the width helps with stability, it can be an issue (more on that later).

When it comes to a kayak’s stability, there is primary stability and secondary stability.

Primary stability refers to stability when your boat is on calm water. It is also known as initial stability. Secondary stability is defined as the stability of a kayak when it is leaning towards one side.

Primary stability is great for people kayaking on flatwater. Secondary stability is ideal for rough water conditions.

If you are a beginner, get a wider canoe with a flat hull. Advanced kayakers can handle narrower boats.

b. Speed

Compared to paddle kayaks, pedal canoes are the best for speed. Generally, your lower body has more strength than the upper body.

You already use your legs for walking. They are stronger and you can pedal efficiently for longer. You get tired quicker while paddling than when pedaling.

But all pedal kayaks don’t move at the same speed. As mentioned above, wider kayaks are great for stability. But they have their downsides. A wider kayak will face more resistance on water causing it to go slow.

So just like with a regular kayak, you will have to consider the width for speed. Depending on your skill level, choose a kayak that balances speed and stability.

Another thing that may interfere with the speed of a pedal kayak is the rudder. The larger the rudder, the slower you can expect the kayak to be.

Speaking of rudders…

c. Maneuverability and Tracking

How do you control or steer a pedal kayak without a paddle?

By use of a rudder. It is usually located at the back of the canoe and you control it using a lever in the cockpit.

Some rudders can be a pain to use. Pushing the lever towards one direction causes the rudder to move towards the opposite direction. This can bring about confusion. It is better to get one that moves the rudder in the same direction.

Also consider your hand orientation, especially if you want to use the kayak for fishing. Your dominant hand should be free while the less dominant hand controls the rudder.

A rudder is not just for steering your boat. In fact, its main job is to enhance tracking; that is, help the canoe move in a straight line. Kayaks aren’t that heavy and sometimes they can get tossed around when it is too windy.

Storage and Capacity

Storage space inside a kayak is very important. Pedal-driven boats are mainly meant for fishing and you need sufficient room for your gear. Others can be used for recreation and touring—but even then, you’ll want to bring a few things.

Although pedal-driven kayaks are wider than paddle kayaks, the pedal drive system takes up space. But most of them will still have storage wells at the front and back with bungee cords.

Pick a kayak with enough storage space for what you plan on bringing. For the anglers, look for fishing pedal kayaks. In addition to storage wells, they have fishing rod holders and other features that make it perfect for angling.

Alternatively, you can get any pedal kayak and do DIY rigging. But that’s too much work.

Make sure you also check the kayak’s weight limit. If you load too much on a boat with a low weight limit, the performance will be greatly affected.

Design

This is not just about the bells and whistles.

Other than performing well and having enough storage, your kayak should offer comfort and convenience.

For those long kayak fishing trips, you will appreciate having a well-padded seat. Others have a high backrest with lumbar support to keep you comfortable. It helps to have adjustability as well.

Look out for features such as bottle holders, carry handles, accessory tracks, etc. These may not seem important on paper but you will need them out in the water.

Pedal Kayaks Q&A

Q: What Is a Pedal Kayak?

A: It is a kayak with a pedal drive system. Instead of paddling, you pedal with your feet to propel the kayak forward.

Q: How Does the Pedal Drive System Work on a Kayak?

A: When you push or rotate the pedals, the movement activates a propeller or blades located under the kayak. The blades start flattering and in the case of a propeller, it starts rotating, causing the kayak to move. To help turn the kayak, most pedal-driven boats come with a rudder, hand-controlled by a lever.

Q: How Fast Can a Pedal Kayak Go?

A: According to The Pedal Kayak, a regular pedal kayak can travel at roughly 10 knots. The speed could be higher or lower depending on the kayaker and the kayak. This is about three times the speed of a traditional paddling kayak.

Q: Which Is Better Between Pedals and a Motor for a Kayak?

A: This comes down to personal preference. Each one of these two has its advantages and disadvantages.

With the pedal system, you will get a good lower-body workout. And you don’t have to worry about running out of battery power. You will also have more success trolling with a pedal boat.

With a motor, you will travel faster without getting worn out. It’s awesome if you stay out in the water for long. However, the battery can run out of power in the middle of your trip; then you will have to paddle your way back.

Q: How Can You Avoid Weeds on a Pedal Kayak?

A: The best way to avoid weeds is to steer clear of areas with weeds. If there’s no way to avoid them, your other option would be to pedal very fast until you are out of the weedy area.

It’s harder for the weeds to get caught up when you are moving very fast. Some pedal kayaks are easier to deal with when it comes to weeds than others.

Alternatively, buy a weed guard like the Stop-Gap Propel weed guard. It prevents weeds from getting tangled. If you go through weeds and they get caught up in your propeller, all you have to do is pull it up and remove them. It is simple and won’t take more than a minute.

Q: Why Are Pedal Drive Kayaks So Expensive?

A: The pedal drive system is complicated and not cheap to produce. Add to that the fact that the kayak has to be modified to accommodate the system. This is what leads to the high price of pedal boats. 

Q: Can I Add Pedals to My Kayak?

A: Yes, you can. Some kayaks like the Wilderness Radar 135 and the Lure 11.5 are compatible with certain pedal drive systems. So if you later want to have a pedal kayak, all you have to do is buy and install the system.

For other boat types, you can try using systems such as the Pedal prop Add-on. It is compatible with many kayaks.

Q: Is a Pedal Kayak Good Exercise?

A: Yes, pedaling a kayak is good exercise. This goes for the push pedal as well as the rotational system. However, you will be doing more with the rotational system because you use most of your lower body. It does a better job of engaging more muscles.

Q: What Is the Best Pedal Kayak for Shallow Water?

A: Any pedal kayak that allows you to disengage or lift up the system when approaching shallow water. Most pedal kayaks, like the Predator PDL fishing kayak, let you do this without getting out of the boat.

Conclusion

Choosing a pedal kayak can be tricky at times. But by following the above guidelines, you will be able to narrow down to one or two options. Pick the propulsion system that works best for you—rotational or push pedal. Assess the quality and ensure that you are getting value for your money. Don’t forget to consider the performance of the boat and storage.

Do you have any questions about pedal kayaks? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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