The paddle boat is a mainstay of boat rentals found almost anywhere, but it seems to be known by many names. What is it really, a pedal boat or a pedal boat?

A pedal boat is a watercraft with a paddle wheel, while a pedal boat uses a pedal to operate, but in many cases it is the same thing. Let’s cover this watercraft that always seems to bring fun in the sun.

Keep reading to learn more.

Pedalo Vs Pedalo

The pedal boat is a popular craft known all over the world. It can be ridden alone or in a group and is a fun boat for children and adults.

This name refers to any paddle boat as propulsion. This creates considerable confusion because a paddle refers to more than one thing.

What immediately comes to mind would be a paddle oar used in most small, simple boats such as kayaks and canoes.

However, it can also refer to the paddle wheel which uses multiple paddles connected by a frame structure.

Any watercraft that uses a paddle wheel is also called a pedal boat. Modern paddle steamers primarily serve as pleasure craft, but the earliest ones were large boats or vessels used to transport passengers or transport cargo.

Some old boats are still in operation today as part of a historic preservation fleet.

what is a pedal boat

Better known as a pedal boat but can also be called a water bike, the pedal boat is a human-powered boat with pedals and is used mainly for recreation. While the pedal is often turned with the feet, some models are intended for use with the hands instead.

Pedal boats use a pedal to spin a paddle wheel that propels the vessel.

Due to the presence of a paddle wheel, pedal boats are also considered pedal boats. Many people have used pedal boats to set world records for human-powered boats or for exercise.

There are many design variations for pedal boats, and although many are intended for use by one person, 2 and 4 person types of pedal boats are also available.

Pedal boat seats also vary, with operator seats being either a regular seat or some sort of bicycle seat. A modern pedalo with motor is rare but not unheard of.

Paddle wheel and paddle steamer

The paddle wheel and the paddle steamer are important in the history of boating and trade. Let’s take a look at these two important elements of technological development that have come to define an era.

what is a pedalo

The paddlewheel is something that is perhaps no longer considered important in modern navigation, but is among the most important points of development in nautical technology.

While it spread during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is believed to have arisen much earlier, with various evidence supporting this fact.

The paddles on this wheel work the same way as standard paddles or oars that propel a boat by pushing through the water.

This concept was documented as early as the late 13th century to early 14th century in drawings.

It was also mentioned much earlier in multiple Chinese texts that claimed its use in 5th-7th century naval warfare.

The first documented boats that used them could only accommodate a few people at a time. Historically documented designs included those that resemble the pedal boat but used hand-operated crankshafts instead of pedals.


In the 19th century, the age of the steam engine, steamboats were one of the greatest engines of commerce in the world.

Among the most common ships of this type was the paddle steamer, which used a steam engine to turn the paddle wheels for propulsion.

After the success of steamboats in the second half of the 18th century, larger ships were needed to better stimulate trade. This resulted in the development of the paddle steamer, significantly larger than the earlier river steamer.

With steel hulls and wheels, these ships crossed the high seas and boosted international trade.

During the first half of the 19th century, this boat was used often but eventually lost ground.

However, it retained its popularity for use in rivers well into the late 19th century due to the very shallow draft that paddlewheel use offered, making them ideal for use in specific water bodies.

Two types were most common, rear wheel and side wheel.

The rear wheel was considered the most efficient design but had many problems in its difficulty in manufacturing due to weight concentration issues at the stern.

These wheels also needed some protection with the use of a cover which made the stern even heavier.

The side wheel was relatively easier to produce with its paddle wheel in the center of the boat, which made balancing the weights more manageable.

However, this design was more prone to the performance issues that often plagued paddle steamers.

Perhaps the main reason why the paddle steamer and the paddle wheel lost ground in usage were two reasons.

The first is the challenge their construction posed, while the second has to do with their inefficiency in use for transporting goods and cargo.

Freighters are meant to carry large amounts of cargo, and the heavier a ship’s cargo, the deeper the hull sinks into the water.

The problem is that the impellers are sensitive to displacement at depth, which leads to performance issues. The immersion level of the paddle greatly affected the power transfer which dictated how hard a boat is propelled.

The material used to produce the wheels was also problematic, being steel or wood, both of which are heavy.

After falling out of commercial favor, paddle wheels regained renewed interest in the mid-20th century when they were used in the production of pleasure craft. The weight problem was offset by the use of much lighter plastic materials which made production cheaper.

Frequently Asked Questions

what-a-paddle-boat-looks like

1. What does a pedal boat look like?

There are many different models of pedal boats and their appearance can vary.

It is more difficult to identify a pedal boat using the presence of a paddle wheel as these are usually hidden for protection. However, the presence of such a wheel is an infallible indicator.

2. What are pedal boats made of??

Modern pedal boats are mostly plastic, as are most pedal boat wheels with some metal parts.

However, these are known to have problems with water pockets. There are also aluminum models that solve this problem with their alternative design and material.


Now you know that any pedal boat is also likely to be a pedal boat. Along with the development of the paddle wheel, you have become familiar with the use of modern pedal boats and pedal boats.

If you know someone who is confused about the pedal boat or the pedal boat, help them with what you have learned.

Remember to navigate safely.