How Fast is a Pedal Kayak?

Invented over 5,000 years ago by tribes in Arctic North America for the purpose of hunting, kayaks have evolved through the years to be known for their use as a perfect boat for yourself or tandem.

Practiced all around the world, we’ve met people who use kayaks in rivers, lakes, and oceans. We’ve met people who use kayaks in all types of water for all activities, like racing, fishing, photography, and white water kayaking.

When you think of Kayaking, you’re probably thinking of standard paddle kayaking. This technique requires upper body strength and experience with a paddle. However, we’ve also found it has pretty significant drawbacks.

This is the reason why why the pedal-powered kayaks were invented. We’ve come to love our pedal kayaks and think it’s a much better option. In fact, that’s why we created an entire site devoted to pedal kayaks!

Today, we’ll be discussing how fast pedal kayaks are compared to traditional kayaks.

What Are Pedal Kayaks?

In short, pedal kayaks are kayaks in which you simply pedal using your feet rather than your arms. We wrote the ultimate guide to pedal kayaks if you are interested in learning more about them!

Although you’re still using kinetic energy to move the pedal kayak, their design allows you to take advantage of your lower body strength without straining your arms, shoulders, and neck to prevent injuries.

But, does that make a pedal kayak faster than a regular kayak?

Origin of Pedal Kayaks

Pedal kayaks were first introduced into the market by the Hobie brand in Southern California in the year 1997. Hobie today still makes fantastic kayaks, such as the Hobie Mirage Passport.

As it became popular among kayakers who used it for fishing and recreational activities, Native Watercraft came up with their own model called the Propel in 2008.

Currently, more and more brands are introducing their own budget-friendly versions of a foot-propelled kayak with improved technology. We have plenty of pedal kayak reviews available if you are interested in learning more.

Types of Pedal Kayaks

The main difference between the types of pedal kayaks available in the market is the mechanism of propulsion applied, and there are two that you can choose from.

Push Pedals

This mechanism requires you to move the lower part of your feet, rather than use all your lower body/leg muscles, repeatedly in the same direction.

To keep your kayak moving, you’ll have to paddle constantly, as once you stop pushing the pedals, the boat will come to an abrupt stop. This is to be expected, as it has no forward momentum.

Rotational Pedals

This propulsion system is similar to bicycling. You pedal exactly like you would a bike.

It requires less effort than the push pedal system and comes to a much slower stop, as the propellers underneath the kayak continue to spin for a while after you stop pedaling, which creates less water drag.

Even though it works the whole lower body and requires more effort, it’s suitable for beginners, because most of us already know how to ride a bike. Thus, making kayaking in this type of boat quite simple.

It’s also faster compared to push pedals.

But is it faster than a regular kayak?

Are Pedal Kayaks Faster Than Traditional Kayaks?

In short, pedal kayaks are nearly twice as fast and it’s not even close. Here’s why.

First, the push pedals and rotational pedals generate substantially more force than a traditional paddle. Since they both influence a propeller or a mirage drive located under the kayak, they can power a kayak through any chop much more efficiently.

Secondly, you’ll cover the same distance using pedal kayaks with a much lesser effort than you’d exert using a regular kayak. Our lower bodies and our large leg muscles have more strength than our upper bodies. This increase in strength translates into a speed that’ll propel you faster across the water surface.

Third, you already know how to pedal kayak. It’s a simple motion that you learned when you learned to ride a bike. However, paddling in a regular kayak in the most efficient manner to get the most speed is a difficult skill to master. Basically, you’ll be much faster day one in a pedal kayak.

You’ll be riding pedal kayaks faster than paddle kayaks.

Fast Talk on Numbers

According to Angus Rowboats, the fastest record for a 100-meter sprint by a pedal kayak is an average of 18.5 knots. This is blistering speed. For reference, a 16-foot Alumacraft or Lund with a 40HP on it will go around 20 knots!

For a regular pedal kayaker, you can expect your speed to be around 10 knots on a consistent, sustained basis.

The average speed for regular kayakers will be significantly lower. A regular kayak can go about 3 knots.

That means a pedal kayak is three times as fast as a regular kayak!!

Fishing in a Pedal Kayak helps you take advantage of the speed

The speed is a huge benefit of why you would like to fish in a pedal kayak. You can much more quickly reach your favorite fishing spot. As we talked about, you can reach your spot about three times faster! The extra time on the water should help you catch more fish!

As the propeller of a pedal kayak is strategically placed underneath the water surface, sounds will be muted, unlike the loud splashing sounds of a regular paddling kayak.

This makes it perfect for not scaring away the fish you’re working hard to catch. You’ll also be drier.

Since it’s also a hands-free experience, it gives you the opportunity to fully pay attention to your fishing rod, cast, or even troll is you would like

Is the Pedal Kayak Faster than a Canoe?

You bet it is! The single blade paddle of a canoe is less efficient than the kayak’s double blade. In fact, even the fastest racing canoes are slower than performance kayaks. Remember, even a normal non-pedal kayak will get you up to 3 knots. It’s also just more fun in my opinion! Check out more thoughts on kayaks vs canoes here.

kayak vs canoe examples


Enjoy Other Outdoor Activities

Fishing isn’t the only activity that you take advantage of the speed in a pedal kayak.

You can also bring your waterproof camera along to snap a few shots as you pedal with your feet. With more speed, you’ll be able to take in more distance and scenery than you can in a regular kayak.

If you simply wish to enjoy the silence and tranquility of the nature surrounding you, the quietness of the propeller makes it an achievable dream. Maybe even enjoy a drink or have a sandwich.

Drawbacks of Pedal Kayaks

While we love the speed benefits to a pedal kayak, we need to be fair and discuss the drawbacks of a pedal kayak. As with everything in this world, pedal kayaks have some drawbacks that have to be taken into consideration as you make your choice of a kayak.

Navigating Shallow Waters

As the propulsion system is underneath the kayak, it’ll require deeper water than a traditional kayak would, because a paddling oar doesn’t need much depth.

Some kayaks give you the option of retracting the pedal drive or removing it completely and putting it somewhere else, which means you’ll need to manually paddle through shallow waters.

Kayaks that don’t have this option mean that you’ll need to look for a body of water with plenty of depth.

Weeds are a particular annoyance here, but we wrote a guide on how to avoid weeds in a pedal kayak.


The process of producing pedal kayaks requires continuous improvements in technology as well as the features it’s designed to have, which means that they’ll be more costly to acquire compared to a regular kayak.

That being said, we think the cost is worth it!

Final Thoughts

Pedal kayaks are ideal for use by beginners or people who wish to exert as little effort as possible whilst carrying out this watersport. It’s also the best for people with upper body issues.

The simplicity of the mechanism makes kayaking an enjoyable sport and gives you the opportunity to incorporate a wide range of activities with it.

See you on the water!

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Article Author
Robert Walker has been a Kayak enthusiast for over a decade. He's owned several different Kayak's, but only recently got into Pedal Kayaks in the last few years. This website is Robert's way of sharing his passion for Pedal Kayak's with the world.