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Sit-on-top kayaks are a popular alternative to traditional sit-inside kayaks. One advantage is that they sometimes come with a foot pedals for propulsion. The foot pedals are linked, via gears, either to a propeller or to flippers. This leaves the hands free for activities like fishing or photography. Of course, such kayaks can also be "arm powered" via paddles in the conventional sense.

Given the same boat (for a fair comparison), how does pedal-power compare with paddle-power, for speed and endurance? Also, how feasible is it to combine both means of propulsion, simultaneously.

There are many videos out there comparing pedal kayak and paddle kayak regarding price, weight, maneuverability and draft (and this is not about those aspects), but those comparing speed and endurance are few and contradictory.

  • Anecdotal only, as the owner of a Hobie Mirage series boat. It is optomized around the Mirage drive, from the curves in the hull to the placement of the seat and the Mirage well. I also have the sail kit, and I love having a "mess about" with either wind power or leg power. However, those same features make it a horrible paddle-craft. It is slow and does not track worth a darn, and being higher up in a wide boat makes the stroke movements much more difficult that in a plain old kayak. YMMV. – cobaltduck Nov 22 at 16:48
  • @cobaltduck I wonder how a long single-bladed paddle would do. Not a full SUP paddle but a long open-boat paddle, assuming the ability to J-stroke of course. – Chris H Nov 22 at 17:32
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Apples and Oranges

Disclaimer, I'm a kayaker, I've never used a pedal powered sit on top

Paddling requires skill, technique, practice and endurance. If you have these things, along with the right paddle, then it would probably be better than an average pedal setup. On the other hand a cyclist with a top spec pedal setup would be far better off than with a cheap paddle.

If you come under neither classification then you'll end up with contradictory information about which is better.

I would anticipate that an average person with no particular skill in either field but otherwise physically active would have better endurance with a pedal setup. Larger leg muscles which generally get used more, along with less wasted energy correcting inefficient or incorrect paddle technique, would easily swing the balance.

Using both at the same time would be interesting. When kayaking the power transfer from paddle to boat passes through your feet, so they're not theoretically exclusive. But (there's always a but) pedal strokes are normally shorter than paddlestrokes, the timing would be far enough out that you'd either suffer more for the drag of the pedal system in the water than you'd gain from having it as a reasonable paddler, or wouldn't really gain from having the paddle as an effective pedaller.

  • As both a kayaker and a cyclist I'd like to do the experiment, but seeing @cobaltduck's comment I'm not sure how it could be fair, especially if the pedal-powered version is unreasonably wide to paddle. I suspect a well-designed pedal-boat could maintain a higher speed for longer, but not achieve a high peak speed. – Chris H Nov 22 at 17:28
  • Btw you might want to check your spelling of "pedal" – Chris H Nov 22 at 17:30
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    @ChrisH, ta, spelling was never my strong point – Separatrix Nov 22 at 17:40
  • Yes, i thought about the paddle-pedal synchronization, but i want to know about experience... – Martin F Nov 22 at 18:36
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Here are some articles that claim that pedal beats paddle, for speed/endurance on a SoT kayak:

And some videos supporting the same claim:

I found only one video, very subjective, claiming paddle beats pedal, for speed/endurance on a SoT kayak:

There’s very little to find on combining pedal and paddle power. In two hobie.com discussions, topic2941 and topic2879, there’s some agreement that while it is possible to go faster/further by combining pedaling and paddling concurrently, there are two difficulties to overcome:

  • As pedaling has a much higher cadence than paddling, how to synchronize to optimize the two?
  • As pedaling brings knees up higher compared to when paddling, how to synchronize to avoid bumping paddle on knee?
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Another difficulty (or at least downside) of a combined system is that while combining pedalling and paddling uses more muscles, they're still only supplied by one heart and pair of lungs. Either method of propulsion alone can use your aerobic ability, so the combination won't be able to sustain a higher power output.

Alternating drive methods could help against muscle fatigue, but in endurance sports (cycling and running, presumably others) even that's only part of the tiredness. Push it for days and you reach a metabolic limit to total power output. So the niche in which this combination would help is a very small one - fit but untrained individuals perhaps, while you add weight, drag, and complexity to your craft.

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