Pedal powered kayaks are currently one of the biggest changes in kayaking!
But deciding to leave behind your paddle and jump into one of these new type of kayaks is not as simple as you think. As always, finding the right type of craft takes a bit of research and time, especially for a craft that has more design features and mechanisms to consider than your average kayak.
Looking at the history of these craft, pedal powered kayaks originated in the US from the iconic Hobie brand in Southern California when Hobie Kayaks first introduced the Mirage Drive, a pedal-powered device, in 1997. While pedals were already being used in various small watercraft, Hobie made it popular among kayak anglers and recreational paddlers. In 2008, another American brand, Native Watercraft introduced their own version of a pedal device called the Propel. Both brands have been available in Australia for some time, but now more manufacturers are bringing new foot propulsion crafts that are less costly and with improved design features, like Perception Kayaks and Feel Free Kayaks.
There are many benefits in considering a foot propulsion system in a kayak, but of course, there are always some corresponding drawbacks. Probably the primary advantage to the pedal powered kayak is the hands free enjoyment allowing paddlers to enjoy other outdoor activities, such as fishing, photography, bird watching and many more opportunities imaginable. However, each pedal powered craft have different steering and rudder systems requiring hands on control for retracting the under mounted fins in shallow areas, as well as turning and reversing the craft, so there are times that you will needs to use your hands to engage the system or use a paddle that is stowed on the craft. (There is much more to review between brands regarding the specific benefits of each foot propulsion systems, but a good comparison review of Hobie & Native Watercraft can be found here.)
Another huge benefit is the speed that can be achieved in a pedal powered kayak relative to the amount of effort required. Most brands use either a rotational pedal or a push pedal system that moves your legs on the pedal, like walking or riding a bike, with a full movement of your leg and foot. While rotating the propeller or fins with your legs, an uninterrupted motion is created and even when pedalling does stop, very little momentum is lost. So maintaining a good cruising speed for longer distances and durations requires far less energy than the more traditional paddle powered craft but obviously, using an entirely different muscle group to power. The concept behind a pedal-driven kayak enables the kayaker to utilize the larger leg muscles than the arms and torso muscles normally used in paddling with a paddle. (Whether the foot pedalled kayak is faster than a paddle propelled craft is a more complex issue to measure and debate, and an amusing discussion can be found here.)
Other important benefits to consider are found in feature such as seats with superior back support, adjustability in seat heights and a moveable seat location in the craft allowing paddlers to customise the seating arrangement to suit a wide range of activities, as well as, paddler comfort. With the main propulsion mechanism located under the kayak, overall splashing is also reduced from traditional paddling and it makes them quiet and stealthier. But most importantly, these kayaks still provide you with the ability to get into areas of water that traditional boats are unable to go, giving you the close and personal experience with nature that paddling is all about!
But of course, there are a few drawbacks to using a pedal fishing kayak compared to a paddle fishing kayak. Compared to a traditional sit on top kayak, these kayaks have less storage space and the footwell area is not as open with the drive system taking up space in the footwell. Also depending on the brand, navigating shallow waters requires the pedal drive to be removed and put somewhere, or retracted. So overall, there is much more interaction and maintanance required with the foot propulsion mechanism than a traditional kayak. Although considered quieter than a motorised craft option, they are also still not as quiet as a traditional paddle driven kayak, and lastly, the pedal powered kayaks are generally much more expensive and much heavier than a sit on top kayak of similar length.
Similar to deciding and comparing options for any craft that you are looking to purchase, knowing what you want to use the craft for and what will suit your budget and needs is the most important considerations for any paddler. As the leader in kayaking on Pittwater, Paddlecraft is always happy to discuss with you which type of kayak will best suit you, helping you choose your paddling experience with the right advice, safety and equipment. Coming soon, in early April, we will be stocking the new pedal powered Perception Pilot 12, so book in your demo paddle soon!