Buying a pedal boat is a great way to enjoy weekends on the water together with your family and friends. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know how safe they are before you put your money down. After all, nothing is more important to you than your family’s safety.
Pedal boats do not tip over easily when operated correctly and under appropriate conditions. Well-maintained pedal boats are very stable in calm water. However, improper weight distribution, water intake, and rough weather conditions can pose risks to pedal boats’ security and stability.
This article will explain what pedal boats are and describe how they work. It will also explain the most significant risks to your vessel’s safety. Finally, it will conclude with a few tips to ensure that your boating excursions are safe for everyone involved.
How Pedal Boats Maintain Their Balance
Sometimes referred to as pedalos, pedal boats are small manually powered watercraft commonly made of plastic, fiberglass, or aluminum.
Because of their small scale and limited power, pedal boats are most suitable for use in calm waters, such as on lakes and ponds. Pedal boats may also be used on rivers and beaches as long as conditions are peaceful.
Pedal Boats Are Built To Float
The principles that allow pedal boats to float are the same that work across all floating objects, including vessels of all kinds.
Two forces work on an object in water – gravity and buoyancy. Gravity is the downward force determined by the weight of the object. Buoyancy, the upward force, is determined by the weight of water displaced by the object.
An object floats if the downward force it exerts is less than the upward force exerted on it. Thus, a pedal boat floats because it weighs less than the water it displaces.
Pedal Boats Accelerate Using Manual Propellers
Pedal boats are powered by manually turning one or more pairs of pedals using your feet in a motion that’s similar to pedaling a bicycle. In turn, the pedals turn a paddle under the water’s surface, propelling the boat forward. Reversing the direction of pedaling will reverse the direction the boat moves in.
Steering Is Slow and Steady With a Pedal Boat
Pedal boats can be steered using either a steering lever or by applying greater force on pedals on the left or the right side of the boat. When traveling in reverse, the change in direction will be inverse to that when traveling forward.
The slow, gradual steering means that pedal boats can’t make abrupt turns, so the chances of toppling when turning are reduced.
What Causes a Pedal Boat to Topple?
A pedal boat may topple due to overloading or improper weight distribution, or taking on excessive amounts of water. Adverse weather conditions can also cause a pedal boat to rock or tip over.
Pedal Boat Overloading or Improper Weight Distribution
Depending on size, weight, and construction, most pedal boats come with recommendations for maximum load.
The boat must weigh less than the water it displaces when fully loaded. If you overload your boat with people or supplies to a point past its recommended capacity, this balance is upset. Since the boat’s buoyancy is now less than the gravitational force working on it, it is at risk of capsizing.
It is essential to note that it is not enough to stay within the boat’s maximum load-bearing capacity. You must also distribute weight relatively evenly across the craft. Overloading one side of a vessel increases the gravitational force exerted on one part of the boat. In the worst-case scenario, this can reach a point where your pedal boat tips over.
Pedal Boat Taking On Excessive Amounts of Water
Your pedal boat may also tip over if it takes on excessive amounts of water. As the amount of water in the boat increases, its weight increases as well. Eventually, the gravitational force acting on the boat will exceed the weight of the water it displaces and sink the boat.
So, it is crucial to ensure your craft is well-maintained and does not have any vulnerabilities that might allow water ingress.
Pedal Boats and Adverse Weather Conditions
Because of their relatively low weight and limited power, pedal boats should not be used in strong currents and or wind speeds. Under these conditions, wind and currents can exert significant force, overwhelming the balance between the craft’s buoyancy and gravitational forces. When strong enough, winds and currents may cause a pedal boat to overturn or capsize.
Current speeds under four miles an hour are generally considered safe for most pedal boats. Similarly, based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommendations, wind speeds under 18 knots are safest for small watercraft.
How To Prevent a Pedal Boat From Tipping Over
Here are a few measures you should take to ensure safe boating when using a pedal boat:
1. Properly Maintain Your Pedal Boat
Before you use your vessel:
- Inspect it for any damage to the hull.
- See that there is no water retained in the pontoons.
- Check that the drain plug is correctly in place before getting onto the water to ensure water does not leak into the boat.
These steps will ensure your boat is safe for use.
2. Operate Your Pedal Boat Only Under Appropriate Conditions
Avoid using a pedal boat under rough weather conditions or in swiftly moving water. Ensure you check weather conditions before heading out. If you are out on the water for long periods, continue to track the weather.
3. Load Your Pedal Boat Carefully
When you load your boat, make sure you stay within its maximum carrying capacity. Passengers should be secured into a seat and you shouldn’t allow others to move around in the designated seats.
Also, you should distribute the load evenly so that the boat is well balanced in the water.
4. Move Cautiously When Onboard a Pedal Boat
The movements of the people on the boat can unbalance the boat and cause it to capsize. Once on the craft, take care not to move suddenly or fast. Avoid stomping, jumping, or rocking the boat when on board.
You should also refrain from standing on the boat unless entering or exiting the vessel.
5. Consider Additional Pedal Boat Safety Features at the Time of Purchase
Several optional features can provide an additional layer of safety to your pedal boating excursions.
Some pedal boats come with motors attached, giving them added power in the water.
Pedal boats can also incorporate safety features that block water entry or help evacuate it. For example, the pontoons of foam-filled pedal boats are filled with dense foam to keep water out. Similarly, self-bailing pedal boats have a built-in mechanism that automatically drains any water inside the boat.
Finally, remember to keep sufficient life jackets and flotation devices on board. Ideally, everyone on the boat should wear a life jacket, including young children and toddlers.
If you’re looking for a properly fitting life jacket for young children who can’t tread water yet, I recommend one with armbands like this Gogokids Swim Vest on Amazon.com. They’re easy to use and come in a fun design for your little ones.
Pedal boats are among the safest options for boating with a family. However, they do need to be appropriately maintained and outfitted.
The boat should not be damaged, and the weight loaded onto it should be well distributed.
Limitations of size and power mean that pedal boats should also only be operated under calm conditions.
Several added safety features can make your boating trip safer. You could buy a pedal boat with a motor or install one on an existing boat. You could also buy a self-bailing or foam-filled pedal boat. Also, ensure everyone onboard wears appropriate safety gear.