pedal drive kayak

Leg Propulsion For Fishing Kayaks

Using your legs for propelling any human powered vehicle offers the advantage of relying on a bigger, more powerful set of muscles than our arms. Our legs are also good in balancing, if given a chance to perform this job.

Currently, three manufacturers offer pedal drives for fishing kayaks.
Two of these devices feature rotary paddles and propellers, which makes more sense than the third one that features push pedals and wings flapping from side to side as a propeller.
In any case, pedal drives do not provide a suitable answer for touring and fishing kayaks, since operating involves a variety of problems starting from reduced stability and control over the kayak, reduced maneuverability and the loss of the ability to travel in shallow water, to more important, ergonomic problems that include increased discomfort and back pain.
More about pedal drives for fishing kayaks

So far, no one has ever seen a reason to outfit their W kayak with a pedal drive, for pretty obvious reasons. However, should anyone be interested to tinker with such project, the following pedal drive setup seems applicable to W kayaks,

rotary pedal drive for fishing kayak


More ideas, information and opinions about this pedal drive setup can be found in the comments section of the article about pedal drives recommended in the previous paragraph.

Here is another direction that seems applicable to W kayaks:

It seems like there used to be such a commercial product on the market several years ago, but we were unable to trace it. More information about it would be appreciated.
This particular setup is based on a crank shaft being used for pedaling and activating both paddle wheels at the same time. Therefore, the operator has to steer by means of a hand activated rudder (or paddle), which is a problem similar to the one facing kayak anglers attempting to operate a commercial fishing kayak pedal drive of the above mentioned types.
The rotation of the paddle wheels on the boat’s sides somehow compensates the operator for the initial loss of stability resulting from raising their feet in the air. In this regard, this seemingly clumsy setup is not as bad as the pedal drives featuring in fishing kayaks.
As far as shallow water mobility is concerned , this setup seems to be less inadequate than the above mentioned kayak pedal drives, and it looks like removing entangled seaweed from its blades is not complicated as it is with those kayak pedal drives.
Obviously, the paddle wheels add unwanted weight to the boat, and the recumbent position is not ideal for pedaling, as explained in the article mentioned in the first section.
In Fishability terms, the paddle wheels are similar to outriggers, in the sense that they can easily snag your fishing lines.

Having said that, if the reader feels like trying to implement such concept in their canoe, kayak or W kayak, they may want to consider separating the rotation of the two paddle wheels, namely have each leg rotate the paddle wheel on its own side – independently from what the other leg is doing. Such version would solve the steering problem created by relying on one’s legs for propulsion rather than on a paddle, eliminate the need to operate a unwanted rudder, and add both to the tracking and steering capabilities of the boat.

Pedaling a Fishing Kayak – How Does It Feel?

Some anglers are asking themselves questions such as which fishing kayak to choose, and whether the much hyped pedal drives available on the market are any good for their purpose.
The subject is broad, and already discussed in depth and detail in the article about fishing kayaks’ pedal drives that we’ve already mentioned here, on Micronautical.
This time, we’d like to add a few words about what it feels like to pedal a fishing kayak –

Pedal propulsion for small watercraft has been in use since the 19th century, and it’s still commonly found in small recreational boats, often in a combination of rotating pedals with paddle wheel type propellers. Other types of pedal driven propulsion systems for small craft include rotating propellers, hydraulic pumps, sideways moving flaps, add-on systems, and more. Interestingly, the world speed record for a human powered watercraft is held by a catamaran equipped with a rotational air propeller.
Currently, there are three kayak manufacturers offering pedal driven kayaks. Two of them offer kayaks featuring a combination of rotational pedals with a rotational propeller, and one manufacturer offers a drive featuring push pedals combined with flaps moving from side to side, in a back and forth motion. The latter will be simply called ‘flaps’ in this article.
All three kayak pedal drives are fixed, which means they provide propulsion without steering, and therefore, the kayak operator is required to track and turn using a hand activated rudder.
All three pedal drive systems feature pedals located in proximity to each other, along the kayak’s center line, and at a higher point than the kayak seat. In order to activate the pedals in all three, kayakers have to relocate their feet away from the low footrests situated on both sides of the hull.

Part 1. Pedaling Kayaks’ Ergonomics –

-How Does It Feel To Operate a Pedal Driven Kayak?

The first and main argument in favor of pedaling kayaks instead of paddling them, is that our legs are far more powerful than our arms are, and therefore it makes more sense to use our legs for difficult tasks such as propulsion, rather than using our arms.

While being generally true, this argument is not necessarily applicable to the propulsion of kayaks. This is because although our legs have the biggest and most powerful muscles in our body, and are best fit for hard, long lasting efforts, using them for propelling any vehicle must be done under certain conditions, which are dictated by our own built, and ability to endure certain types of effort –

Before everything, and after all – we’re talking about human powered propulsion, and viewing it through a narrow prism of horsepower (or lack thereof, actually) is reductive ad absurdum.
Which is why this article rightfully asks the question ‘how does it feel to pedal a fishing kayak’, and provides a good answer as well.
Speed is the most overrated attribute when fishing kayaks are concerned, and pedal driven kayaks aren’t even fast, being mostly wide and heavy sit-on-top and hybrid ‘barge’ kayaks.

How Does Fishing Kayak Design Address Pain?

It’s a painful question for many kayak anglers!
Sit-in, SOT and hybrid fishing kayaks are sometimes designed with an intention to alleviate the pain felt by anglers who use them, especially back pain, or at least this is what their manufacturers proclaim.
In reality, there’s very little that can be done to take care of this critical problem, and nothing to solve it at its root, which is the way kayaks are in the first place, and the way we are: People who no longer sit on the floor with our legs stretched in front of us, as we used to sit long ago, before chairs, stools, and other elevated seats were introduced to our life.
We are members of modern societies, and as such, we sit on elevated seats, and we’ve lost the ability to sit comfortably with our legs stretched in front of us, which is what traditional kayaks as well as hybrid fishing kayaks force us to do.
More foam in the seat’s backrest doesn’t solve anything, really, and elevating the seat doesn’t solve any problem either, because those kayaks aren’t stable enough to sustain a decrease in their users’ stability as a result of their center of gravity going up. The result is that people who sit on higher seats attached to those mon-hull fishing kayaks (sit-in, SOT and hybrid) feel less stable, and increase the pressure of their legs on the footrests and backrest between which they are trapped. The result: more back pain.

Here’s a quote from an article about kayaking back pain:
“Pain is usually initiated by stimulation of the peripheral nervous system, that is the nerves in various parts of our body. These nerves are connected through the spinal nerve to our brain, where we become aware of the pain.

The Nerves Involved In Kayak Back Pain, Leg Pain, Etc.

The sciatic nerve is a large nerve fiber that begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the lower limb. It is the longest and widest single nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerve supplies nearly the whole of the skin of the leg, the muscles of the back of the thigh, and those of the leg and foot. It is derived from spinal nerves L4 (in Lumbar vertebra # 4) through S3 (in Sacral vertebra #3) in the lower part of our spine.

Meaning of Back Pain When You’re Kayaking, or Kayak Fishing

Any unpleasant sensation you feel in your body while kayaking or fishing from your kayak, is a sign that something is wrong, so you need to pay attention to it, and do something about it:
Your legs getting numb means you should change positions, stretch, get up, and get things in order.
Pain in your legs, or your lower back means something is seriously wrong, and you’re either risking physical damage, or actually causing it just by being seated in the L position, whether you’re paddling, resting, or fishing…”

Interestingly, the pain created in your back gets exacerbated the more your legs push on the footrests. This unwanted process is increased when you’re seated in a pedal driven fishing kayak, and your legs constantly and energetically push the pedals, for a long time. Since your legs are required to perform this task from the center of the deck, and your feet lose the little stabilizing effect they have when the rest in the footrests located on the sides, the instability you feel increases even more, and so is the pressure…

Excessive Size: The Barge Fishing Kayak

Another phenomenon in fishing kayak design is the evolution of a class of extra large fishing kayaks, in the sense that they are very wide, quite heavy, and not that easy to paddle… This is an excerpt from an article entitled “The Barge – A New Class of Fishing Kayaks”  (Read more on these large size fishing kayaks >>)

“Most people know what the term Barge means when kayaks are referred to: It’s a big, wide, long, heavy kayak that’s hard to car top, hard to carry, hard to launch, hard to paddle, and hard to beach.
A Barge is a kayak that’s slow, and doesn’t track well, hence the expression “A barge to paddle”.
Manufacturers and vendors who offer barge kayaks often claim their products are so stable that you can stand up and fish from them. Some vendors would even get some dude to perform stability tricks in front of a camera, while standing up on their barge kayak, but few people fall for this kind of advertisement, and those who do soon learn not to trust improbable advertising, and they learn it the wet way, after they fall overboard… “

Stability: The Key Factor In Fishing Kayak Design


This article describes the challenges facing the designer of a stable fishing kayak, the factors contributing to kayak stability, and the optimal solution achieved by applying both classic naval design and Micronautics in the design of W fishing kayaks.


Stability is a key factor in kayak design, judged by the number of kayaks designed to offer more stability compared to kayaks designed with little or no regard to stability. The latter types are kayaks designed for rolling, and they sacrifice stability for maneuvering capability in the case of whitewater kayaks, and for speed, in the case of racing kayaks and sea kayaks. These applications are practiced by a relatively small number of kayakers, and they do not show a tendency to gain in popularity. It’s possible to argue that in a broad perspective, the unstable kayak is a failed experiment, or an evolutionary dead end.
All other kayaks are not designed for rolling, and their main safety attribute is the stability they offer, to variable extents. This stability is what helps the kayaker and kayak angler prevent their kayak from flipping in case they lose balance.

The kayak market opted for stability in the recreational, day touring, and fishing applications. Together, these three segments constitute the bulk of the kayak market in terms of sales and participation.
The attempts to paddle kayaks and boards in the standing position (SUP), as well as talks about stand up kayak fishing reflect a need for stabler kayaks.
As for fishing kayak propelled by pedal drives, since this method of propulsion results in the kayaker losing some control over their kayak, including over lateral its stability (balance) to a certain degree, it demands kayaks that are stabler, by definition.
Needless to say that as motorized kayaking and kayak fishing gain in popularity, so will the need for stable kayak designs increase, whether it’s for recreation, touring, or fishing.

Initial (Primary) and Secondary Stability

This article avoids discussing the difference between Initial (primary) Stability, defined as what the kayaker feels in normal circumstances, on flat water, and Secondary Stability, which is what they feel once the kayak has been destabilized, and it’s tilting on its side. The reason for this being that we think of stability as one quality in various conditions, and we maintain that under normal conditions, the kayaker should not be required to make any effort to stabilize their kayaks, or even pay attention to their being in a kayak. This approach is different from the traditional kayak design approach that’s applied mainly to the design of very unstable kayaks such as whitewater and ‘sea’ kayaks. This approach assumes that passenger would roll the kayak if they got destabilized, rather than simply right it.

How To Design A Stable Fishing Kayak?

Regardless of hull type, a kayak is a small boat that features certain universal characteristics, and therefore challenges, including:

1. Kayak Are Narrower Than Other Small Boats

Compared to other small boats, such as canoes and dinghies, kayaks are narrow, by definition, because they are mostly solo boats that are paddled from their middle section, by means of a dual blade paddle. Kayaks that are too wide become too hard to paddle, not just as a result of the paddle strokes becoming less efficient, and therefore less effective, but also because such kayaks are slow due to poor hydrodynamics, they track poorly, and they require the use of a rudder, which further slows them down, as well as makes operating them more complicated.

2. Kayaks Are Lightweight, And For A Reason

Making a heavy and cumbersome boat and labeling it ‘kayak’, or ‘hybrid kayak’, may be a good marketing tactic for some manufacturers who want to address the kayak fishing market, but it makes no sense in plain, technical terms, and from a user’s perspective. At some point, it becomes too hard and complicated to paddle such ‘barges’, or car top them, and that’s when they lose the right to be called kayaks, and earn the right to belong to another category of small boats.

3. Kayak Propulsion Is Weak, In Most Cases

Kayaks are mostly human powered, which means they suffer from a severe power deficiency, which restricts their hull design to forms that are sufficiently efficient in a displacement mode – No planing and no hydrofoils for the common kayak used in the real world for everyday applications, by people who are not kayaking champions… This power restriction also limits the use of outriggers as stabilizers, since outriggers generate much unwanted additional drag, thereby making it to hard for the common paddler, or angler, to paddle kayaks outfitted with such devices.

4. Fishing Kayaks Need To Be Stabler Than Other Kayaks

Fishing out of a kayak involves performing hard physical tasks on the sides of the kayak, such as casting, and landing fish. While doing so, the angler cannot use their paddle in order to balance their kayak, and they have to rely entirely on the kayak’s basic stability.

The Meaning Of These Physical Limitations For Kayak Stability

Being limited in its width, overall size, and hull form, the kayak can offer limited stability. This is not good news for kayak anglers, since fishing out any boat requires it to be stable.
The limits of the kayak’s stability are defined by its volume, and its width.
The volume corresponds to the kayak’s Buoyancy, or its ability to float and support additional weight without sinking.
As the kayak loses its balance, weight gets quickly shifted away from its center to one side, and this extra weight pushes this side downward. If the kayak side is supported by a sufficient amount of buoyancy, it will sink just by a small amount, and offer the kayaker sufficient time and support to regain their balance and right their kayak. If the kayak’s side is not supported by enough buoyancy, it will tip too fast and too low, and thus make the kayaker lose their balance, and capsize their kayak.

How Distributing The Kayak’s Buoyancy’s Relatively To Its Center Line Affects Its Stability

The further away from the kayak’s center line, the more effective the kayak’s buoyancy becomes in supporting its sides, I.E. for stabilizing it.
In other words, for every cubic inch of the kayak’s volume, the distance from the kayak’s center line works to increase the leverage and stabilizing effect: A cubic inch of the kayak’s buoyant volume located along the kayak’s center line has zero stabilizing effect, while a cubic inch of buoyant volume situated at the very far side of the kayak provides a maximal stabilizing effect, for a given kayak width.

For example: For a kayak that’s 28 inches wide, one cubic inch of buoyancy located at its far side, at a 14 inch distance from its center line, provides 14 times more lateral support than a cubic inch located 1 inch from the center line. This is means it’s 14 times more effective in terms of stability.

In other words, if we look at a given kayak volume in cubic inches as an asset that we need to allocate in a way that would maximize the kayak’s stability, we should avoid placing any units of buoyancy (e.g. cubic inches) along the kayak’s center line, or close to it, and allocate as much buoyancy to areas located as far as possible from the kayak’s center line, namely  along the kayak’s two sides. Practically, this means the kayak’s center line should not be in contact with the water at all.
In other words, we need to give the perfectly stable fishing kayak two hulls – one on each side, thus making it a twin hull.

Location Of The Center Of Gravity (CG) And Its Effect On The Kayak’s Stability

A kayak going in water has a total mass, which includes its own mass, and the bigger mass of its operator. This is a classic case in which traditional naval engineering should be complemented by Micronautics.
For the purpose of keeping this article simple, we’ll treat mass and weight as the same thing, and describe the kayak’s center of mass as its center of gravity (CG). The kaya’s CG is located above its center line, and because the kayaker is heavy and sitting upright, the kayak’s overall CG is situated quite high above waterline.  When the kayak gets destabilized, it means that its CG shifts to one side, sometimes rapidly, and in some cases to a great extent. The higher the kayaker is seated, the more leverage its own CG has on the mass combined of themselves and their kayak. This means that a kayaker sitting on top of a kayak, such as when paddling a sit-on-top (SOT) kayak, or fishing from it, is less stable than a kayaker seated at the bottom of a sit-in kayak.

Twin Hull Fishing Kayak Vs. Catamaran Kayak

Going back to our ideal stable kayak form, which is a twin hull – A traditional catamaran design would imply that we connect the two hulls by a platform, and let the kayaker operate their kayak while seated on top of this platform, as well as fish from it while being seated in the traditional L position, similarly to a SOT kayaker. This has been tried in the past, and similarly to the SOT result,  it was sub-optimal due to the fact that the kayaker’s CG was too high, and the L position offered no advantage when it comes to reacting to lateral forces, whether while paddling or when fishing.

The Traditional L Kayaking Position Vs. The Riding Position

The combined stability and ergonomic problem described above was solved in the W kayak by designing deep, hollow hulls for the ideal stable kayak, and enabling each of the operator’s legs go in its own hull, all the way down, with feet firmly resting on the bottom – that is below waterline, as low as possible.  This took some of the kayaker’s weight and redistributed it lower than it would have been if the kayaker was seated in the L position. By that, the kayak’s CG was lowered as well.
In addition, placing the kayaker’s legs in the hulls offered the kayaker better leverage on the kayak, by enabling them to use their legs intuitively and effectively for balancing and stabilizing the kayak, and doing so by applying their weight on the bottom of the hulls, instead of on the top of the deck. This advantage can be described as ‘active ballasting’. It is comparable to the advantage achieved by ATV, snowmobile and PWC drivers, who operate their vehicles from similar riding positions.

Some Fishing Kayak Stability Facts

Fishing kayaks are wider than the average kayak, but although it’s one of the narrowest fishing kayaks (just 28.5″ wide), the W500 is the world’s stablest fishing kayak. In fact, it’s even stabler than fishing kayaks outfitted with outriggers.
Due to its narrowness, narrow hulls, and improved ergonomics, the w500 is faster than most fishing kayaks, including some that are considerably longer, and many touring kayaks as well.

The W Kayak invention is protected by US patent number 6871608