How to Build a Pedal Drive Train Sailboat

How to Build a Pedal Drive Train Sailboat

Sailing is an age-old hobby that combines the serenity of being on the water with the challenge of harnessing wind power. Adding a pedal drive train to your sailboat can enhance its versatility and provide an alternative means of propulsion, especially when the wind is not in your favor. This guide will walk you through the process of building a pedal drive train for your sailboat, ensuring that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Materials and Tools You'll Need

  1. Bicycle Components:

    • Crankset with pedals
    • Chain
    • Rear wheel hub or cassette
    • Gear shifter (optional)
  2. Drive Train Components:

    • Propeller suitable for human-powered propulsion
    • Shaft and housing
    • Bearings and seals
  3. Boat Components:

    • Mounting brackets
    • Marine-grade plywood or metal for mounting plates
    • Stainless steel hardware
  4. Tools:

    • Wrenches and screwdrivers
    • Drill and bits
    • Saw (if cutting wood or metal)
    • Measuring tape
    • Welding equipment (if using metal mounts)

Step-by-Step Guide

1. Design Your System

Before you start assembling components, sketch out a design for your pedal drive train. Consider the placement of the pedals, the route of the chain, and where the propeller will be mounted. Ensure that the design allows for efficient transfer of power from the pedals to the propeller.

2. Gather Bicycle Components

Acquire the necessary bicycle components. The crankset with pedals will be the primary input for your drive train. If you’re using a rear wheel hub or cassette, you can incorporate gears to make pedaling easier or harder, depending on conditions.

3. Construct the Pedal Assembly

Mount the crankset to a stable base that can be securely attached to the boat. This base can be made from marine-grade plywood or metal. Ensure that the pedals are at a comfortable height and distance for pedaling.

4. Install the Drive Shaft

The drive shaft will transfer power from the pedals to the propeller. Connect the chain from the crankset to the drive shaft. The drive shaft should be housed in a tube with bearings at both ends to ensure smooth rotation.

5. Attach the Propeller

At the end of the drive shaft, attach a propeller that is suitable for human-powered propulsion. The propeller should be designed to move efficiently through water with minimal resistance.

6. Mount the Assembly to the Boat

Securely mount the pedal assembly and drive shaft to the boat. Ensure that the assembly is sturdy and that the propeller is submerged adequately in the water. Use stainless steel hardware to prevent corrosion.

7. Test the System

Before heading out to open water, test the pedal drive train in a controlled environment. Ensure that the system operates smoothly and that there are no alignment issues. Check for any signs of wear or strain on the components.

Tips for Success

  • Gear Ratios: If you include a gear shifter, experiment with different gear ratios to find the most efficient setup for various conditions.
  • Maintenance: Regularly check and maintain the drive train components to ensure longevity. Lubricate the chain and bearings to reduce friction.
  • Safety: Always have a backup means of propulsion, such as oars or an outboard motor, in case the pedal drive system fails.


Building a pedal drive train for your sailboat can greatly enhance your sailing experience, providing a reliable alternative propulsion method when wind conditions are not favorable. With careful planning, the right materials, and a bit of DIY spirit, you can create a system that combines the joy of cycling with the pleasure of sailing. Enjoy your new, versatile sailboat and the added freedom it brings on the water.