Oars vs Paddles – Differences and Best Uses Explained

Oars vs Paddles

You’ve probably been a victim of using the terms ‘oar’ and ‘paddle’ but have you ever been curious to know the difference between oars vs paddles and their intended uses?

While both an oar and a paddle can be used for the same purpose – to steer a boat through water – they technically differ in their construction & the method they move through the water

So, What’s the Difference Between Oars vs Paddles?

The main difference between oars vs paddles is that an oar is used for rowing while paddles are used for paddling. Oars are meant to propel the vessel in the opposite direction the rower is facing while paddles propel the vessel in the same direction the paddler is facing. Additionally, Oars are always single blade, whereas a paddle may be single or double-bladed.

Unlike paddles, which are designed to be free from the boat and held by the paddler (for example, a kayaker), oars are attached to the boat or vessel and slide into an oarlock so that they cannot come loose from the boat (like a row-boat).

That being said, let’s dive deeper into the different types and styles of oars and paddles.


Vessels that commonly use oars:

  • Rowboats
  • Skiffs
  • Dorhie
  • Dinghies
  • Yacht Tenders
  • Sweep Boats
  • Skulling Boats

Selecting the right oar for your particular vessel and rowing style will definitely elevate your rowing experience. You have to choose the correct length oars that give you the right leverage ratio as this is essential for optimal rowing experience.

And once you’ve pinpointed the right length oars for your boat, the next thing is to choose the correct blade style.

Oars come in two different blade types: flat blades and spoon blades.

Choosing the right blade type for you is a subjective matter and might be influenced by several factors including the oar length, boat hull design, and personal preference.

Flat Blade Oars

Generally ¼-inch thick at the blade end, flat blade oars are designed with a bulbous rib that runs from the throat of the shaft down to the blade. This is to offer the right stiffness, strength, and elegant transition from the shaft down to the blade.

Depending on where you’ll be rowing, you can choose between spruce flat blade oars and ash flat blade oars. Spruce flat blade oars are lighter and a lot easier to use but are quite rare.

Flat blade oars
Flat blade oars

On the other hand, you can go for ash flat blade oars, which are very hard to use because they’re heavier but ideal if you anticipate encountering rocks during your rowing escapades (This style is common is coastal saltwater locations such as the New England coastline).

Spoon Blade Oars

Spoon blade oars are ideal for boats designed for fixed-seat rowing such as skiffs but can also be ideal for dories and whaleboats. They’re generally finished top-quality spar varnished and have epoxy tops that are reinforced with glass strands.

Spoon blade oars are about 20 percent more effective than flat blade oars but only if the hull of the boat is configured with fine entries and rounded bottoms.

This is essentially why spoon blade oars are ideal for canoes (with oarlocks) and various types of rowboats that can be used for fishing such as dinghies. You should, therefore, keep in mind that flat-bottom boats such as prams and dories might not row better with spoon blade oars.

Sculling Oars

Perfect for a sliding seat rowing system, sculling oars are usually longer than normal oars used in fixed seat rowing. They generally measure 9’ 6” in length and are constructed to be as light as possible.

These oars can use either the Macon blade shape or the Hatchet blade shape. Macon blade shape tends to be proportioned on both sides while Hatchets are irregular and are slightly more efficient than Macon blades.

See Also: What is the best type of Pond Fishing boat?


Vessels that commonly use paddles:

  • Single Person Kayaks
  • Tandem Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • Stand up Paddle Boards
  • Rafts

Whether you’re paddling in tropical south beach or a river in Texas, the paddles that you choose can make all the difference.

Paddles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types. The main paddles to consider include single-blade paddles, double-blade paddles, and yes, even triple-blade paddles.

Before going into the different types of paddles, you should know the right size paddle for you. This means that you should know your height and the size of your boat.

If you’re short, you’ll go for a shorter paddle. And if you’re tall, you should choose a longer paddle. However, a typical paddle blade should be 46 cm (18 inches) long and 20 cm (8 inches) wide while the overall paddle should be about 4-6 feet long (150-250).

Single-Blade Paddles

These are paddles that have a blade on one side and a T-shaped handle on the other. They’re generally used to move a vessel by two paddlers who should paddle in unison.

These paddles are ideal for partner trips and especially if you want to synchronize movement while paddling a canoe or a stand-up paddleboard. They’re unique and very easy to use compared to other paddle types and are perfect for canoes.

Double-Blade Paddles

The most common type of paddles, double-blade paddles, have blades on both sides of the paddle and can be used on either side by either a single paddler or double paddlers. They’re designed with feather blades that allow the paddler to pull the blade through the water and to increase efficiency.

Double blade kayak Paddle
Double blade kayak paddle

Double-blade paddles are specifically meant to be used on kayaks. They should be kept smallish and lightweight to optimize performance and reduce strain.

See Also: Canoe or kayak for fishing…which is better?

Frequently Asked Questions

Do canoes use paddles or oars?

99% of the time, canoes use paddles, not oars. While it is possible to fit a canoe with oarlocks and use oars it is not common and requires special hardware and a different style of rowing.

Can you use oars on a kayak?

Kayaks are designed to be used with paddles, not oars. Oars require oarlocks and the ability to ‘row’ in a large range of motion not common on most kayaks.

Is rowing faster than kayaking?

The speed of rowing depends on the size and type of vessel and skills of the rower. Rowing can be very fast, and efficient but only if it’s equipped on a lightweight boat. Kayaking can also be quick, but speed is determined by the skills of the paddler.

What is the easiest boat to paddle?

The easiest boat to paddle is a simple one-person kayak. This does not require any special skills, other than basic coordination. Simply either a single or double-sided paddle to gentle propel the kayak through the water.

Is stand up paddle board hard?

Stand-up paddleboards are moderately difficult to learn. The proper technique does require the use of core muscle and balance, especially in windy or choppy conditions. That being said, almost anyone can learn to stand up paddleboard and it’s a great way to exercise and spend time outdoors.

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