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Oar vs Paddle: The Differences Between Rowing And Paddling

Mark Armstrong
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You’ve probably noticed that many people will use the terms oar and paddle interchangeably, but these two things are not actually the same, nor are they used for the same sport. So what’s the difference?

Quick Answer:

When used, oars are attached to the boat. Paddles are not.

To give you a better understanding of both oars and paddles we’ve put together this useful guide. We’ll also explain the difference between rowing and paddling so the next time you step into a kayak, canoe or boat, there should be no confusion about how you plan to propel yourself.

Oar vs Paddle Differences Between Rowing And Paddling - Pinterest ImagePin

Difference Between Oars And Paddles


Oars are used to propel you and your craft across the water. But unlike a paddle, an oar is attached to attached to the boat. The oar slides into the oarlock, which helps to prevent the oar from coming loose from the boat.

Oars can be used on rowing boats or larger sailing boats and were also used to propel Viking ships in the 8th century and as far back as the Iron Age. It is even believed that the term “Vikings” can mean oarsmen, or translated as “men rowing in shifts”.


A paddle can either be single bladed or double bladed. A double bladed paddle is often used on a kayak, whereas a single bladed one may be more suitable for a canoe or wider vessel.

Unlike with oars, if you’re paddling you will need to keep a hold of your paddle at all times or secure it in a paddle holder when not in use, to prevent it from floating away.

Paddles can be used on a range of vessels, including rafts, SUPs and inflatables.

What About Rowing vs Paddling?

Probably the most obvious difference that you’ll notice between rowing and paddling is the direction you face when moving across the water.


When you’re in your vessel ready to row, probably the first thing you’ll notice is that you’re facing backwards, instead of in the direction that you’ll be heading. 

You may also notice with more professional rowing boats that your seat will slide back and forth to allow you to gain more propulsion and a stronger oar stroke. You may have experienced a similar style of movement in the gym on a rowing machine.

This can allow you to use both your arms and legs to power yourself across the water. There are different types of rowing, for example, sculling, where the rowers each have two oars (one in each hand on either side of the craft). 

There’s also sweep rowing, where each rower has two-handed control of one oar.


Whether you’re paddling a canoe or a kayak, you will likely be facing forwards, in the direction of travel.

Video: Paddling A Canoe

With a kayak you will usually have a double bladed paddle, with each blade alternately propelling you across the water.

Video: Paddling A Kayak

With a canoe, on the other hand, you might have a single bladed paddle that may require a different paddling technique in order to paddle straight. If you have a second paddler, it may be easier to head straight as you can both paddle on opposite sides of the canoe.

> How to paddle a kayak upstream


So hopefully you now know the difference between rowing and paddling, as well as being able to tell your oars from your paddles. Remember that while many vessels can be paddled, you’ll probably need some attachment to row one with oars.

Another thing to remember is that if you’re facing backwards as you propel yourself across the water, you’re probably rowing but if you’re facing the way you’re heading you’re likely to be paddling.

If you’ve found this helpful, share it with your friends, and don’t forget to leave us a comment if you have anything you want to add.

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