Oar Vs Paddle: Ultimate Guide On The Differences & Much More

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 7th, 2022
Oar Vs Paddle: Ultimate Guide On The Differences & Much More
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Have you been wondering what the difference is between an oar vs paddle? Do you even know if there are any differences?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, don’t worry!

You’re not the first person to have trouble answering these questions, and you won’t be the last. 

Many people think the terms are interchangeable, but this isn’t the case. In fact, there are a few significant differences when it comes to oars and paddles.

So, in this article, I’ll break down what they are, the key differences between an oar vs paddle, and some of your burning questions.

Don’t go anywhere!

What Is An Oar?

Oar vs Paddle

An oar is similar to a canoe paddle and is used to propel a boat through the water in the opposite direction to what you’re facing. It’s much longer than a canoe paddle and has a few key differences.

They are usually connected to the boat you’re rowing using oarlocks. The oarlock does two things:

  1. It acts as the fulcrum for the rowing motion.
  2. It helps to prevent the oar from falling into the water.

And oarlocks aren’t the only difference you’ll notice. Oars also have sleeves, a durable material used to help prevent damage to the oar and oarlock.

You’ll also notice a collar/button, which is a raised ring that stops the oar from sliding out of the lock.

What Is A Paddle?

Oar vs Paddle: canoe paddle

Single-blade

Oar vs Paddle: kayak paddle

Double-blade

Like an oar, a paddle is used to steer your boat, but this time you’ll be paddling instead of rowing. This means you’ll be facing the same direction that you plan on moving instead of the opposite direction.

It’s worth noting that you have two styles of paddles that you’ll be looking at:

  1. Single-blade (similar to the oar)
  2. Double-blade (usually used for kayaking)

Unlike an oar, a paddle is not connected to your water vessel in any way. Instead, the paddle is supported by the hands of the paddler.

What Is The Difference Between Paddling And Rowing?

Okay, the section above hopefully gives you an idea of what a paddle and oar are. But, I did mention that both of them use a different paddling technique:

  1. Paddling
  2. Rowing

The thing is:

You might not know the differences between the two, so I wanted to spend a little time explaining them to you.

Let’s take a look:

Paddling 

It doesn’t matter if you’re paddling a kayak or a canoe; you’re going to be facing in the same direction as you’re moving.

When you’re paddling a kayak, you’ll be using a double-bladed paddle (how to choose a kayak paddle), which allows you to propel yourself through the water on alternate sides.

You’ll use a single-blade paddle in both hands with a canoe. This means you’ll have to switch sides when trying to stay in a straight line or use different paddling techniques.

Rowing

One of the first things you’ll notice with rowing is you’re not facing in the same direction as you’re moving. And this can feel pretty strange when you first get inside the boat.

You’ll also notice that you use a similar motion to a rowing machine you find at the gym.

Using a sculling technique, you’ll have one oar in each hand. And if you’re using a sweep rowing style, you’ll have two hands on one oar. And this means you can use your arms and legs to power yourself across the water.

What’s The Difference: Oar Vs Paddle

Oar vs Paddle
Oar Vs Paddle

I’ve explained what a paddle and oar are and the difference between paddling and rowing.

But…

Now it’s time to start talking about the difference between an oar and a paddle. You see, it’s more than an oarlock and paddle stroke technique, so let’s take a look:

Types Of Vessel

One of the main differences between oars and paddles is the vessel you will use them with. 

Paddles are used for boats like:

  • Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • SUP’s
  • Rafts

While an oar is usually used for:

  • Rowing boats
  • Sculls
  • Sailing boats

Knowing the type of vessel you will be using before you go on the water will help you understand what you need or will be using on the day.

The Direction You’ll Be Facing

One of the most significant differences you’ll notice between an oar and a paddle is you face different directions when using them.

When using an oar, you’ll be facing the opposite direction from the way you’re moving. Essentially, this means you’ll feel like you’re moving backward. And this can be disorienting because you can’t see if you’re going in the correct direction.

The good thing about using a paddle is you’ll be facing in the same direction as you’re paddling, which can make things feel much more pleasurable.

The Shape Of The Blade

If you’re a novice to water sports, there’s a good chance you won’t notice any differences between the blade of a paddle and an oar. But don’t feel too disheartened; there aren’t too many differences.

Both paddles and oars offer a wide variety of blade shapes, but you’ll find that oars have a long and flat blade compared to paddles.

Paddles usually have a curved and shorter paddle blade than oars, which helps to maximize their efficiency.

Mounting 

Oar Vs Paddle: oarlock

Oarlock

Another big difference is that a paddle doesn’t attach to your boat like an oar. Paddles are a lot lighter, so you’ll have no issues holding them in your hands.

And if you capsize, you can use a paddle leash so you don’t lose the paddle in the water.

Oars, on the other hand, attach to your boat using oarlocks, making the oar fixed. And this helps hold the weight of the oar and assists the rowing technique.

The Weight & Materials Used

The final difference I will mention is the weight and materials used in oars and paddles. Paddles are definitely the lighter of the two because the paddler needs to hold it in their hands while an oar rests in an oarlock.

One of the reasons you’ll see such a weight difference is the materials they use in their design.

Paddles are usually made with plastic, aluminum, or carbon fiber, making them lightweight. 

Oars are different though; they are usually made with hardwood, making wooden oars much heavier. That being said, some modern oars are more lightweight because they use composite materials.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

So, there you have it: the main differences between paddles and oars. If you’re new to paddle sports, it can feel a little bit tricky to get your head around.

Especially when you’re comparing a single-blade paddle and an oar, but by using the tips above, you should have no trouble identifying the two.

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference is that an oar has a very long blade, and you’ll be rowing backward.

Paddles are lighter, have more of a curve on the blade, and you’ll be paddling forward instead of behind you.

While we’re talking about Vs articles, why not check out my article on Sup Vs Kayak if you’re confused about the differences.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Paddle Or Row A Boat?

It depends on the boat; if you’re on a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, you will be using a paddle. If you’re using a row-boat, sculls, or sweep-oar boats-then, then you’re going to be rowing using one or two oars.

Does A Kayak Have Oars Or Paddles?

If you’re going on a kayak trip, you will use a paddle to propel your kayak through the water. Oars are too large and heavy to use on a kayak, so you won’t be able to row the kayak with them.

What Is A Boat Paddle Called?

It depends on the vessel. You’d use an oar to propel a traditional boat across the water (think of Viking boats). But, if you’re in a canoe or kayak, you will be using a paddle, either one-bladed or double-bladed.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.