Pedal to paddle: New tour boat lets you exercise – or not

Lance Shearer

The newest entrant in the small armada of tour boats that want to help get people out on the waters around Marco Island has a novel spin – the spin of a bicycle pedal.

The Marco Pedal Boat offers passengers the chance to help propel the boat as they cruise down the waterway. The 32-foot pontoon boat features two rows of pedals, like those on a stationary bike, under the table that runs down the center of the vessel. Turning the pedals puts electric juice into a battery that turns a massive paddlewheel on the stern, like an old Mississippi River steamboat, and propels the boat.

Luckily, the craft’s motion is not entirely dependent on the crew industriously keeping their pedals moving. Pushing a 32-ft. boat requires a fair amount of exertion.

“Guests can pedal, but they don’t have to,” said Capt. Jake Pappas, skipper of the Pedal Boat. “Lots of times, people pedal for a while, and then they just get into the surroundings.”

An outboard motor provides steady propulsion, keeping the boat moving with or without the passengers participating. The long table on board holds a series of coolers, stocked with ice and ready for whatever beverages the passengers bring, and often, these are of greater interest than the opportunity for exercise.

“Welcome to the Tiki Bar – proudly serving whatever you bring,” says one of the whimsical signs found all over the vessel.

“It’s a BYOB cruise – that way, people drink what they want, and it limits our liability,” said Pappas. They provide the coolers, ice, cups, and “cozies” for the passengers’ beverage of choice.

Other signs read “24 hours in a day – 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not,” and “Hurricane evacuation plan – 1. Grab beer 2. Run like hell,” along with other similar messages.

Before the cruise departs, from the Collier Blvd. boat launch ramp, the captain does give a safety lecture, and the boat is fully equipped with safety equipment, operating under strict Coast Guard regulations. Those regulations are keeping their maximum passenger load at 6 right now, until the boat’s electrical systems are passed, at which time they will be able to carry up to 16.

“We were planning to start operating in February, but these inspections held us up until April,” said Pappas, which meant they lost the best of the tourist season. On Friday, a group of six, Iowa residents down on Marco for a “girls’ trip,” chartered the boat, and had a rollicking good time.

They pedaled for a while, including one sprint to see how fast they could get the boat going, but didn’t let the workout get in the way of the party. And with tunes heavy on Jimmy Buffett and party rock, that’s basically what the tour is, a party on pontoons.

The ladies waved enthusiastically to the patrons at the Snook Inn as they passed, took selfies, and marveled at the wildlife they passed heading out the Marco River. Pelicans divebombed the water nearby, and around a dozen bottlenose dolphins surged around the boat, hunting for a seafood dinner.

“We had a blast,” said Kendra Logan, related to half of the group and BFFs with the rest. “This was a great way to get out on the water.”

Other crews have left glowing reviews on Trip Advisor, giving Marco Pedal Boat a solid five-star rating. One riffed on “Gilligan’s Island.”

“The mate was a mighty sailing woman. The Skipper brave and sure. Six passengers set sail that day for a one-and-a-half-hour-hour tour,” wrote Katherine S. “We saw a manatee, dolphins and a huge turtle. Jake and Katie were friendly and fun and cared about showing us a great time.”

The one-and-a-half-hour tour costs $49 per passenger, and can be booked by calling 239-920-1230, or online at