Lily pads are useful plants in Pikmin 3. Much like the real lily pads, they float on the surface of water. Their structure supports the weight of leaders and Pikmin, meaning they can be rode on. The water they are found on is normally a stream or a river, so they move along the current. In closed bodies of water, the same lily pads perform a circuit, but otherwise, they go from the top of the stream to the end, where they disappear; new ones keep appearing at the top of the river, so there is always a constant stream of these plants.
Pier-like structures near the shore of a river serve as stops for the lily pads. When a lily pad approaches one of these spots, it gets close and slows down momentarily. This allows the explorers and their followers to hop on the plant to ride it, and likewise, to get off and back to solid ground. If the path crosses a branch or another structure that makes it impossible for the leaders and Pikmin to continue to be on top of the lily pad, they will automatically jump out and onto the piece of land that stood in their way.
Pikmin can also use lily pads by themselves, if the path they want to take requires the use of one. Rarely, Pikmin that board lily pads on their own might fail to use them correctly, which could result in them getting killed. The circumstances and reasons for this are unknown.
It takes a few seconds for everybody in the group to make the jump to or from a lily pad, as every Pikmin and leader jumps at a different time. If the plant becomes out of reach of the platform while the player's leader is jumping, part of the group following them might be too late and will stay behind. While riding a lily pad, the Go Here! functionality will not work.
To use a lily pad, the player's leader and whatever Pikmin or teammates are following them must be on one of the shore's stops. The player cannot make their leader walk off the platform if a lily pad is not nearby, and when one approaches, / must be moved toward the plant in order to board it. A warning appears on top of the leader's head signaling the player on what they need to do to ride the lily pad.
Similarly, when on a lily pad and next to another platform, moving in the direction of the shore will make the passengers drop off; a signal also appears above the leader's head. The analog stick does not need to be tilted very far in order for the game register it as a "jump" command, which can lead to cases where the group jumps off or on while the player is just trying to adjust the leader's position inside the platform or lily pad.