The helicase PcrA unwinds DNA during asymmetric replication of plasmids, acting with an initiator protein, in our case RepD. Detailed kinetics of PcrA activity were measured using bulk solution and a single-molecule imaging technique to investigate the oligomeric state of the active helicase complex, its processivity and the mechanism of unwinding. By tethering either DNA or PcrA to a microscope coverslip surface, unwinding of both linear and natural circular plasmid DNA by PcrA/RepD was followed in real-time using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. Visualization was achieved using a fluorescent single-stranded DNA-binding protein. The single-molecule data show that PcrA, in combination with RepD, can unwind plasmid lengths of DNA in a single run, and that PcrA is active as a monomer. Although the average rate of unwinding was similar in single-molecule and bulk solution assays, the single-molecule experiments revealed a wide distribution of unwinding speeds by different molecules. The average rate of unwinding was several-fold slower than the PcrA translocation rate on single-stranded DNA, suggesting that DNA unwinding may proceed via a partially passive mechanism. However, the fastest dsDNA unwinding rates measured in the single-molecule unwinding assays approached the PcrA translocation speed measured on ssDNA.