Flexible bell margins are characteristic components of rowing medusan morphologies and are expected to contribute towards their high propulsive efficiency. However, the mechanistic basis of thrust augmentation by flexible propulsors remained unresolved, so the impact of bell margin flexibility on medusan swimming has also remained unresolved. We used biomimetic robotic jellyfish vehicles to elucidate that propulsive thrust enhancement by flexible medusan bell margins relies upon fluid dynamic interactions between entrained flows at the inflexion point of the exumbrella and flows expelled from under the bell. Coalescence of flows from these two regions resulted in enhanced fluid circulation and, therefore, thrust augmentation for flexible margins of both medusan vehicles and living medusae. Using particle image velocimetry (PIV) data we estimated pressure fields to demonstrate a mechanistic basis of enhanced flows associated with the flexible bell margin. Performance of vehicles with flexible margins was further enhanced by vortex interactions that occur during bell expansion. Hydrodynamic and performance similarities between robotic vehicles and live animals demonstrated that the propulsive advantages of flexible margins found in nature can be emulated by human-engineered propulsors. Although medusae are simple animal models for description of this process, these results may contribute towards understanding the performance of flexible margins among other animal lineages.