Kayaking Terminology

A useful glossary for new paddlers. 

If you’re just beginning in the sport of kayaking, it’s normal to find yourself intimidated if you don’t understand the terminology? You’ll want to familiarise yourself with some of the basic lingo below.

Back band (back rest)
Provides support for the lower back while kayaking and helps with erect posture in the boat. Located behind the seat and usually made of padded fabric, plastic, or foam.

Back Stroke
The technique used to paddle backwards.

Base layers
Layers of clothing made from natural (except cotton) or synthetic fabrics that paddlers wear under their outer layers. Good baselayers wick moisture away from their skin, keeping the paddler warm or keeping them cool — depending on the weather. Always avoid wearing cotton as a base layer as it traps moisture close to your skin, doesn’t dry quickly and keeps you cold. Examples of good base layers are fleece, wool, polypropelene and neoprene.

Bent shaft paddle
A paddle with a shaft that’s ergonomically bent where the hands grip the paddle so that the paddler’s wrists maintain a neutral position. Paddlers with tendonitis or wrist problems usually prefer bent shaft paddles.

The Broad Part at the end of a paddle.

Neoprene shoes that fit tightly so that they can easily and comfortably fit in a kayak to protect the paddlers’ feet.

The forward end of a canoe or kayak.

Bow Draw
An intermediate turning stroke performed at the bow of the kayak. The bow draw is a very efficient turning stroke.

A cross-sectional wall inside a kayak, made of composite, plastic, or foam. Bulkheads provide structural support and cross-sectional bulkheads create watertight compartments for buoyancy and storage.

Is a metal loop with a gate. They’re used in climbing and in rescue systems in kayaking as well as tow leashes. They can also be used to secure drybags, and water bottles inside the kayak.

The enclosed central compartment of a kayak, in which the paddler sits.

Cag / Drytop
A paddling jacket with latex gaskets at the neck and wrists designed to keep the paddler’s upper body completely dry.

The top part of a kayak that keeps the hull from filling with water.

The direction in which the current is flowing in a river.

Downstream V
A tongue of dark water that loosely forms a ‘V’ with whitewater at the edges. The downstream v is a river feature that indicates the deepest and most obstacle-free entry into or path through a rapid in a river.

Dry bag
A waterproof, sealable bag that keeps contents dry. Paddlers use drybags for first aid kits, snacks and other stuff they want to bring down the river with them.

A river feature formed when the current flows around an obstacle and water flows back upstream to fill in the space left by the deflected current. The current inside of eddies flows upstream. Eddies are great for resting, getting out of the current, getting out of the river and scouting.

Edge Control
The ability of a paddler to set, maintain and change their kayak edge to varying degrees to maneuver. More important in whitewater and sea kayaking, less important in recreational kayaking.

Refers to the offset of each paddle blade from each other. Blades offset from each other at 90 degrees makes it easier to paddle on windy days because the top blade slices through the wind. Today paddle manufacturers make paddles that you can adjust the feather on yourself.

Also refers to the cocking or bending of the wrist to make small adjustments to the angle of the paddle blade. Feathering is used to ensure that the paddle blade enters the water at a certain angle, remains neutral in the water or creates resistance against the water to perform strokes and maneuver.

Foot braces
Small, adjustable plates (usually plastic) for your feet to brace against when paddling. Foot braces give the paddler more leverage with every stroke.

Forward Stroke
The stroke that paddlers use to propel themselves forward.

Grab loops/handles
The loops or handles situated a the bow and stern of kayaks that allows the paddler to carry and strap down the boat.

(also known as foot braces) Adjustable structures inside the cockpit on which a kayaker places the balls of her feet.

A dry storage compartment built into the kayak that is accessible from the deck.

Hatch cover
The removable cover to the hatch that keeps water from flowing into the hatch from the deck when it is closed.

The bottom shape of a boat, which determines how it will perform in various conditions. Canoes have a hull only, kayaks have a hull on the bottom and a deck on the top.

A rack accessory in the shape of a ‘J’ that makes it easy to tie down a recreational or sea kayak on your car.

Open Water
A large body of water that is not protected from the wind by trees or shoreline. Open water should only be attempted by experienced sea kayakers.

The term used for the additional adjustable features that allow for the kayak seat to fit comfortably. Includes seat, back band, foot braces and thigh braces.

A shaft with two blades on either end that a paddler uses to maneuver his/her kayak.

Paddle Jacket/Splash top
A paddling jacket without gaskets that is used to break the wind, but that doesn’t keep the paddler dry.

To carry a kayak over land (or the trail you carry it over) to get from one waterway to another or avoid a rapid.

Personal flotation device, or lifejacket. Wear it!

A system of bars mounted onto the roof of a car used to carry kayaks or other toys such as bikes, skis etc…

A section of river where the gradient increases causing the flow of the water to speed up creating more turbulence.

Reading water
The technique used to decipher and recognize the safest paths through turbulent whitewater.

Roll / Eskimo roll
The technique of righting a capsized kayak while still inside.

A steering device that drops down from the hull at the stern of the kayak. The paddler drops the rudder by pulling on small ropes/lines on the deck of the kayak. The rudder drops into the water and can then be maneuvered by the paddler’s foot pedals.

Sculling Draw
A stroke in the form of a figure eight that draws the kayak sideways through the water.

The long skinny part of a kayak paddle.

A short sleeve paddle jacket.

Side Draw
A stroke used to draw the kayak sideways in the water.

Sit-on-top (SOT)
A kayak without a cockpit, sit-on-tops are usually self-bailing with various seat and foot brace configurations. Many are for recreational use, but some are designed for touring and racing.

A steering device much like a rudder except the skeg is static and cannot be maneuvered with the feet. Used to help the kayak stay straight.

The rear end of a canoe or kayak.

Spray skirt
A neoprene or nylon skirt worn by a kayaker that attaches to the rim (coaming) of the cockpit to keep water out.

Refers to a tree or tree branches in the current that allow for the water to flow through but that trap a kayak. Works just like a spaghetti strainer. Paddlers should avoid strainers.

To fill (a boat) with water.

Sweep Stroke
The most basic turning stroke.

Thigh (knee) braces
Usually found in whitewater and touring kayaks. These structures inside the cockpit give the paddler important points of contact for boat control.

Tow leash
A long piece of webbing packed and secured in a small bag that can be attached to the padders’ waist or rescue harness. Used by kayak instructors to pull kayaks to shore in a rescue situation. Can also be used to tow paddlers who are too fatigued to continue paddling.

The bow-to-stern leveling of a canoe or kayak that affects boat control. In most cases it should be nearly level, with the stern slightly lower in the water.

The opposite direction in which the current is flowing.

Water sandals
Sandals that are made especially for watersports like kayaking and rafting.

Is a feature formed when the gradient increases, when the river constricts or when the current flows over rocks and other debris on the riverbed.

Wet exit
Coming out of a capsized kayak.

White water
White water is formed when flowing water mixes with air forming aerated water. On rivers white water is formed when water flows over obstacles such as rocks in the riverbed or when the gradient of a river increases, quickening the flow and creating turbulence.