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Kayaking 101


Key Terms

While it is not necessary to understand all the technical aspects of kayaking to get started, you'll quickly realize that there are endless opportunities to get even more out of your experience. Understanding these key concepts will help you before and after you get involved in paddlesports. 

Basic Terminology 

The Broad Part at the end of a paddle. 

The forward end of a canoe or kayak. 

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. 

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. In the U.S., PFDs must be approved by the Coast Guard. Wear it! 

The long skinny part of a kayak paddle. 

The rear end of a canoe or kayak. 

To fill (a boat) with water. 

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. 

Kayaking Terms 

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. 

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. 

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

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

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

The technique of righting a capsized kayak while still inside. 

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. 

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

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. 

Wet exit 
Coming out of a capsized kayak. 

Information on this page is provided through our partnership with American Canoe Association (ACA) by staff writer Becky Molina. 

For comprehensive guides on paddling, please visit our the ACA Website