Kayaking Terminology

(Last update May, 2017)

There is not a large vocabulary required for kayaking, but a few words will prevent you from appearing a complete landlubber.



Kayak from side

Deck – the top part of the kayak.

Hull – the bottom of the kayak.

Bow – The front of the boat.  You face it when you sit in the seat.

Forward – Anything in front of you, towards the bow. “The bow hatch is forward of the seat.”

Stern – The back of the boat.  It’s behind you when you sit in the seat.

Aft – Anything in back of you, towards the stern. “The stern hatch is aft of the seat.”

Carry Toggle or Handle – Most kayaks have handles at the bow and stern for carrying the boat.  They are usually attached to the boat via a bungee so they retract and don’t dangle in the water.  On some SOTs (Sit-On-Top kayaks) the handles are molded into the boat.

Hatch – An opening in the hull that allows you to access the bow and stern compartments. Most kayaks have at least one. The hatches are covered by a – wait for it – hatch cover!  Hatch covers should be water-tight not only to seal out water but to seal in air for buoyancy.

Day Hatch – a small hatch on some kayaks that’s usually either immediately in front of or behind the cockpit within easy reach.  Useful for small items you want to get to during the day like safety items, car keys, and sunscreen.  (Note that day hatches are usually not water-tight.)

Bulkhead – An interior divider that separates the bow and stern compartment from the cockpit. Solo kayaks may have 2 bulkheads, 1 bulkhead or no bulkheads.

Cockpit – the open area in the middle of the boat where you sit.

Coaming – the rounded, rolled over edge of the cockpit.

Seat & Back – If you need a definition for these maybe you should try football.  The seat can be stationary, mounted on a slider, or molded into the deck or hull.  It can be a molded part of the cockpit/coaming or a separate piece that hangs from side pillars.  The back may be attached to the seat or separate. (It’s called a “back band” when separate.)  Also note, the back in a sit-inside kayaks is not a recliner or beach chair – it is a lumbar support and should be positioned around the top of your hips and the small of your back to help you sit upright.

Deck Rigging – the stretchy and non-stretchy lines on the deck of your kayak.

Bungees – Stretchy lines that criss-cross your deck.  You can store stuff under them and/or attach items to them.  Never count on anything staying put under the bungees if you go over.  If you don’t want to lose something, attach it to your deck rigging using a carabiner or clip.

Perimeter Line – Also sometimes called deck lines.  This is a non-stretchy (static) line used to grab the boat from the water.  They should be loose enough that you can easily slide four fingers under them to grab but not so loose that your gear gets tangled in them.  Some people add plastic or wooden beads to their deck lines so they stand off the deck a fraction of an inch and are easier to grab, especially with gloved hands.  Perimeter lines usually are reflective as a safety feature.

Thigh braces or pads – an extension of the coaming into the cockpit or a shaped piece of foam. You slightly lift your knees and/or thighs up against them to brace yourself in the cockpit for better control.  SOTs have optional thigh straps that can be added to accomplish the same thing.

Scupper – in SOTs scuppers are holes that go all the way through the hull allowing water to drain from the cockpit and bow and/or stern wells back into the water.  These holes can be closed with scupper plugs.  Normally you’ll want to leave the scuppers open to take advantage of this self-bailing function, but if the water gets choppy or you are carrying a heavy load, you may find water being forced up into your cockpit and/or wells.  So make sure you have a few scupper plugs of the correct size with you to stop up the holes if you need to.

Sit-inside Kayak (or SINK or Sit-in) – a kayak where you sit inside a cockpit formed by the hull and the deck.  The cockpit may be just a bit larger than your hips or it may extend almost to your ankles.  There are solo (1-person), tandem (2 people) and even triple (3 people) versions available.  Sit-insides tend to be narrower that SOTs, running from 20 inches wide for a racing boat to around 30 inches wide for some recreational models.  (See Choosing a Kayak for more info on the different types of kayaks.)

Sit-on-Top Kayak (or SOT) – a kayak where you sit on top of the deck.  Most have a depression (or several) in the deck that is molded into various features such as a seat, foot rests, and storage wells. There are solo (1-person) and tandem (2 people) versions available.  Sit-On-Tops tend to be wider that Sit-insides, running from around 28 inches up to around 38 inches in width.   (See Choosing a Kayak for more info on the different types of kayaks.)



Parts of a paddle

Blade – the part of the paddle that goes into the water.  They can be wide, moderate or narrow in width.  They can be relatively flat, scooped, or dihedral (diamond shaped in cross section).

Throat – where the shaft joins the blade.

Shaft – the long, narrow portion of the paddle connecting the blades. Round or oval in cross-section.  May be aluminum, fiberglass, fiberglass/carbon blend, or carbon fiber.

Drip Ring – a plastic collar on the shaft near the blades than helps prevent water from dripping from the blade down the shaft and into your lap.

Ferrule – the connector that joins the separate pieces of the shaft.  May be a simple peg-through-hole connector or a complicated, offset-adjustable connector.

Blade Bottom & Top/Face and Back – When you hold the paddle in front of you in a paddle rest position, the top of the blades will be longer than the bottom of the blades on almost all touring paddles. You will be looking at the face of the blade and the back of the blade will be away from you.  One helpful hint – the manufacturer’s logo is usually printed on the blade so that in a paddle rest position the logo will be on the side facing you and right side up.

River Right and River Left – Directions for boaters always assume that you are heading downstream or from the source to (eventually) the sea.  If you are facing forward in your kayak, heading downstream, River Right is on your right side and River Left is on your left.

2 thoughts on “Kayaking Terminology

  1. Sandy Marshall

    Pls add name of sit in and sit on kayaks. I’ve just ‘named’ them but thought there must be a technical name.

    1. Cricket Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I describe them at length on the “Choosing a Kayak” page, but I have added brief definitions to the “Kayak Terminology” page as you suggest.


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