Kayak Terminology


Kayak Terminology


ABEAM — To the right, or at right angles to the center of a water craft.

ABOARD. — On, or in, a water craft.

A.C.A. — American Canoe Association.

ACCESS POINT — The spot on the banks of a river or lake where you put in or take out.

ACTIVE BLADE — When using a double, or kayak, blade, that blade which is in the water at any given moment.

AFLOAT — The act of floating on the water. Not aground on a rock or sandbar.

AFT — Toward the rear, or stern, of a water craft.

AGROUND — A point in which a kayak or other water craft is stuck upon a sandbar or shoal, especially when not intended to be.

ASTERN — Toward the rear of a kayak or other water craft.

AZIMUTH — The angle of horizontal deviation from the north. When using a compass, the direction is read in degrees. South, for example, would be an azimuth of 180 degrees.

BACKPADDLE — Paddling backward as a means of slowing or reversing the forward motion of a kayak.

BAIL — To empty water from a kayak by scooping it out with a pail or pumping it out with a bilge pump.

BEAM — the width of a kayak or other water craft when measured at its widest point.

BEAR OFF — To push off from shore or an obstruction.

BELOW — Downstream or down river.

BENT SHAFT PADDLE — A paddle in which the blade is set at anangle to the shaft. Provides greater efficiency when paddling in calm or flat water.

BILGE — the low point on the inside of a kayak’s hull.

BILGE PUMP — a hand or foot pump used to remove water that collects in the bilge.

BLADDER — An inflatable air bag placed inside a kayak to provide greater buoyancy in the event of a capsize.

BLADE — The wide, flat end of a paddle.

BOW — The front or forward end of the kayak.

BOW-IN — Kayak oriented with the bow forward.

BRACING — A stroke used to provide support and prevent the kayak from capsizing. See “high brace” and “low brace.”

BROACHING — A point when the kayak is oriented broadside to waves, currents, or an obstacle. The result of an uncontrolled broach is often a capsize.

BULKHEAD — A partition beneath the forward and aft decks of a kayak in which gear or bladders are stowed.

CAPSIZE — The act of flipping or rolling a kayak into an inverted position. Can be righted by a combat roll, or by the paddler’s egress from the boat.

CHANNEL — A section of passable water through reefs, shoals, and other obstructions.

CHART — A navigational map.

CHUTE — A section of river that flows between two large obstructions, compressing the water and causing a swift current.

COCKPIT — the opening in the kayak deck in which the paddler sits.

COAMING — Piece around the rim of a kayak cockpit to which a spray skirt is attached.

DEAD RECKONING — A navigational term. A way of determining your position by taking into account such factors as currents, wind speed, and your projected course and speed.

DECK — The cover or top of a kayak.

DRAFT — The distance between the waterline on a kayak and the bottom of the boat’s keel.

DRAG — Any resistance to a kayak or other boat’s forward motion. Special waxes can be used to decrease the drag on a kayak’s hull.

DRY SUIT — A loose fitting, insualted and rubberized garment worn over clothing and designed to keep water out completely. Designed to keep the wearer warm even in sub-zero temperatures.

DUFFEK TURN — A compound stroke normally used for entering an eddy. Also see High Brace.

EDDY — A current–usually behind a large rock or other obstruction in a stream or river–which is at variance with the main current. Water flow in eddies either stops or reverses and runs upstream from the main current. Eddies can be used as rest stops or to maneuver upstream or downstream in a technique known as “eddy hopping.”

EDDY LINE — The boundary in a river between the primary downstream current and a secondary upstream current.

ENDER — A playboating maneuver where the kayaker allows the bow of his boat to be sucked into a hole, standing the kayak up on end, until the buoyancy of the boat sends it shooting back up in the air.

FACE — The side of a paddle blade that is pushing against the water.

FALLS — A sudden drop over an edge where water falls free into a pool below. Falls should be attempted by advanced kayakers only.

FEATHER — The To turn the paddle so that the blade is parallel to the current or wind and the resistance is reduced.

FERRY — To move a kayak or other water craft laterally across a current.

FIBERGLASS — A lightweight composite material used in the construction of kayak hulls. Fiberglass is lightweight, has good strength, and is relatively easy to repair.

FLATWATER — Calm river, lake, or ocean water without rapids or high waves.

FLOTATION — Foam or air bladders placed in the hull of a kayak forward and aft to increase buoyancy and keep the boat from sinking in the event of a capsize.

FOLDBOAT — Ingeniously designed kayaks made of a rubberized fabric or canvas with a collapsible wooden or alumnium frame; can be packed into a small bundle or pack for easy transportation.

FOOT BRACE — a peddle-like foot rest, normally found in sea kayaks, that provides greater maneuvering control through a skeg or rudder.

FORWARD FERRY — A maneuver whereby the kayak angles downstream to the current and crosses laterally to the opposite side of the river.

GIRTH — The circumference of a kayak or other boat’s hull at its widest point.

GRADIENT — A measurement of the degree of inclination of a river, as in the number of feet the river drops per kilometer or mile.

HATCH — Covering on the deck of a sea kayak beneath which food and other gear can be stored in various compartments.

HEAVY WATER — High velocity, turbulent water, usually through rapids and other constricted waterways.

HELMET — Hard plastic or Kevlar shell that covers and protects the paddler’s head. Optional in sea kayaking, mandatory in river and whitewater kayaking.

HIGH BRACE — A strong, supportive bracing stroke normally used when entering or leaving an eddy and a kayaker’s best defense against an inadverdant capsize. Also referred to as a “Duffek stroke.”

LOW BRACE — A supportive stroke where the arms are low and close to the body, and the back face of the paddle is braced against the water.

HOLE — A dangerous and turbulent river feature, usually formed behind large rocks or other obstructions. Normally to be avoided, a hole can suck a kayak beneath the water and hold it there. Playboaters, on the other hand, often seek out holes where they can pop “enders”.  See Enders.

HULL — The main body or shell of a kayak. Hulls can be made of fiberglass, plastic, Kevlar, Airalite, wood, or inflatable rubber.

HUNG UP — When a kayak or other water craft is caught and trapped on a rock or other obstruction.

HYDRAULIC — On a river, an area where water backflows at the base of a ledge or rock or otherwise reverses itself.

HYPOTHERMIA — A condition where the body’s core temperature drops to a dangerous level, normally in wet and cold conditions. The victim can become drowsy or disoriented. If not treated quickly, hypothermia can lead to death due to exposure.

INTERNATIONAL SCALE OF RIVER DIFFICULTY — Guidelines for rating the violence of a river’s rapids. Categories range from Class I, marred by light ripples, to Class VI, violent whitewater that should only be attempted by advanced paddlers.

K-1 — A one-man or solo kayak.

K-2 —  A two-man or tandem kayak.

KAYAK — A decked craft similar to a canoe and propelled by a double or single-bladed paddle.

KEVLAR — A synthetic material used in kayak construction (and bulletproof vests). The advantages of kevlar include light weight and strength up to five times that of steel.

LASH — To secure gear to the deck of a kayak, usually with a rope or bungee cord.

LAUNCH — The act of propelling the kayak or other boat from the shore and into the water.

LEEWARD — Moving away from the wind. Downwind.

LIFE JACKET — A flotation device worn by a paddler and used to provide buoyancy in the water. Also known as a life vest or PFD.

OUTFITTER — Commercial companies that supply all the equipment necessary for kayaking and wilderness travel.

OUTSIDE BANK — The outside of a bend in a stream or river.

PADDLE — A shaft with two flat blades used to propel a kayak through the water. Paddles can be made of wood, alumnium, or plastic.

PEELING OUT — Technique of leaving an eddy whereby the paddler points his kayak upstream, plants a high brace, and lets the main current swing him around and into the flow of the river.

PFD — Personal Flotation Device. See Life Jacket.

PILLOW ROCK — A deceptive river feature where water flows gently over an underwater obstruction.

PITCH — A steeper section of a river rapid. A sudden drop.

PIVOT — A sharp turn around a point in the water.

PLAYBOATING — The act of performing stunts and other maneuvers in whitewater kayaks. Normally for advanced paddlers only.

POOL — A stretch of calm water on a stream or river.

POWER FACE — The face of a paddle blade that pushes against the water.

PRY STROKE. A paddle stroke used to move the craft sideways, away from the paddle.

PURCHASE. The application of power on a paddle to get leverage.

PUT-IN. Where a canoe is placed in the water; a launching site; the start of a trip.

QUARTERING. Running at an angle to the wind or waves; a technique for riding over waves at a slight angle to avoid burying the bow in a standing wave.

RAPIDS — A fast, turbulent stretch of whitewater normally accompanied by rocks and a steep gradient.

READING THE WATER — A technique of judging water conditions and determining the best route through rapids on a river.

REVERSAL — A water feature similar to an eddy where the current reverses back on itself. Reversals are usually caused by rocks or other obstructions on the surface or beneath the water.

RIFFLES — Light, shallow rapids found in Class I whitewater.

SCOUTING — The act of inspecting an unknown section of a river before attempting it. Always a good way to stay out of trouble.

SCULLING — A supporting stroke that keeps the paddle in the water at all times in a repeated arching motion. Used to support the paddler after a capsize or when encountering a difficult stretch of water.

SHAFT — On a kayak paddle, the handle area between the grip and the blades.

SHOAL — A particularly shallow area in a body of water, usually formed by a sand bar or other underwater obstruction.

SLALOM — A form of river racing in which kayaks are maneuvered through a series of gates.

SMOKER — A stretch of aggressive or violent whitewater.

SPRAY SKIRT — A fabric skirt that surrounds the paddler’s waist and keeps water from entering the boat through the cockpit.

SQUALL — A quick moving storm over the water, usually accompanied by gusts of wind and rain.

STANDING WAVE — A whitewater feature where a wave remains stationary in one place. Used for surfing and other playboating maneuvers.

STARBOARD — The right side of the kayak when facing the bow.

STERN — The rear of the kayak or other water craft.

STRAINER. Brush or trees which have fallen into a river, usually on the outside of a bend. Current may sweep through, but the obstruction will stop a craft. Can be deadly.

STROKES — A variety of paddling movements used to control the speed and direction of a kayak.

STROBE LIGHT — A flashing light fitted to a sea kayak as a warning signal to other boats in the area.

SURFING — The act of “riding” a wave front, either on the ocean or in whitewater rapids.

SWAMP — When a kayak is capsized or inadvertently filled with water.

TANDUM KAYAK — A kayak build to accomidate two paddlers. Normally a sea kayak. Also known as a “K-2” kayak.

TECHNICAL PASSAGE — A stretch of difficult rapids that requires careful maneuvering for safe transit.

THROAT — The area on a paddle shaft that fans out into the wider blade.

TROUGH — The depression between two waves.

UNDERWAY — The trip, alas, has begun.

VHF RADIO — Very High Frequency radio. Use on sea kayaks to get current weather conditions and other information. Can also be used to send out distress calls in an emergency.

WATERLINE — The line of water along the hull of a kayak or other water craft when it is afloat.

WAVE CREST — The summit of a wave, opposite of the trough.

WET EXIT — Bailing out of a capsized kayak when rolling is not an option.

WET SUIT — A neoprene bodysuit worn close to the body and used to keep out the chill of cold water. A good wet suit can protect a paddler against hypothermia in cold weather situations.

WHITEWATER — Also known as rapids and wildwater. A stretch of turbulent, fast moving water that flows through rocks, over falls, and around other obstructions.

WINDWARD — The direction from which the wind blows. The opposite of leeward.



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About Julian Thompson

cb787c59d2808e1f609076e790ca977e?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: Certified Kayaking Instructor (AKA)
Education: American Kayak Association
Lives In: Denver Colorado

I am a kayaking expert/instructor who has been fishing for over 15 years. Fishing is my passion, but kayaking keeps me on the water. I love to share my knowledge of techniques and tips with others. I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids and own a small kayak rental business On Grand Lake where I rent and instruct.