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Kayaking Terminology

Blade

The Broad Part at the end of a paddle.

Bow

The forward end of a canoe or kayak.

Hull

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.

Portage

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

PFD

Personal flotation device, or lifejacket. In the U.S., PFDs must be approved by the Coast Guard. Wear it!

Shaft

The long skinny part of a kayak paddle.

Stern

The rear end of a canoe or kayak.

Swamp

To fill (a boat) with water.

Trim

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.

Bulkhead

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.

Cockpit

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

Deck

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

Footpegs/bulkhead

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

Roll

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 the ACA website.