Kayak Terminology – Glossary For Beginners

Aye aye, matey! In this post, I’m going to go over a few of the perhaps unfamiliar terms that I use without thinking which may not make sense to a beginner. I don’t want to make this an exhaustive list, like some sort of nautical dictionary – I’ll link to a more comprehensive resource at the end of the page. Visit the KayaKudos.com homepage for more kayak information!

Instead, I’m just going to define some of the more common kayak-specific terms. You don’t really need to know which way is port and which was is starboard, what colour lights to use, aft and list and pitch and yaw and so on – not as a beginner kayaker anyway.

Kayak-Specific Terms


The band behind the seat of the kayak which provides support for the paddler’s lower back. It can be tightened or relaxed as necessary to keep your back in a more upright or more relaxed position.


The act of emptying water from the kayak, it can be done using a simple method such as a cup or a sponge or using a pump.


The width of the craft, in this case, a kayak, at the widest point.


The lowest point inside the kayak’s hull – where the water is going to collect, if anywhere!

Bilge pump

A pump used for emptying water from the inside of the kayak, see bail. This would usually be a hand or a foot-powered pump.


The front end of the kayak.


A dividing wall or a barrier which separates compartments, in this case in a boat. Often made of foam, it serves the purpose of creating a watertight seal between the cockpit and the section behind the seat – either as a storage compartment, under a hatch, or to add buoyancy.


The chine is where the bottom of the boat and the side of the boat meet – a soft shine denotes a more gradual curve between the bottom and the side, while a hard chine means a more defined corner. A 90-degree angle would be as hard as a chine can get, I suppose…


The opening in the deck of the kayak in which you, the paddler, sit.


A pedal-like structure which you can use to brace your feet against, to help when you are paddling and manoeuvring.


A hatch covers a compartment on a kayak which is used for storage, to keep water out and keep the contents of the compartment as dry as possible.


The bottom surface of the kayak. A difference between a canoe and a kayak is that a canoe only has a hull, while a kayak as a deck too.


The length of the kayak from bow to stern (front to back).


A device used to aid stability, usually a beam or spar which projects over the side of the boat and rests in the water. This can be emulated using a paddle float and a paddle.


Personal floatation device, a piece of safety equipment that ought to be worn at all times on the water.


To carry a boat across land.

Primary stability

The stability or resistance to tipping of the kayak as it sits flat on the water


The curve of a kayak’s hull seen from the side, from bow to stern. A higher degree of rocker will look like the curve of a banana, while no rocker will look flat along the hull from bow to stern.


A paddle stroke intended to support the paddler in a more upright position  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDyug_cURao)

Secondary stability

The resistance of a kayak to tipping when it is on its side.

Sit-in kayak

A kayak with a closed cockpit and a deck, which you sit inside of.


A projection from the keel (rear underside) of the kayak, designed to help keep the kayak tracking in a straight line. It’s like a rudder, but it cannot be manoeuvred.

Spray skirt

A rubber or neoprene skirt which fits snugly around the paddler’s waist and fits to the coaming around the cockpit of a sit-in kayak. This prevents water from entering the cockpit of the kayak.

SOTK – sit-on-top kayak

A kayak which is designed without a covered cockpit, which you sit on top of.


The rear end of a kayak, see bow.

Thigh brace

Little plastic protrusions inside the cockpit which are used to brace the thighs against, give you a greater degree of control when paddling. Often seen in whitewater kayaks and sea kayaks.


The ability of a kayak to travel in a straight line without being aided or compensated for by the paddler. A touring kayak will track straighter than a whitewater kayak because of its design. See skeg.


The internal space of a kayak. High volume kayaks have more buoyancy, while low volume kayaks cut through the water better and are agiler.

Wet exit

The act of exiting the kayak in the water, especially when capsized.


I think the above will be enough to be getting on with though.

Shiver me timbers!