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Paddling Jargon 101: Kayak Parts

Posted by on January 11, 2012

It is not uncommon for paddling newcomers to walk upon a conversation between two die-hard kayakers and have difficulty understanding the content of the discussion. Even some of the basic terminologies used to describe kayak designs, wave types, paddle strokes, or boat materials can be daunting to a beginner. This series is designed to give a basic overview of the most frequently used terms when referring to the parts of a kayak.

Basic Anatomy

Bow: the front of the boat.

Cockpit: The circular opening on the top of the boat where the paddler enters and exits. There are several specific cockpit shapes: recreational, standard, keyhole, and ocean.

Deck: the top of the kayak which sits above water.

Hatch: the storage compartment found on the top deck of the kayak. Most sea kayaks are designed with two to three hatches which provide paddlers with dry storage while on the water.

Hull: the bottom of the kayak which sits in the water.

Shear line (seam): the meeting point between the top of the kayak (deck) and the bottom (hull). The shear line is most prevalent in composite kayaks.

Stern: the back of the boat.

Toggle: the carrying handles found on both the bow and stern


Rudder: a fixed tracking aid on the stern of the kayak designed to give purchase to the kayak. The rudder is manually deployed and operated by the paddler (typically by foot controls located within the boat). Often misused as a steering device, the rudder is designed primarily for tracking.

Skeg: a downward extension on the hull of the kayak designed as a tracking aid in windy or rough conditions. Skegs can be fixed (permanently built into the hull) or designed as a drop skeg (movable, and manually deployed by the paddler).

Construction/Materials (Also see: Material Selection

Composite: a lightweight set of materials used in kayak construction. Materials grouped within this category include fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar (aramid fiber), and various combinations such as carbon/Kevlar. Ratio: high price, lightest weight.

Gel coat: the exterior coating or paint typically found on the outside of composite kayaks

Polyethylene plastic: also known as roto-molded plastic, this highly durable and relatively heavy material is most commonly seen in recreational kayaks. Ratio: lower price, heaviest weight.

Thermal-formed plastic: a rigid heat-formed plastic laminate. This material is lightweight, durable, UV resistant, and has similar characteristics to composite materials. You may find thermal-formed plastics branded under the names Trylon or Carbonlight 2000TM. Ratio: moderate price, light to moderate weight.

Interior Anatomy

Bulkhead: a solid partition built within the kayak to separate the cockpit from the rest of the boat. Functions as a safety feature to add buoyancy in the instance of capsize.

Foot-braces: foot rests located inside the kayak. Functions as a point of contact between the kayak and the paddler’s feet.

Thigh-braces: typically located on the inside of the cockpit rim. Functions as a point of contact between the kayak and the paddler’s legs.


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