Popular Standard Technical Kayaking Terms – Terminology & Definitions

We must have a look at the standard technical kayaking terms ahead of buying a first kayak. Seeing that would clear a lot of things in our minds, so let’s sneak a quick look.

Important Kayaking Terminologies For Whitewater

kayaking terms

Take the time to become familiar with this list of kayaking terms so you can speak the common language with your fellow kayakers. The basic terminology remains same for the fishing kayaks too.

Back Stroke

The method used to move backward by pushing the pedals through the water.

Baja Sleigh Ride

When a big fish gets hooked and causes the kayak to move in circles.


The direction in which you want to travel.

Bent Shaft Paddle

bent shaft paddle

An ergonomically designed bent paddle that allows the kayaker’s wrists to sustain a neutral posture.


The wider part at one side of the paddle which pulls through the water to move the yak forward.


A technique to keep the bow of the yak above the water in whitewater conditions.


The front end of the boat.


A stroke used to hold back your vessel from capsizing.


A composite, plastic or pvc made cross sectional wall present inside the kayak. They provide structural support and water tight compartments for storage and buoyancy.


When a panic struck paddler fails to roll but manages to keep his head above the water for a quick deep breath.


CFS stands for cubic feet per second. It is a standard water flow measurement of river in US.


Chine is best defined as the manner in which the base of the kayak meets the sides. It determines the overall shape of the kayak – whether it’s round, pointed or boxy.

A hard chine is a more angular meeting while a rounded one is referred to as soft chine.

Class I Rapid

The fluent and easiest type of whitewater with least danger to go with your kayak.

Class II Rapid

The turbulent and wavy whitewater water than Class I rapid, but still easy to handle with no consequence.

Class III Rapid

A rapid with faster flowing water and a few whitewater to maneuver around and may have some consequences.

Class IV Rapid

A rapid that that requires special skill and experience to maneuver around with the possibility of injury.


The area of the kayak where paddler is seated.


The top side of the kayak.


The direction of water in a river.


dry top

A jacket that a paddler wears to keep his upper body dry.


Edging is defined as the sloping position of the kayak when one side of the kayak is not contacting the water. Tilting a kayak creates more water friction on one side and helps it turn faster.


The technique used to cross the river from end to the other with the river flowing in downstream.

Footpegs (Foot Braces)

kayaking terms

Adjustable foot rests present in the kayaks cockpit which provide the support and comfort to the paddlers.

Forward Stroke

The basic storke to move the yak in forward direction.

Grab Loops Or Grab Handles

Handles or ropes present on the ends (bow and stern) of the yak which provide an easy grip in portgaging.


A storage compartment (usually waterproof) present in the body of kayak and accessible from cockpit. They are used to secure items and keep them dry in rough water conditions.


The direction in which the bow is pointing towards.


The bottom piece of kayak.


kayaking terms

A J shaped accessory used to tie down your kayak securely on the roof rack of car.


Bow to stern ridges (strip lines) that run across the bottom centerline of kayak.

Open Water

A large stretch of water (ocean and sea) which is quite distant from shore.

Also check our blog on Best Open Water Kayaks.


A shaft used to propel in water. Kayaks have paddles with blades on both ends while boats and canoes have paddles with blade at one end.



PFD stands for “Personal Floatation Device” also known as life jacket. It is one of most important personal safety feature. Always try wo wear a Coast-Guard approved pfd.

Primary and Secondary Stability

The primary stability of the kayak is the initial steadiness of the kayak on flat water. The secondary stability is the measure of stability when the kayak is edging


The act of carrying a kayak overland to get from one waterway to another instead of riding it to avoid the rapid and obstuctions.


A segment of river where the slope increases causing the flow of the water to increase creating more turbulence.

Reading Water

The technique used to find the safest route through turbulent whitewater.


Shallow parts of rapids in Class I rivers.

River Right/River Left

The banks of the river are referred as River Right and River Left while going downstream.

Roll (or Eskimo Roll)

The act of restoring the upright position of kayak without exiting cockpit in case of capsizing.


Rocker means how much the front and back (bow and stern) of the kayak rises. The higher the rocker, the more maneuverable, but slower, the kayak is. 

While on the other hand, the waterline is the opposite of rocker. Waterline indicates how much of a kayak’s hull is submerged in the water. The better the waterline, faster the kayak will be and will result in efficient tracking.


kayak rudder

A flat piece present vertically at the stern of the kayak to steer it in water. It is operated by foot pedals or by pulling rope lines on the deck.

Sculling Draw

A paddle stroke used to move kayak sideways.


The long skinny part of the paddle that runs thoroughly from grip to the blade.


A PFD (life jacket) with short sleeves.


The skeg is a fix designed rudder and helps kayak to track straight in all conditions.

Spray Skirt

A waterproof neoprene or nylon skirt worn around the waist of the kayakers to keep the cockpit dry in rough water conditions. The skirts are attached to the rims of the cockpit.


A kayak carrier that allows you to carry several kayaks on the roof of your car .


The rear end of a kayak.


The tree or branches that can trap a kayak but allows the water currents to pass through.


When a boat gets filled with water.

Sweep Stroke

A basic paddle stroke to turn your yak. It is accomplished by sweeping the paddle from bow to the stern.


Tracking is the extent of how effectively a kayak stays in a straight line when paddled.

Tandem Kayak

A kayak that is designed for two people.

Tow Leash

A long length rope or leash attached to the waist of kayaker used to pull him to the shore.


A three consecutive 180 degree horizontal angle rotations done by professionals and free style kayakers using only a single paddle.


The opposite direction of a river’s water flow.

Water Sandals

Waterproof footwear designed specifically for kayaking.

Wet Exit 

The act of swimming out of a capsized kayak instead of jumping out.


When air gets trapped in water and generates turbulence, whitewater is formed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

What do you call a person who kayaks?

A person who kayaks is called a paddler (One who paddles)—a person who propels a canoe or kayak by the action of paddling.

What is a rocker on a kayak?

Rocker means how much the front and back (bow and stern) of the kayak rises. The higher the rocker, the more maneuverable, but slower, the kayak is. 

Is kayaking considered boating?

A kayak is a slim and small kind of boat that is and is used by a limited number of people, mostly a single person at a time. In some other words, it can also be mentioned as a canoe. It is considered a piece of sports equipment by many, as this particular boat’s major use is generally in sports and aquatic races.

What is the end of a paddle called?

A paddle consists of a shaft with a wider part at one side of the paddle, which pulls through the water to move the yak forward. The blade may be present on both sides of the paddle. The area where the blade and shaft are joined is called the shaft.

Is a flat bottom kayak more stable?

A flat bottom kayak comprises a large flat surface that rests on the water, making it very stable. A flat-bottomed kayak offers exceptional primary stability; therefore, it is harder to capsize.

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