This is a compilation of kayaking terms, yick-yak that you will hear seasoned paddlers talking about.

Until you actually know what they’re saying – smile, nod your head, return to this page and look it up!

You’ll be “Yak’n” with them in no time.

Back Stroke – A paddle technique to paddle backwards

Beam – the width of a deck on a boat (at it’s widest point).

Bilge Pump – Also known as a hand pump – to bail water from the inside of the kayak if it is swamped.

Bow – the front of a boat/kayak.

Bow draw – an intermediate paddle technique used to turn the bow efficiently.

Bow/Stern lines – Straps used to tie the bow and stern of a kayak to a vehicle.

Brace – When a paddler uses the paddle blade, held flat against the water surface to prevent overturn.

Bulkhead – A watertight cargo compartment located on the fore or aft deck. Some are designed to act as floatation.

Calm water – A still body of water, protected from wind and current with an accessible shoreline. Also referred to as “flat water”.

Cam lines – Webbing that fastens kayaks to roof racks.

Cockpit – Area of the kayak where the paddler sits. In a closed cockpit the paddler’s legs extend under the deck.

Day Hatch – A watertight hatch located behind and accessible to the paddler.

Deck – The top surface of a kayak (or boat).

Deck Bungees – Straps of bungee cord typically “cross crossed” to fasten cargo to fore and aft decks.

Drytop – A paddling jacket designed of fabric to keep a paddler dry.

Dry bag – A waterproof bag to store clothing, gear, food, etc.

Eskimo roll – A maneuver that advanced kayakers use to right themselves when overturned.

Feathered Paddle – Paddle blades set at angles for more efficient paddling.

Flat water – Water that is still, not moving, protected from wind and current with an accessible shoreline.

Floatation Bag – An inflatable bag that is put over one end of a paddle to assist reentry when a kayak is swamped.

Forward stroke – Basic paddle stroke to move forward.

Grab Loop – Also known as a toggle handle on the bow and stern to carry a kayak.

Hatch – A compartment for dry storage, accessible from deck.

Hatch cover – A removable cover to the hatch that seals water out.

Hull – Refers to the bottom surface of the boat to the point where it meets the deck.

J Cradles -A rack accessory, shaped like a “J” to aid fastening a kayak to a vehicle.

Kayak – (for those who don’t know) A self propelled boat made to move with a two-bladed paddle.

Keel – the center of the hull bottom, below the waterline.

Life Jacket or Life Vest – (see “PFD”)

Offset – Paddles arranged at different angles to provide more efficient paddling.

Open Cockpit – Without an enclosed deck – such as Sit-On-Tops.

Open Water – A large body of water, unprotected from weather elements or shoreline.

Paddle – (for those who don’t know) is a shaft with “blades” on each end used to move a self propelled boat such as a kayak.

Paddle Jacket – A jacket used to break the wind (does not shed water), also known as a “splash top”.

Paddle leash – A safety cord attached to both the paddle and the kayak to prevent the paddle from floating away.

PFD – Abbreviation for Personal Floatation Device. A vest of buoyant material designed to aid a swimmer, particularly if they are unconscious. Also known as “Life Jackets” or “Life Vests”.

Rack – A system that mounts onto a vehicle to carry kayaks or gear.

Roto-molded – A manufacturing process using polyethylene powder, placed in a mold, rotated and tilted, inserted in an oven to melt and coat the mold – producing a kayak. To watch the entire process, click on: Birth of a Kayak” – it’s really cool.

Rudder – A blade, either fixed or removable, located on the stern that when rotated, steers the kayak. Not to be confused with skeg with is a fixed “wing” to the hull bottom at or under the waterline to help the kayak track straighter.

Self-rescue – The ability to reenter your kayak from the water when overturned. Usually with the assistance of a paddle float (a good item to take along).

Shortie – A short sleeved paddle jacket.

Sit-On-Top – A type of kayak, usually roto-molded plastic with an open cockpit, that the paddler sits on top of.

Skeg – A fixed or retractable fin-like extension, located on the hull bottom that improves tracking (how straight the kayak will move).

Spray skirt – Skirt-like gear fastened onto the cockpit, with straps to wear over shoulders to seal and prevent water from entering the cockpit area.

Stability – The amount of “lean”. In the instance of entering/exiting and turning – a boat will lean. The stability refers to the engineered point at which the hull will lean before overturning.
Initial stability – the amount of lean when you enter/exit or turn a kayak
Secondary stability – how far the boat will lean before overturning

    • Typically, a wider beam and the shorter hull of a recreation kayak provides more initial stability but less secondary stability which is just fine because it will aid with turning.


  • A narrow beam and longer hull, like a sea kayak, will provide less initial stability but better secondary stability which is more suitable for long distance paddlers who are less concerned with turning quickly.

Stackers – A rack accessory to assist carrying multiple kayaks on a vehicle.

Stern – Rear of a kayak or boat.

Swamped – When a kayak is partly or entirely filled with water.

Sweep stroke – A basic paddle stroke used to turn a kayak.

Tandem – A kayak designed for two paddlers, longer with two cockpits.

Tow leash – A length of line packed in a small bag (can be worn around the waist) used to throw in rescue situations.

Tracking – How straight a kayak moves. Generally, a longer hull will travel straighter, but turns with more difficulty.

Waterline – The line at which the water meets the hull.

Weathercock – How easy or difficult the boat turns into the wind making paddling harder. A rudder or skeg will help control the difficulty.

Wet exit – When a paddler exits from an overturned kayak.

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