What are the Basic Parts of a Kayak? Beginners Guide

Last Updated on May 18, 2021 by KayakPro

These are the basic parts of a kayak and the terminology used in kayaking.

Kayaks are pretty simple in design. You will see these terms if you further read about kayaking and hear them when chatting with other kayakers.

Now, if you really want to impress someone . . . get to know these terms!

Bow – Front end of the kayak (fore)(of the cockpit)

Stern – Back end of the kayak (aft) (of the cockpit)

Port – Left side of the kayak – facing forward

Starboard – Right side of the kayak – facing forward

Are you looking for a great hobby this summer? Have you considered kayaking? If you have, but you don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place.

Enthusiastic kayakers love getting to know their boats better. Whether you’re new to it or go kayaking every summer, learning about the anatomy of your kayak will be a great idea.

Kayaks are either sit-in type or sit-on type. But whichever yours might be, the basic kayak parts will be more or less the same. Before you go on to try an eskimo roll, let’s have a look at the basic parts of a kayak and understand the significant differences between the two types.

Basic Parts of a Kayak

Bow and Stern

The bow and stern are essential to identify before getting your kayak in the water.

The bow is at the front of the kayak, while the stern is on the opposite end of the bow.

At the end of the stern, there is a rudder attached. This fin-like blade is submerged in the water and helps steer the boat. A cleat can typically control a rudder.


Before digging into your kayak, knowing the body of your kayak is essential; this typically has two parts, the deck and the hull.

When you look at a kayak from the top, you’ll be able to see the deck.

For sit-on types, all the parts facing the sky are the deck.

For sit-in types, the paddler’s seat and the top flat part of the boat is the deck.


The hull is the second main part of your kayak’s body other than the deck. This is the bottom side of your kayak.

The hull of a kayak is of two different types depending on how you’re going to use yours.

Planing Hull

If you want to go out whitewater kayaking to play in the rapids, you’ll need a planing hull.

This type won’t give you much speed, but its flat bottom and angled sides are ideal for maneuverability and control.

Displacement Hull

A displacement hull is usually found on an old-fashioned long kayak. This form of kayak hull is excellent for increased speed and move through rough waters.

Hulls have a skeg inside them. The skeg will help steer the boat and maintain the intended direction.


Keel is an essential feature of kayak anatomy. Its purpose is to prevent your kayak from turning sideways and helps you to pierce straight ahead through water.


If you’re out kayaking and have some gear with you, your kayak will have a hatch on the deck.

This is on the top area of your kayak and is typically covered to keep your things safe.

The hatch covers, however, are prone to sun and heat damage. It is recommended that you use a protectant spray to minimize this damage.


Cockpits are a part of the sit-in kayak. This is where the paddler sits.

Recreational kayaks have larger cockpits, while whitewater kayaks and sea kayaks have smaller cockpits.

Cockpit Coaming/Cockpit Rim

The coaming is the water-tight rim attached to the cockpit.

These are round in shape and can be either fixed or detachable fiberglass. Plastic boats rarely have a detachable cockpit coaming.

The rim of the cockpit will keep most of the water outside of your boat.

Spray Skirt

A spray skirt is added water protection for you. It is entirely optional to use one if you want.


You might know it as a toggle. Have you ever pulled a kayak out of the water?

They are heavy!

Therefore kayaks come with two toggles. Kayakers consider these grab handles as a blessing.

Usually, toggles can be made of thick ropes or other such sturdy materials.

Scupper Holes

Most boats have a drainage system. Kayaks need to have scupper plugs to prevent them from capsizing.

Plus, if you have a sit-on type kayak sitting in a puddle of water cannot be comfortable.

Your kayak’s scupper hole will drain the water out of your boat.

Deck Lines

Deck lines are the multipurpose ropes and cords on top of your kayak’s deck. The perimeter deck lines run along each side of your boat. This makes the kayak easy to grab while lifting or during capsizing.

The gear stowage line/shock cord is also standard on top of the deck. This is arranged parallelly, or you could observe an x-shaped pattern. Use these to secure any equipment that isn’t susceptible to water damage.

The third form of deck lines is the rudder lines. For boats that can be maneuvered from the cockpit, the rudder line runs parallel to the perimeter line.

Other Parts of a Kayak

While we’ve had a look at the parts of the boat you can see while you sit on top kayaks, there is a lot more to the anatomy of your boat.

Here some of the terminologies you should be familiar with before you decide to hit the water.


The seat of the kayak is both an essential and a customizable part of your boat. A kayaker could opt for rigid, soft, or many of the other options available.

Even though there are some built-in seats, most kayaks will offer you a customizable seat.


Bulkheads of your boat will provide a waterproof cargo area if you need one. Other than that, these add stability to your kayak along the course.

Foot Pegs

Foot pegs and knee pads are another type of accessories to add comfort for the kayaker.

Foot Braces/Thigh Braces

Foot braces and thigh braces will allow for better control of the boat. They are helpful in rough waters, for example, in sea kayaks or fishing kayaks.

Thigh Hooks

Thigh hooks are present in kayaks to allow kayakers to rest their thighs against the sides of the kayak.

Other Kayaks

Here are some different models of kayaks you will usually find:

  1. Creek kayaks
  2. Downriver kayaks
  3. Play kayaks
  4. Fishing kayaks
  5. Sea kayaks
  6. Whitewater kayaks
  7. Recreational kayaks
  8. Sea kayaks

Kayaking Terminology


Port or the aft side is the left side of your kayak when you’re sitting in the cockpit facing the bow.


When facing the bow in the cockpit, the right side is called starboard.

Now that you are familiar with the different kayak parts and the many different types of kayaks out there, you can start looking at the tips and tricks to kickstart your kayaking dream.

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Ryan Stoltz

Ryan Stoltz

Avid kayaker and lover of the outdoors. Having been kayaking for over 7 years, I love sharing my experiences and learnings along the way. Currently kayaking in upstate New York and always open to new adventures!

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