Kayak Glossary

Abeam To the right, or at right angles to the centre of a canoe

Aft Toward the rear, or stern, of the canoe

Airbag Used to keep water out of kayaks and provide extra buoyancy, essential

BA buoyancy aid, see also PFD (US)

Bail To empty water from a craft by scooping it out with a sponge or tin can

Beam Width of a canoe when measured at its widest point

Bilge The lowest point of the boat, and where water collects

Bivvi bag Emergency shelter plastic bag 2 x1m, can also be Goretex and used as a (very) small tent

Blade As you can quess it is the wider end of the paddle. The bit in the water

Bothy bag Group shelter for slowly reheating hypothermia victims, or as a wind break on a desolate lunch spot

Bow Forward extremity of your canoe or kayak

Break in/out To paddle into or out of the main current

Broach Broadside to any obstacle wind, waves, current, or rocks; usually the prelude to

an upstream capsize. Don't broach!

Bulkhead A ‘wall’ sealing off one end of a kayak to form a watertight compartment. Seen in sea kayaks as a storage and safety feature

Buoyancy The capacity to remain afloat

Buoyancy aid BA, Safety jacket to help keep a paddler afloat. Note it is not a Life Jacket which is designed to keep your head out of the water when unconscious.

Cag – Nylon canoeing anorak, normally sealed at the wrists, neck and waist

Canadian Canoe The common term for an open canoe

Capsize When a kayak or canoe tips over

Carabiners Pear or oblong shaped metal ring with a spring clip, used in mountaineering to attach a running rope to a piton or similar device.

Chute A fast current where part of a stream is compressed and flows between two


Coaming A raised rim or border around a cockpit designed to keep out water

Cockpit Entry hole to kayak, in various sizes; ‘keyhole’, ‘ocean’ 'big' etc

Collision Regulations Also known as ‘Col Regs’, the International ‘Highway Code’ for the sea. Applies to the Thames and any other tidal rivers.

Cow’s tail Towing harness incorporated into a buoyancy aid

Creek boat Similar to river running boats except shorter with more volume, softer edges

Deck The enclosed area over the bow or stern of a canoe, increases the vessel's strength

Displacement The amount of water displaced by a floating vessel

Draw A stroke taken at right angles to the direction of travel

Eddy A current at variance with the main current, and where the main current either stops or reverses its flow upstream; caused by rocks, obstructions, or the bends in a river or stream. Used as a refuge by kayakers from the flow

Edging Putting the boat on its edge to increase its manoeuvrability

Eskimo Roll Using the paddle against the water to right a boat that has tipped or rolled over

Fathom A nautical measure of depth: 6 feet

Feather The angle between the two blades of a kayak paddle, usually 60 degrees

Freestyle boat Short 2m boat designed for cartwheeling etc at the expensive of other criteria

FSK fast sea kayak, Taran Pace Inuk etc. Capable of cruising at 4-5kts

Full plate Footrest designed to spread the forces of shocks, good for WW boats

Gaffer tape 5cm wide waterproof sticky tape, used in emergency repairs

Grab loop A loop of rope on the bow or stern of a kayak, useful for grabbing on to in an upset

Hatch An opening through the deck into a compartment, and closed by a hatch cover

J Stroke A stroke on which the paddle is turned to act as a rudder, keeping the boat on a straight course

Kayak A decked craft in which the paddlers sit with legs extended and propel the craft with a double blade paddle

Kevlar Du Pont’s trade name for poly para phenylene terephthalamide synthetic material five times stronger than steel

Keel A strip or extrusion along the bottom of a boat to prevent side slipping

Knot Unit of speed equal to 1 nautical mile per hour

Lash To make gear secure, usually with a rope

Leeway The sideways movement of a boat away from the wind

Outrigger A form of paddle racing, usually at sea, derived from Pacific Island outrigger canoes

Neaps A tide with the least amount of movement – opposite of ‘springs’

Paddle The implement used for propelling a kayak or canoe. Canoeists use a single bladed paddle.

PFD Personal Flotation Device. Buoyancy aid BA

PLA Port of London Authority, governs all users of the River Thames

Pogies waterproof mittens that attach to the paddle shaft

Get in Where a canoe is placed in the water, a launching site

Play boat Over 2m long and designed for ‘moves’ as well as running rivers

Port The left side of the boat – opposite of Starboard.

Portage Derived from the French word for 'carry'. Carrying your boat around a difficult rapid or other obstacle

Rapids An area of a river, stream, or course where the current is very rapid and flows around and over various obstacles

Rigging The system of ropes on the deck of a kayak used to stow gear and in self rescue manoeuvres

River Left The left side of a river from the peddler’s point of view when looking down stream

River Right The right side of a river from the paddler’s point of view when looking down stream

River running boat - Approx 2 – 2.5m good 2D control at the expense of 3D control

Rocker Describes the curve of the hull seen from the side,

Roll Technique to right an overturned kayak or canoe without getting out of it

Rudder A device commonly used for steering or trimming the craft

Shaft The handle of the canoe paddle between the grip and the blade

Sheer The fore and aft curving sides of a hull

Skeg An adjustable fin fitted on some sea kayaks to counteract the effect of side winds

Slack water A period of no tidal movement between ebb and flood tides

Spray deck skirt in neoprene or nylon used to enclose kayaks from water

Springs Largest tides of the month – opposite of ‘neaps’

Squall A quick, driving gust of wind or rain

Standing wave Wave formed by fast moving water hitting still water

Starboard The right side of a vessel

Stern The rear end of a canoe

Stern rudder Using the paddle as a rudder to maintain a straight line

Stopper Recirculating wave that can be dangerous to paddlers

Strainer pierced obstructions which allow water through but not a swimmer - very dangerous

Sweep Stroke Used to turn the boat by reaching out and ahead, then 'sweeping' in a wide arc fore to aft

Take out Where you end your trip; the take out or get out point

Throat The area of the paddle where the shaft meets the blade

Throw bag Bag of rope used to throw to a paddler in difficulty

Tracking How straight a kayak moves as it is paddled

Trim The angle at which a canoe rides in the water.

Weir A low dam used to divert or slow water flow; frequently built by commercial eel trap operators to catch eels and confuse canoeists

Whitewater A long stretch of foaming waves and rapids

Wind terms – Beaufort Scale

Wing paddle – racing paddle which looks like a spoon and acts like a wing or sail generating lift on the convex side, which pulls the paddle forward-outward at the expense of overcoming drag. Thought to give 5% advantage

Yaw When a canoe swerves from its course