Kayaking Terminology

One of the things that may overwhelm newcomers to the sport is some of the boating and kayaking terminology. Following is a list of the most important boating and kayaking terminology:

General Boating

  • Bow – The front of the boat
  • Stern – The back of the boat
  • Hull – The bottom of the boat
  • Deck – The top of the boat
  • PFD – Personal flotation device
  • Put-in – where you began a boating trip by putting boats into water
  • River Left – left side of a river when looking downstream (right side if looking upstream)
  • River Right – right side of a river when looking downstream (left side if looking downstream)

Kayak Specific

  • Coaming – the rounded edge surrounding the cockpit area, typically where you attach as skirt if using one
  • Bulkhead – a divider that can separate the either the bow or stern from the cockpit area.
  • Scupper – holed through a sit on top kayak that allow water that has splashed on top to drain and also add structural rigidity to the kayak
  • Braces – pads around the cockpit often made of rubber or fabric for bracing with the knee for stiffening ones position in the kayak
  • SINK – sit in kayak
  • SOT Kayak – sit on top kayak
  • Ducky – slang term for an inflatable kayak

Water Features / Conditions

  • Confluence – where two rivers meet
  • Gradient – how steep a river is usually represented in height difference per length of river
  • Haystacks – a large still wave caused by slowing of the current
  • Headwall – where a river meets a cliff at a 90 degree angle
  • Hydraulic (or Hole or Pourover) – when water falls over a rock or other obstacle into deeper water causing surface water to be suctioned back towards the obstacle. Water flowing over the obstacle creates a gap that surface water refills. This refilling action moves water upstream causing a circular flow of water.
  • Pillow (or Boil) – where water gathers against an obstruction before flowing around it
  • Sweeper – obstacles that hang over the river and can “sweep” the boater out of the boat
  • Strainer – Much like the kitchen utensil, a strainer is an obstacle that allows water to pass through but not a person. These can be caused by any kind of debris, typically fallen trees or logs.
  • Sieve – when water is forced between two obstructions causing a flow of faster water


  • Ferry – moving across a river without moving downstream
  • Boof – using your stoke and maneuvering body weight to raise up the bow of the boat, often for clearing an obstacle
  • Ghost boat – sending the kayak through the a rapid empty

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