Kayaks 101: Getting to Know Your Kayak
The basics about kayak types, parts and paddles
Kayaking is an easy pastime to learn, and one that’s filled with variety – from the types of kayaks available, to the different places you can paddle them for outdoor adventures. By the time you’re finished with this guide, you’ll know the different types of kayaks, what sets them apart, and how their features will help you have a great day on the water. Let’s jump in!
A “sit-on-top” kayak is a fun, unconventional type of kayak for warm waters. With no deck, top or traditional cockpit, you literally sit on top of the boat – a design that allows the water to drain out naturally with no need for baling.
Recreational kayaks are great for smooth, protected, calm waters. A recreational kayak is between 9’-14’ long and 26”-32” wide, with a pretty flat-bottomed hull and a wide cockpit.
Light touring kayaks are perfect for coastlines on calm days. A light touring kayak is between 12’-16’ long and 24”-26” wide, with some shape to the bottom of the hull and a more narrow cockpit.
Sea kayaks are designed for all types of conditions, great for island-hopping and longer-distance paddling trips. A sea kayak is between 15’-19’ long and 19”-24” wide, and may feature a skeg or rudder for directional stability.
The area where you sit in the kayak is called the cockpit, which has a raised lip called combing around it to help keep water out. Your seat may have a back band, seat pad and hip pads and thigh braces to help you stay stable and comfortable on the water. Inside the kayak, there are a pair of adjustable foot pegs for you to brace your feet on. Underneath your seat, the bottom of the boat is called the hull.
The top of the boat is called the deck. At the bow (front) or stern (rear) of the kayak, a handle or carrying toggle will give you a firm grip when moving the boat outside of the water. The static cords around the perimeter are called deck lines, while the stretchy cords that criss-cross the deck are called bungees. Deck lines are great for hanging onto the boat from the water or pulling it towards the dock, while bungees are designed for securing gear you need right at hand, like a water bottle or chart.
Storage compartments vary in size and purpose from kayak to kayak. For a recreational kayak, a small compartment may have space for a first aid kit, snacks and a couple of accessories; for a touring or sea kayak, you may have multiple large, watertight compartments with additional room for overnight camping gear and clothing.
All kayak paddles share some common features. The long, slender part of the paddle that you hold is called the shaft; if you have a two-piece paddle, the point in the middle where the parts meet is called the ferrule.
Where the shaft connects to the blade (the throat of the paddle), a small rubber drip ring will shed water away from you, keeping it off of your hands.
Paddle blades have two faces: the spoon-like, curved side is the power face; and the reverse side with a raised spine is the back face. When you’re sitting in the kayak, you want the long edge on top, the short edge on bottom, and the power face facing you.