Understanding the Different Parts of a Kayak: A Newbie’s Guide

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Before mountain climbers go pro, they ensure they’re familiar with all their gear and know how to use it. So just like that pro climber, a kayaker needs to learn all about his kayak, get into what parts it’s made of, and understand just how important each part is to the performance of the vessel.

Luckily, this post contains all the information you’ll need to get acquainted with your kayak. To help you better understand your kayak – and how it works – we’ve sectioned off individual parts, so this post focuses on the anatomy of a kayak, zooming in on the most relevant portions.  

Before we get to the finer details though, here’s something you need to understand;

What kinds of kayaks are available on the market today?

Establishing which type of kayak is the right one for you is very important if you are to have a great experience. Here’s a look at what kinds of kayaks are available on the market right now:

Creek Kayaks 

Creek kayak

These are the most popular types of kayaks, and they’re best known for their high-volume capacities. They have large decks and are constructed to avoid submerging. Creek kayaks have stubby tips which help prevent vertical pins, and with their edged bottoms, these kayaks put the paddler in control, which is what you want and need for more challenging scenarios.

As far as length goes, these are the longest kayaks on the market. They’re perfectly suitable for beginners to use, and since they’re so floatable, they can be ideal for even the most experienced kayakers in challenging applications.

Play Kayaks

Play Kayaks

Experienced kayakers are the guys that use these kayaks since these vessels were designed for applications such as wave surfing. They’re not nearly as voluminous as creek kayaks, and the majority of their weight is centered at the cockpit. Since play kayaks feature flat hulls, they’re super maneuverable, but should only be used by seriously skilled paddlers.


Downriver Kayaks 

Not as pasé as creek kayaks, but not nearly as demanding as play kayaks, downriver kayaks are a perfect balance between the two other types of kayaks on the market. They have maneuverability, but they also put the paddler in control. They’re controllable yet comfortable, but they’ll never say no to a lurking adventure either. If you’re not quite a rookie but also not a pro yet, the downriver kayak might be perfect for your needs.

What are the different parts of my kayak called?

Let’s break this into sections, shall we?

 1. The Hull

The bottom half of your kayak is called the hull. It can either be shaped in the displacement or the planing hull shape. Displacement hulls are traditionally shaped and feature a keel that runs, front-to-back, underneath the boat. Displacement hulls have a rounded, streamline shape that plows through the water, which makes them very versatile.

 Planing hull kayaks are fitted on play kayaks, and they have flat bottoms with angled sides. Like displacement hulls, planning hulls plow through the water, but at much slower speeds. When higher speeds are reached, these hulls skim the water, which is why play kayaks are so maneuverable.

 2. The Deck

We’ve covered the bottom half of the kayak, which means that the deck refers to the top half of your kayak. Most other parts of your boat, including the seat and handles, are found on the deck.

 3. The Cockpit

The cockpit of your kayak refers to its sitting area. It is usually located in the center of the boat and features the seat of the kayak. The seat can either be placed directly onto the vessel’s bottom, or it may be suspended from the cockpit’s rim.

 4. The Spray Skirts

Spray skirts are waterproof materials which can be placed around a paddler’s waist and then attached to the coaming of the cockpit. Not all kayaks come with spray skirts and may need to be purchased separately, but they all work to help seal off the cockpit and keep water out of the boat.

 5. The Bulkheads

Bulkheads are fancy names for foot-pegs, which can be found inside of the kayak. Essentially, they’re just footrests which support your feet during paddling. The difference between bulkheads and foot-pegs is that pegs are metal pins, whereas bulkheads are adjustable foam blocks which can be placed under the paddler’s feet to help increase support during paddling.

Parts of a kayak

6. The Deck Hatch

Deck hatches are secured to either side of a kayak, and they provide storage space for your gear underneath the front and the rear of the deck. These hatches can be sealed off with waterproof covers.

 7. The Shock-Cord Rigging

To keep your gear secured on the deck, you can use shock cord or bungee cord rigging. This way, gear can be stuffed under the wires, making it easy to access when needed.

 8. The Grab Handle

Kayaks come with front grab handles, making it easy for paddlers to pull them out of the water. Some kayaks also come with a rear grab handle, which can make them easier to carry if you have a paddling partner.

 9. The Bow and Stern

Your kayak’s bow is the front end of the boat, and the stern refers to the rear end of the kayak. In kayaking, we just don’t talk about ‘front’ or ‘end,’ we’re serious, and so we speak of the bow or stern.

 10. The Port and Starboard

Two other mandatory terms for serious kayakers is the starboard and the port, which refers to the right-hand side of the kayak when facing forward (starboard), and left-hand side when facing forward, (port).

 Final Thoughts

And that’s a wrap! With ten easy points, you should have gotten to grips with the individual parts of your kayak. We hope this guide has helped you better understand your kayak and that is has boosted your confidence levels, getting you one step closer to becoming a master paddler!