Anatomy of a Kayak

Learn about the different parts of a kayak

Recreational Kayak Options at a big box retailer
Photo © by George E. Sayour

While there are different genres of kayaking, such as whitewater, sea, surf, touring, and recreational kayaking to name just a few, there is a common terminology to refer to the basics elements of a kayak and kayak design. Knowing the anatomy of a kayak will help you to learn the sport and to communicate with other paddlers as you begin to take up the sport of kayaking. Here are the kayak design features and parts that are universally applied to kayaks.

  • Bow: Simply put the bow is the front of the kayak. This is universal for all boats. So, whether you sit in a motorboat, canoe, and every other type of kayak, the word “bow” means the front.  The pronunciation is the same as in “take a bow” and not like what little girls wear in their hair.  
  • Stern: The stern of the kayak is the back of the boat. Same as with the term “bow,” the stern is the universal term for the rear of any boat. 
  • Starboard Side: The starboard side of the kayak is the right side of the boat. 
  • Aft Side: The aft side of the kayak is the left side of the boat.
  • Deck: The deck of the kayak is the top of the boat. Sea kayaks have a lot going on when it comes to the decks. Everything from cleats, bungees, and hatches are all attached to the decks. 
  • Hull: In the boating world, the hull is the entire body of the boat. But, kayakers often use the term hull to refer to the bottom of the boat. 
  • Cockpit: The cockpit of a kayak is the area that the kayaker sits in. The cockpit of sea kayaks is limited to the area in between the forward and rear bulkheads.
  • Coaming: The cockpit coaming is the lip or rim of the large hole that leads into the cockpit. The coaming is the rim of the kayak where the skirt attaches to. 
  • Foot Pegs, Pads, or Braces: Every kayak is different, but they will all have some sort of adjustable foot support that is typically known as foot pegs.
  • Thigh Braces or Thigh Hooks: Thigh braces are the supports on the underside of the top of the cockpit that the thighs press out and up against while paddling. They aid in performing the various kayak strokes and maneuvers and in the control of the kayak.
  • Outfitting: Outfitting refers to anything that allows the kayak to fit the individual boater. It can be permanently placed or adjustable. Examples of outfitting are foam, paddling, pneumatic (air) adjustments, and ratchet assemblies. The different components that utilize outfitting are the seat, backrest, foot pegs, thigh hooks, and bulkheads to name a few. 

As was mentioned earlier, the above list really just reflects the basic anatomy of kayaks. Each genre of kayak has their own list of unique components. And, the design features even vary within genres. For instance, within the whitewater kayaking category, there are multiple subcategories such as playboating, creek boating, and river running. There are nuances that separate touring kayaks from sea kayaks.  In short, every type of kayak has small differences in their anatomy.