Parts Of A Kayak – A Guide To Understanding Your Boat

Whether you are a novice or a seasoned kayaker, it is good to understand the parts of a kayak.

Kayaking is a great way to get out and enjoy nature, but there are many details that must be understood in order to do it safely.

One of the most important things kayakers need to know about their boat is what parts make up a kayak. This article will go over some of those key features so you can have a better understanding of your craft.

Owning a kayak is just the beginning of learning more about it. It’s important to know your boat and all its various parts so that you can inspect them regularly and fix any problems before they become serious.

Kayaks are composed of several pieces, each with its own job.

General Kayak Terms

A kayak is a type of boat, and like any boat, it can be referenced through the language of boating. Specific positional and directional terms apply to all boats, and kayaks are no exception.

Common terms include the following:


The bow is the outside front end of a boat, in this case, a kayak. Its pronunciation rhymes with “cow.”


The stern is the outside rear end of a kayak. It is directly opposite of the bow.

Parts of a kayakPin


The port is the left side of the kayak when you are facing forward. You can remember this by remembering that “port” and “left” both have four letters.


The starboard is the right side of the kayak when facing forward.


The aft is the inside (onboard) rear end of your craft, situated near the stern. The stern, in contrast, refers to the outside (offboard) rear end.


The fore is the inside (onboard) front end of the kayak, situated near the bow. The bow refers to the outside (offboard) front end.


When your kayak is moving in the direction of the bow, you are moving “forward.”


When your kayak moves in the direction of the stern (backward), you are moving “astern.”

These terms can be combined — like “Port Bow” or “Starboard Bow” — to refer to the front-left or the front-right of the kayak, respectively. Just remember that “Port Quarter” and “Starboard Quarter” refer to the rear-left and rear-right directions.

Body of the Kayak

The terms for the body of the kayak also apply to boats in general. They include the following:


The hull refers to the bottom of the kayak — the portion of which is in contact with the water. It can be of the following different shapes:

  • A Displacement Hull – a long, straight, smooth, and rounded-shaped hull with a “V”-shaped keel (see below) ideal for kayaking in straight directions with speed.
  • A Planing Hull is a hull with a flat-bottomed keel and sides that draw up from the bottom at pronounced angles. This hull is better for maneuverability and sharp turns; it is common on whitewater kayaks.


The keel is the middle underside part of the hull. It can come to a sharp “V”-shaped point, or be rounded or flat.


The deck is the top of the kayak. It can be either smooth or molded.


The outfitting refers to parts of the kayak that can be tailored to the individual kayaker. They are usually somewhere on the kayak’s body and can be either permanent or adjustable.

Kayak Features

Kayaks come in many different types, but they can roughly be divided into Sit-Inside and Sit-On-Top varieties.

Sit-Inside kayaks are the traditional kayak type where the user’s legs fit inside the hull — and the kayaker is generally exposed from the waist up.

These kayaks can be longer in shape (like a sea or touring kayaks) or shorter (like whitewater kayaks).

Sit-On-Top kayaks, seen here, are a more recent development in kayaking. The user in these types of kayaks sits in a chair or seat molding on top of the kayak deck.

Unlike Sit-Inside kayaks, Sit-On-Top kayaks leave the paddler’s legs exposed. They are popular for fishing and more leisurely paddling, like a warm day on a calm lake.

Both types of kayaks include features inherent to their design.

Parts of a kayak (Sit-inside)


This is the area where you sit in a Sit-Inside kayak. Located in the hull and has enough room for the kayaker’s legs.

Parts of a sit inside kayakPin

Spray Skirt

The flap or protective covering partially covers the cockpit, designed to keep water out (and off of the kayaker).


The rim that serves as the edge of the cockpit.


The walls in the hull that separate the cockpit from other (waterproof) compartments in the bow and the stern.


The openings in the deck that give the kayaker access to compartment spaces, both forward and aft. These spaces are formed by the bulkheads.

Day Hatch

In longer kayaks, a hatch sits very close to, and behind, the cockpit. It is a separate compartment meant for easy access while on the water.

Compass Recess

A lowered area in the deck meant to hold a compass for piloting (navigation).

Hip Pads

Pads that are in the cockpit fit on the seat sides. They are adjustable and can be removed; they are meant to keep the kayaker in a stable seated position.

End Toggles

A type of handle at the end of a kayak that is attached to an adjustable cord. It can be used to tow the kayak on dry land and be used if a kayaker is overboard and needs a place to hold onto the kayak.

Rudder and Adjustment Parts

The rudder is a thin and long piece of material that dips into the water off the stern. In kayaks, it can be controlled by foot pedals or braces. It is nominally used to steer the kayak, but in practice, is used to stabilize the craft in windy conditions.

The rudder uphaul is used to raise and lower the rudder. It is usually located near the cockpit.

Skegs and Adjustment Parts

A skeg is a fin-like piece of material located on the aft section of the keel, either slightly ahead of the stern or directly under it. It is either permanently fixed or can be raised to be flush with the hull.

A skeg slider is located by the cockpit; it is used to raise or lower the skeg deeper in the water.

Bulkhead Foot Brace

A bulkhead feature is usually found on whitewater kayaks. Used as a footrest.

Deck Lines

Are tightly-bound lines across the deck. They can include:

  • Perimeter Lines – Deck lines around the edge of the bow and stern, to grip if outside a capsized kayak
  • Gear Stowage Lines – Criss-crossed X-shaped deck lines that can hold waterproof gear or spare life jackets
  • Rudder Lines – Deck lines that run from the cockpit to the rudder. Used to control rudder direction.

Thigh Braces

Are located over the legs in the cockpit, on the underside of the deck. They are used in various control and maneuvering aspects of the kayak, especially while paddling.

Parts of a kayak (Sit-on-top)

High-Low Seat

An adjustable seat that can raise or lower within the hull to position the kayaker over or under the waterline. It is commonly found in fishing kayaks.

Parts of a sit on top kayakPin


Small holes in the hull that go clear through to the deck. They allow excess water to flow from deck areas down to the water below. They can let water in the other way, however, and some kayakers use plugs for this.

Carry Handles

Handles at the bow or stern are used to carry the kayak on land. These can also appear on Sit-Inside kayaks.

Foot Wells/Foot Rests

Molded areas of the deck allow kayakers to place their feet in different places, depending on the height of the user.

Pedal Drive

A moving pedal feature on some Sit-On-Top Kayaks that allows kayakers to move the craft forward using their legs, instead of with a paddle.

Tank Well

A depression in the rear of the cockpit — towards the stern — that was originally used to house a scuba tank. In current practice, a tank well can be used to carry all different types of gear.

Rod Holder

In fishing kayaks, a rod holder is a molded cup-shaped depression in the deck, used to carry fishing rods. It can be in several areas of the deck, but can often be found directly behind the cockpit.

Accessory Rails

Accessory rails are often found alongside the forward cockpit area. They are used to attach rod-holders, line mounts, depth-measuring mechanisms, fish finders, and other items to the deck.


Like the Sit-Inside kayak, a Sit-On-Top kayak can also have hatches in the deck. In some fishing kayaks, there are bait hatches that allow kayakers to carry bait and other equipment.


Parts of a kayak - multi colored kayak and paddlePin

Hopefully, from this overview of kayak parts, you can better understand the features and uses of kayaks. Though Sit-On-Top and Sit-Inside kayaks can be very different from each other, they share common parts that can be easily identified.

If you are in the market for a kayak, you can check out some of my other articles here and here.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.