Sports & Utility Boats Program (SUB)

Paddlesports Glossary

By Becky Molina, The American Canoe Association

Basic Terminology:


Blade:         The broad part at the end of a paddle.Top Of This Page

Bow:           The forward end of a canoe or kayak.

Hull:              The bottom shape of a boat, which determines how it will perform in various conditions. Canoes have a hull only; kayaks have a hull on the bottom and a deck on top.

PFD:               Personal flotation device, or lifejacket. In the U.S., PFDs must be approved by the Coast Guard. A PFD must be carried for each person in every boat of any kind. Wear it!

Port :              The left side of the boat when facing the bow (stroke side in the UK and Ireland).

Shaft:             The long skinny part of a canoe or kayak paddle.

Starboard:    The right side of the shell when facing the bow (bow side in the UK and Ireland).

Stern:           The rear end of a canoe or kayak.

Swamp:        To fill (a boat) with water.

Trim:              The bow-to-stern leveling of a canoe or kayak that affects boat control. In most cases it should be nearly level, with the stern slightly lower in the water.Top Of This Page


Canoe Terminology:


Grip:                          The part of a canoe paddle above the shaft, where the upper hand grips the paddle. Grips can be shaped like a “T” or like a pear or a small football.

Gunwale:                  Usually made of wood, vinyl or aluminum, gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”) run along the top edge of a canoe hull, stiffening and helping the hull hold its shape.

Painter:                    A rope tied to either end of a canoe for rescue and anchoring to shore.

Portage:         To carry a canoe over land (or the trail you carry it over) to get from one    waterway  to another or avoid a rapid.

Thwart:                     Cross pieces in a canoe, thwarts go from gunwale to gunwale and help the boat hold its shape. Seats can function as thwarts and some thwarts are appropriately spaced and constructed for kneeling on the bottom of the canoe.Top Of This Page


Kayak Terminology:


Back Band:             (back rest) Provides support for the lower back while kayaking and helps with erect posture in the boat. Located behind the seat, and usually made of padded fabric, plastic or foam.

Bulkhead:                A cross-sectional wall inside a kayak made of composite, plastic or foam. Bulkheads provide structural support and cross-sectional bulkheads create watertight compartments for buoyancy and storage.

Coaming:                The rim of the cockpit.

Cockpit:                   The enclosed central compartment of a kayak, in which the paddler sits.Top Of This Page

Deck:                        The top part of a kayak that keeps the hull from filling with water.

Foot Pegs:              (also known as foot braces) Adjustable structures inside the cockpit on which kayakers place the balls of their feet.

Roll:                          The technique of righting a capsized kayak while still inside.

Sit-On-Top:             (SOT) A kayak without a cockpit, sit-on-tops are usually self-bailing with various seat and foot brace configurations. Many are for recreational use, but some are designed for touring and racing.Top Of This Page

Spray Skirt:            A neoprene or nylon skirt worn by a kayaker that attaches to the rim (coaming) of the cockpit to keep water out.

Thigh Braces:        (or Knee) Braces usually found in whitewater and touring kayaks, these structures inside the cockpit give the paddler important points of contact for boat control.

 Wet Exit:                 Coming out of a capsized kayak 


Rowing Terminology:

The wide flat section of the oar at the head of the shaft, also known as the spoon. This term is often used when referring to the entire oar.
Bucket rigging
The rigging of an eight or a four so that riggers 2 and 3 are on the same side. Top Of This Page
Any abrupt deceleration of the shell caused by some uncontrolled motion within the shell; an interruption in the forward motion of the shell. The coxswain is probably the most acutely aware of this abrupt deceleration and it has been known to cause whiplash in some extreme cases.
The person who steers the shell and urges the rowers on during practices and in a race. A knowledgeable coxswain can also serve as a coach for the rowers and can be the difference between winning and losing a race.
A problem encountered by a rower when his or her oar gets `stuck' in the water, usually right after the catch or just before the release, and is caused by improper squaring or feathering. The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower's control of the oar. In more extreme cases the rower can actually be ejected from the shell by the oar.
Frig rigging
See Tandem Rigging.
Hatchets (a.k.a. big blades or choppers or cleavers)
A relatively new design of oar blades (although the idea has been around for some time). These were introduced by Concept II (Spring 1992) and are what the names indicate---oar blades that have a bigger surface area than the `standard' (Macon) blades and have a hatchet or meat cleaver shape. The hatchets are a bit shorter (by about 7 cm) than the standard blades.
This term is used interchangeably when referring to one of the oars used in a sculling shell, the shell itself or to the act of rowing a sculling shell. Top Of This Page
Foot Stretcher (or bootstretchers)
An adjustable bracket in a shell to which the rower's feet are secured in some sort of shoe or clog.
The sliding seat that the rower sits on. The term "seat" also refers to the rowers place in the boat; the convention is to number the seats from bow to stern, i.e. the rower closest to the front of the boat is "1-seat" the next, "2-seat", et c. The 1-seat is also commonly referred to as "bowseat" or just "bow" while the stern most (rear) seat is referred to as "stroke seat" or just "stroke".
The Stroke
The rower sitting nearest the stern (and the coxswain, if there is one). The stroke is responsible for setting the stroke length and cadence (with the coxswain's gentle advice).
Rigger (or outrigger)
The device that connects the oarlock to the shell and is bolted to the body of the shell. On sweep boats, riggers are typically alternating from side to the other on adjacent seats, but it is not uncommon to see two adjacent riggers on the same side. This is referred to as "tandem rigging". Varieties include "bucket rigging", "German Rigging" and "Italian Rigging".Top Of This Page
Oarlock (or rowlock)
A U-shaped swivel which holds the oar in place. It's mounted at the end of the rigger and rotates around a metal pin. A gate closes across the top to keep the oar in.
Button (or collar)
A plastic or metal fitting tightened on the oar to keep the oar from slipping through the oarlock.
The angle between the blade (on the drive when the blade is `squared') and a line perpendicular to the water's surface.
Slide (or track)
The track on which the seat moves.
German rigging
The rigging of an eight so that riggers 4 and 5 are on the same side while the others alternate.
Gunwale (or gunnel, saxboard)
Top section on the sides of a shell which runs along the sides of the crew section where the rowers are located. The riggers are secured to the gunwale with bolts. Top Of This Page
Italian rigging
The rigging of an eight so that bow and stroke riggers are on the same side, with the others alternating in pairs.
Jumping the slide
Another problem encountered by a rower when the seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.
Technically, the structural member running the length of the boat at the bottom of the hull. Today, some shells are built without this member so the term often refers to the center line of the shell.
Missing water
The rower starts the drive before the catch has been completed (or even started in someTop Of This Page cases). This is also referred to as rowing into the catch.
Steering device at the stern. The rudder in turn is connected to some cables (tiller ropes) that the coxswain can use to steer the shell. Older shells have short wooden handles (knockers) on the tiller ropes. These knockers are used by the coxswain not only to steer the shell, but also to rap out the cadence of the stroke rate on the gunwale.
Skeg (or Fin)
A small fin located along the stern section of the hull. This helps to stabilize the shell in holding a true course when rowing. All racing shells have a skeg. The skeg should not be confused with the rudder.
Tandem rigging
Variations of rigging of sweep boats with adjacent riggers being on the same side of the boat. Also known as Frig rigging (UK). See below (the rigging terms below are the subject of debate as to exactly what configuration they refer to, and they are often used interchangeably).
The number of strokes per minute. Also known as stroke rating. Top Of This Page
The ratio of the recovery time to the drive time. The recovery time should always be longer than the drive time (how much longer I won't say ... as someone wrote, the idea is to `move the boat on the pull through (or drive) and take a ride (i.e. relax) on the recovery without sacrificing the very speed that they have generated').
The adjustment and alteration of accessories (riggers, foot-stretchers, oar, etc.) in and on the shell. Examples of rigging adjustments that can be made are the height of the rigger, location of the foot-stretchers, location and height of the oarlocks, location of the button (or collar) on the oar and the pitch of the blade of the oar. Top Of This Page
Set (set of a boat)
The definition that I think comes closest to what rowers mean by the set of a boat is `form or carriage of the body or of its parts'. In this case the `body' consists of the shell and the rowers. Items that can affect the set of the boat are the rower's posture, hand levels, rigging (the favorite culprit ... especially with the more advanced rowers), timing at the catch and release, and outside conditions such as the wind. It is not unusual for rowers within a shell not to agree on what needs to be done to establish a `good' set, i.e. a level, stable shell that will provide the basis for that symphony of motion.
The fault of carrying the hands too low during the recovery especially when a rower dips his or her hands just prior to the catch (i.e. a sort of winding up). This usually results in the blade being too high off the water's surface.
Slings (or boat slings, or trestles)
Collapsible/portable frames with straps upon which a shell can be placed temporarily.
Washing out
The fault of rowing the oar out of the water, i.e. the blade comes out of the water before the drive is finished. Top Of This Page


Rowing Cycle Terms:

Starting with the rower at `rest' and legs fully extended with the oar blades immersed in the water perpendicular (well ... almost) to the water's surface.

A sharp downward (and away) motion of the hand which serves to remove the oar blade from the water and start the rowing cycle.
The act of turning the oar blade from a position perpendicular to the surface of the water to a position parallel to the water. This is done in conjunction with the release.
Part of the rowing cycle from the release up to and including where the oar blade enters the water. Top Of This Page
A gradual rolling of the oar blade from a position parallel to the water to a position (almost) perpendicular to the surface of the water. This is accomplished during the recovery portion of the rowing cycle and is done in preparation for the catch.
The point of the rowing cycle at which the blade enters the water at the end of the recovery and is accomplished by an upward motion of the arms and hands only. The blade of the oar must be fully squared at the catch.
That part of the rowing cycle when the rower applies power to the oar. This is a more (or less) blended sequence of applying power primarily with a leg drive, then the back and finally the arms.
The last part of the drive before the release where the power is mainly coming from the back and arms. Top Of This Page
The amount of backward lean of the rower's body at the end of the finish. Now we start again with the release and ...



A surface water sport in which the participant is propelled by a swimming motion usually on a long surfboard close to the shore. A derivative of paddleboarding is stand up paddle surfing.

Paddleboarding can be done on various pieces of equipment, including surfboards. Paddleboards are made of fiberglass and epoxy and are generally quite large (often up to 12 feet to 19 feet long). Most modern paddleboards are made of polyurethane foam (with one or more wooden strips or "stringers"), fiberglass cloth, and polyester resin. An emerging paddleboard technology is an epoxy surfboard, which are stronger and lighter than traditional fiberglass. Cost of new boards range from $1,500 to $3,000 for custom boards. Used boards that have been well kept are in high demand and can be sold fairly easily on paddleboard listing web sites.


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Vessel Examinations

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Pages prepared by: Robert Daraio, DVC-VE 2006

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