Canoeing/kayaking glossary

Like lots of sports, canoeing/kayaking has its own vocabulary. Below you’ll find the majority of technical terms.

Below you’ll find all the technical terms associated with canoeing/kayaking explained in detail.


Backside turn

A paddle movement that lets you catch different currents to stop or recover. The side movement is called sculling.


The boat’s air reserve (also called reserve).


This is the flat, wide part of the paddle that enters the water to propel you.


Action of getting into your canoe (or kayak) to cruise along the water.


Main current area, central river.


Boat stuck on an obstacle in its centre and pushed by the current. When the kayak is stuck at the ends, we talk about a dual broach.

Buoyancy aid

A buoyancy aid decreases the risk of drowning; it does not guarantee lifesaving. It is designed for strong swimmers who are close to a bank or shore, or who have assistance and help close by. It is less useful in choppy water, it cannot protect the user if they fall unconscious into the water (only a life jacket can flip you the right way up if you are face first in the water).
These buoyancy aids are mainly used for kayaking, dinghy sailing and stand-up paddling, but must not be used by children under 30 kg or adults who cannot swim (a life jacket is compulsory in these cases).



A boat of Indian origin, propelled with a single paddle.


Turn over. Colloquially speaking, we also say to go for a dip (roll).


Manoeuvre with the paddle in a semi-circle to steer the boat. Right-hand circular movement steers the craft to the left and vice versa, left-hand circular movement steers the boat to the right.


This is the adjustment system for the variable part of adjustable paddles. This system can either use a "push pin" (where a pin enters a hole and locks the paddle shaft at the desired length), which is sturdy but not very easy to use, or a clip, which is easier to use.


Describes the difficulty of the river from 1 to 6. From class 3, the river is considered difficult and is restricted to experienced paddlers only; 5 then 6 are categories at the limit of seaworthiness (extreme sport). Helmets are required from class 3 and up.


Rim around a canoe/kayak to which a skirt is attached.


This is a bit of slippage on the water and pushing the front tip of your boat with every paddle stroke. This is due to bad paddle movement and/or bad positioning in the boat.


Manoeuvre which involves crossing a river from one shore to the other while staying at the same level of the river. You then keep the front of the boat facing the current.


Movement of downstream water travelling upstream which is found behind a rock or obstacle. 


Movement of upstream water travelling downstream.


Sharp curve of the river. In a sharp curve the current carries the boat towards the outside of the curve.



This is the top part of a boat’s hull.


Action of getting out of the boat.


It’s the bottom of the river (between the point where you are and the mouth of the river or confluence).


This is a material sometimes used on inflatable kayaks and canoes. Two layers of PVC are connected by thousands of nylon threads. As it is inflated to high pressure, these threads are stretched and prevent the top (deck) and bottom (hull) of the canoe/kayak from deforming. This material makes inflatable crafts extremely rigid but easy to store in a large backpack once deflated.


Eskimo roll

In the event of capsizing, this action involves getting back into position with synchronised movement from the hips along with the support of your paddle in the water, without getting out of the boat.



French Federation for Canoe and Kayak.

Flat shovel

Position of the paddle with the shovel flat on the surface of the water to stabilise the boat.


Volume of water in cubic metres passing through a river in 1 second.


Used in canoeing, it helps to rest the buttocks. As for the knees, you sit on your knees.


Gooseneck technique

This is a movement of the wrist to rotate the paddle about 90 degrees and allow side thrust to correct the trajectory. With this technique you can go right by paddling only on one side.



Cylindrical part of the paddle linking the moulding to the shovel for the single canoe paddle or the two blades for a double kayak paddle.


Tilting the craft on its side. We use heeling to steer the boat. When we heel over to the left, we turn to the right and vice versa, when we heel over to the right, we turn to the left. We also use heeling to make a crossing and recover from the current (in this case, we heel on the opposite side to the direction of the current). It is also used to avoid capsizing and remain stable in the current.
On a flat bottom kayak heeling is not useful; a paddle must be used to steer.



A boat’s air reserve. We sometimes talk about bladders. Also called buoyancy reserve.


"ITIWIT" is a contraction of "ITInerary" and "InuIT" the inhabitants of the Arctic and Greenland, who invented kayaking thousands of years ago! The name ITIWIT is the name of the first inflatable TRIBORD kayak marketed in 2014. ITIWIT wants to make stand-up paddling and kayaking accessible to everyone by making the equipment more compact. The brand's headquarters where all of the kayak & paddle products are developed is located in Hendaye (France) at the Decathlon Watersports Center.



This is a type of fixed wooden raft connected to the bank by one or more bridges which allow people to get on and off vessels.



A boat originally developed by the Eskimos, propelled with a double paddle.



These are neoprene salopettes with long legs. This type of wetsuit is perfectly suited to the practice of canoeing/kayaking because it leaves the shoulders completely free to move as you paddle. It is usually strengthened around the buttocks.



Action of moving around on the water with your boat.



This is wind that blows inland from the sea. It is ideal for surfing because it creates hollow waves but it can be dangerous because it pushes you out to sea.


This is wind that blows inland from the sea. A surfer's nemesis because it creates a lot of chop if it is strong; it is however reassuring when paddling at sea because it brings you back to shore.


Term which refers to the side of the canoe where we paddle (right onside = right side; left onside = left side).



Instrument which is used to move and propel the canoe or kayak.

Palm grip

This is a canoeing term for a shape of handle at the top of a single-blade paddle. The ergonomics of this handle are very important because it must be comfortable but also allow a firm grip when the paddle is in the water.


Literally "pound-force per square inch," psi is the measurement of pressure when inflating the kayak. Generally, crafts are inflated between 1.5 psi (0.1 bar).



Submerged part of a river.


Observation of the river, carried out on foot on the banks, to analyse the characteristics of the current, counter-current, obstacles, waves, etc.


Action which involves engaging in the main river flow by passing from the counter-current to the current, in other words, from the rise to the descent of the river.


One of the most dangerous water movements (with siphons). It is found at the outlets of dams and base of falls. This type of water movement traps kayakers and forces them underwater, pushes them back up, and repeats (washing machine).


All the adjustments of your boat. E.g., the distance between the footrests and the seat.


Rodeo or freestyle is a discipline in canoeing/kayaking which involves performing acrobatics in whitewater, with a kayak or canoe. The aim in competitions is to perform as many manoeuvres as possible in 45 seconds in a wave or a roll.


Turn over, capsize. Colloquially speaking, we also say to go for a dip.



A sit-on-top kayak always has an outlet at the back that uses the speed of the kayak to create suction to automatically drain water that gets into the kayak.


Lower part of the boat, a part of which is immersed in the water and which ensures buoyancy.


These are neoprene salopettes with short legs. This type of wetsuit is perfectly suited to the practice of canoeing/kayaking because it leaves the shoulders completely free to move as you paddle.


The shovel is the lower part of the paddle used to propel and steer the canoe.


This refers to deckless kayaks on which we “sit on top” and not inside. This type of kayak can therefore never fill with water and is unsinkable and self-bailing. This shape is found in the majority of rigid leisure kayaks.


Equipment positioned on the coaming which makes the boat completely watertight.

Skirt removal

Removing the skirt on the craft.


A sort of neoprene or fabric muffle, fixed on the paddle to protect hands from the cold, whilst ensuring good grip on the paddle.


Synonym of balance. The flatter and wider the hull, the more stable the boat and the less important it is to heel. The more streamlined the hull, the less stable the boat and the more important it is to heel.

Standard iso 6185-1

This standard applies to all inflatable crafts. It stipulates that in the event of a puncture in one of the 3 kayak bladders (2 on the side and 1 on the floor), the kayak must continue to float to enable its users to return to shore by paddling.


Manoeuvre which enables you to move from the current to the counter-current, from the descent to a stop behind an obstacle present in the river (e.g., a rock).



The tide is the variation in height level of the oceans and seas, caused by the combined effect of gravitational forces due to the Sun and the Moon, and the inertia force due to the Earth revolving around the centre of gravity of the Earth-Moon system.
Almost invisible in the Mediterranean, the tide can vary in strength in the Atlantic. If you are going out to sea, always get information about the tide (rising or falling) and its coefficient (from 20 to 120, the higher it is, the stronger the tide and therefore the stronger the generated current) because if there is a strong tide against you, you will be at a standstill and you will not be able to return to your starting point.


This refers to the front tip for the front part and the rear tip for the rear part of the boat. The front tip is used as an ‘aimer’ to steer the boat depending on the course you want to follow.



The top of the waterway (between where you are and the water's source).



The Wairgo is a manual-inflation buoyancy aid with a gas canister. Its main advantage is its compact size. With its bolero shape, it leaves the shoulders totally free to move while you paddle. Please note, to inflate it, you must pull on a handle to trigger the canister (whereas self-inflating life jackets inflate automatically if you fall in the water).The Wairgo Hydra model also has a water bladder with a straw close to your mouth so that you can easily stay hydrated as you stand-up paddle.


Vertical water movement created at the limit of the current and counter-current (vortex, spiral).




Decathlon team writer


I discovered canoeing kayaking at the age of 10 during a summer holiday camp introducing water sports activities at Besançon.

I was instantly taken in by kayaking because it put me into contact with nature in special way, discovering new landscapes, freedom to move around…I then discovered the joys of competing. I specialised in canoe sprint, winning a French junior champions title.

I work today for property development at Decathlon. I still do kayaking recreationally and love to share my enthusiasm for it with my kids, and more generally with all those who want to discover it.