Paddling Verbiage

Kayak and Paddle Terms: 

Stern: the back portion of the boat
Bow: the front of the boat
Cockpit: the opening where you sit
Deck: top of the boat
Foot braces: pedals or ridges feet rest on
Blade: the flat section of the paddle
Tip: the end of your paddle
Shaft: the section between the blades of your paddle
Powerface: the side of the blade catching the water on your paddle
Backface: side opposite the powerface

Safety Gear:

PFD: personal flotation device (lifejacket): is a piece of equipment designed to assist a wearer to keep afloat in water. It is required by law to be in your boat.
Paddle float: a paddle float may be used for re-entry into a kayak after a capsize in open water.
Throw bag: a throw bag or throw line is a rescue device with a length of rope stuffed loosely into a bag so it can come out through the top when the bag is thrown to a swimmer. A throw bag is standard rescue equipment for kayaking and other outdoor river recreational activities.
Bilge Pump: a pump to remove water out of a vessel
Whistle: attach it to your PFD. One blast is for attention; three blasts is “help.” (SOS)
Helmet: good for use when play boating or surfing waves or when flipping is possible
Knife: for use during river paddling where the danger of entanglement can be very real, it makes sense to carry a sheath knife on your PFD.
Tow rope: tow system is great to have when boating with kids or inexperienced paddlers who may become fatigued during long paddles.

River Features:

Eddyline– boundary between the circular eddy and the downward current flow.
Eddy: water rushing around obstacles, circulating downstream, towards shore in a reverse current. Current flows to fill void created by flow of water. It can be a good location to get out of the rivers current to take a break or to wait for others.
Ledge drop: any drop-off where the depth of the bottom goes from shallow to deep in a short distance. It can be caused from a former dam site.
Volume: the volume of a river is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). Cfs is determined by calculating the number of cubic feet of water that passes a single point on a river over the course of a second.
Pillow: pillows are created when water hits a rock head on and folds back on itself creating a cushion like bumper against the face of the rock wall.
Riffle: the riffles of rivers tend to be where water is shallow and the current is strong. A riffle is a rocky, shallow area in a stream where water cascading over rocks creates a noticeable surface disturbance.To identify a riffle, look for a choppy surface or whitewater spilling over shallow rocks into deeper water.
Friendly V: a V pattern in the river that points away from you. It is a good path to take.
Unfriendly V: a V pattern that points toward you warns of an obstruction, avoid this.
Gradient: the steepness of the river bed, expressed in feet per mile.
if less than 2 feet: slow river, few riffles ( can paddle 3 miles per hour)
over 5 feet, expect fast water and riffles

Please note: the information, terms, and misc information was sourced through assorted publications, various online sites, assorted DNR brochures,”Paddling Iowa” by Nate Hoogeveen,, and extensive readings.