Paddling Terms, Descriptions, How To’s, Misc.


Planning a paddle float trip: 

Trip Structure: Each trip should have a designated Lead and Sweep positions with an optional Floater:

  • Lead: Person at the front position looking for hazards and possible obstacles ahead, and then communicating the conditions to the paddlers behind them.  They are not to go too far in front of the pack and never alone. They should also be on the look out for a good break or lunch sandbar stop mid-way of the trip.
  • Floater (optional):  Person designated to float among the middle group of paddlers making sure all is well and keeping the group proceeding ahead.   They are responsible to count and keep track of all paddlers and know where they are at all times. Weaker or new paddlers should be in the center of the group.
  • Sweep:  The last paddler bringing up the rear and making sure there are no stragglers and keeping the group from lagging.

When Paddling:

Keep to the inside bend of the river so you can see around the corner to be able to make fast stroke decisions. Rivers run deepest and fastest at the outside bends. Debris will pile here causing strainers.  Seek the outside bends only when the river is sluggish or in low water times.
On low water trips, keep looking downstream, the high bank side typically has the deepest water.

Lighting Requirements: 

The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and whenever the weather reduces visibility.

Manually Powered Vessels When Underway (Manually powered vessels are boats that are paddled, poled, or rowed)

If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should exhibit a white light visible for 360° around the horizon and visible from a distance of at least one mile away if operating on natural lakes, Corps of Engineers impoundments, border rivers, or impoundments on inland rivers. If this light is partially obscured due to the nature of the vessel, an additional white light must be on hand to be shown in sufficient time to prevent a collision. This secondary light could be a head-lamp or even a flashlight.

Kayak/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 you rest your feet 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: the opposite side from the powerface
Safety Gear: 
  • PFD: personal flotation device (lifejacket):  is a piece of equipment designed to assist a wearer to keep afloat in water.
  • Paddle float: a paddle float may be used for reentry 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 pay 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 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 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 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
  • 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

Launching your boat:  launch and board “parallel”  to shore using your paddle for support as an outrigger.

Gear Check list:

  •  Kayak or canoe
  • paddle, and extra paddle
  • PFD (life vest)  use correct size, zip and fasten closures tight
  • first aid kit
  • sponge or bail-er
  • food and or snacks
  • water ( two bottles)
  • gear secures  (carabiner, bungee, rope )
  • insect repellent
  • sun screen
  • hat with a brim ( sun and rain protection)
  • dry bag of clothes and rain gear
  • sturdy water/paddling shoes
  • anything else to keep you comfortable for several hours on the water.

For paddling safety info, go to:

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.

Please forward corrections or additions to