Frequently Asked Questions

Equipment advice for beginners

For most newcomers to the sport - the first bit of advice is to join the club and come to the summer training sessions where you are introduced to the equipment which the club has available for your use - the club provides boats, paddles, bouyancy aids, spraydecks and helmets - you do not need (or are expected) to run out and buy all the equipment - wait until you are familiar with the gear and known what you want.

This information is intended to give you a basic introduction into the boat and associated equipment, these are just guidelines - as with every sport there are many levels of specialisation!

Kayak - Canoe - Boat:

This is what you sit in or on. There is a lot of subtle difference but in general in the UK most non-paddlers call them all a canoe. Which isn't quite right - the boats that Unuits (Eskimo's) are traditionally linked to are thought of as Kayaks, the boats that American Indians are traditionally linked to are thought of as canoes.
In this modern day we now have sit-on tops which aren't either. But as a simple definition a canoe or kayak isn't what what you are paddling, but how you paddle it !, - if there is a blade on each end of the shaft = you are Kayaking, if there is a single blade on one end of the shaft = you are Canoeing.

The boat has a front (bow), rear (stern) and an area you are seated in (cockpit).

If you are sitting in the boat (and it has a closed cockpit - like a traditional Eskimo boat) then in front of the cockpit is the front deck, behind the cockpit is the rear deck. This often has large inflated plastic bags in it called Airbags. Their purpose is to take up space so if the boat should capsize, then there is less room for the water to fill up. Less water in the boat means it is more bouyany and lighter and hence it is easier to recover and empty.

If you are sitting in the boat (and it has an open cockpit - like a traditional Native American boat) then you often have 'benches' (called thwarts) running across the boat.

Types of boats - the list can get pretty complex, but to keep it simple we'll have 4.

There are a lot of exceptions though - you can get very short Open Canoes designed for a single paddler to take on white water.


On most kayaks, you can have a spraydeck fitted across the cockpit to keep water out, expecially useful when you move to white water.

The club provides nylon based spraydecks as they are good for general purpose and learning, people with their own equipment tend to have Neoprene ones which are more effective but require more experience.


The club provides general purpose paddles, people with their own equipment tend to have different ones with different features.

Feather: This is the term for the degree offset (or 'twist') between the paddle blades as you look along the shaft. As the blades are 'twisted', you need to rotate the shaft slightly as you paddle, this is one of basic skills that you learn with the coaches.

Symmetric / Asymmetric: Some paddle blades look the same (symmetrical) across the shaft, these are easy to use and are provided by the club. Other ones are different shapes across the shaft (asymmetrical). There is a reason for it and it's not just because they look better!.

Here's the science bit if you're interested: as a blade is pulled through the water, the water moves around the edges of the blade, this can cause the paddle to feel like it is 'fluttering' in your hands. So you grip it tighter to lessen the flutter. By gripping tighter you increase the strain on your wrists, etc.
The shape of the Asymmetrical blade reduces this effect of fluttering as it makes the water flow more evenly over both edges of blade. Less flutter means you can grip the paddle less so reducing the strain. (This is a nutshell summary of the theory, it's not exhaustive).

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