A kayak is generally a narrow, inflatable boat that is usually propelled primarily by a single, double-sided paddle. The word “kayak” originates from the Greenlandic phrase qajq (IPA : [qj] ). The original, larger type of kayak called the “back canoe” is the same as the canoe found in Mexico, also known as a kayak “toten.”
Typically, a kayak consists of two main pieces: the kayak hull or keel, and the kayak cockpit or paddledeck. Typically, these two pieces are constructed of fiberglass, vinyl or plastics with a single fabric cover called the “cupper” on which the windshield is installed. In addition, there are often additional features, such as rudder wheels, a rudder, or a rear hatch.
Kayaks differ from wind-driven boats in that they have no hull and do not derive their momentum from windmills. Instead, kayaks are propelled by the force of the hull behind them. This difference in propulsion method results in significant differences in boats of various sizes. A kayak of even a moderate size, between twenty and thirty feet in length, can be maneuverable, although maneuverability is improved if the kayak’s hull is of a large enough size to protect some of its sensitive electronics from exposure to the open water. Nonetheless, even the largest of boats have poor maneuverability. Generally, kayak speeds are in the range of ten to twelve miles per hour, although much slower boats are sometimes referred to as “speedboats.”
Kayakers begin to experience problems with kayak handling as they become older and heavier. The increase in weight adds stress on the cockpit, which is the area of the boat between the stern and the keel. Many kayak manufacturers recommend a minimum weight of thirty pounds for anyone intending to purchase a kayak. Most boats sold today include a personal flotation device, or life jacket, designed to provide at least forty-five minutes of floating time. The majority of kayaks also include a built-in rudder system, but a manually operated rudder is also available from many manufacturers.
Skin-on-frame kayaks have an extremely flat bottom and are usually built with a center hull section, which means that they contain little structure other than the flat bottom. A kayak user who wants to propel the kayak over tough surface areas, such as sand or waves, should consider investing in a “keel lock” keel strap, which attaches directly to the hull. Skin-on-frame kayaks are also equipped with “wye” devices that lock the paddle between the transom and the trailing edge of the hull.
An alternative to these single or two person kayaking vessels is a keel towed canoe, sometimes called a kayak canoe, or sea kayak. Sea kayaks have a center sea frame that houses the motor and sails. A wide variety of accessories including rowing and rudder, paddle tilt-out pedals, and an ocean tray are standard equipment on most sea kayaks.