Paddles commonly used in canoes consist of a wooden, fiberglass, carbon fiber or metal rod (the shaft) with a handle on one end and a rigid sheet (the blade) on the other end. Paddles for use in kayaks are longer, with a blade on each end; they are handled from the middle of the shaft.
Kayak paddles having blades in the same plane (when viewed down the shaft) are called "un-feathered." Paddles with blades in different planes (such as in the image) are called "feathered". Feathered paddles are measured by the degree of feather, such as 30, 45, or even 90 degrees. The paddle in the image to the right is feathered around 15 degrees. Many modern paddles can be adjusted by the user for feathered or unfeathered settings. The shaft is normally straight but in some cases a 'crank' is added with the aim of making the paddle more comfortable and reducing the strain on the wrist. Because the kayak paddle is not supported by the boat, paddles made of lighter materials are desired, it is not uncommon for a kayak paddle to be two pounds (32 ounces) or less in weight.
The paddle is held with two hands, some distance apart from each other. For normal use, it is drawn through the water from front (bow) to back (stern) to drive the boat forwards. The two blades of a kayak paddle are dipped alternately on either side of the kayak. A paddle is distinguished from an oar in that the paddle is held in the user's hands and completely supported by the paddler, whereas an oar is primarily supported by the boat.
Racing paddles also have special designs. They are generally less flat and are curved to catch more water which will enable racing paddlers to maximize the efficiency of their stroke.
Paddle shifters are special kinds of paddles since it is used in cars equipped with a semi-automatic transmission. They are operated back and forth.