Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? (2022)

When most people think of a blissful day of kayaking, they picture sunny skies, calm winds, and glassy seas. But while daytime paddling adventures are amazing, there’s a special kind of magic on the water that you can only encounter when kayaking at night.

Nighttime kayaking allows you to experience the wonders of the waters under a moonlit and starry sky. However, venturing out in your kayak at night is a skill in its own right, so it’s critical that you have the right equipment and know-how before paddling after dark.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about kayaking at night. We’ll talk about the legality, the risks involved, and the lights you need before hitting the water.

Is It Legal to Kayak at Night?

Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? (1)

One of the most common questions that people have about kayaking at night is whether it’s even legal in the first place.

The short answer is yes, it is legal to kayak at night.

However, anyone who wants to must be prepared to follow specific rules and regulations.

These rules and regulations vary from location to location, and we can’t possibly discuss them all here. But most jurisdictions have similar requirements to what you find in theUS Coast Guard’s navigation rules, so we’ll focus on those in this article.

Interestingly, the US Coast Guard doesn’t have a dedicated section of its navigation rules that discusses nighttime boating. That’s because anyone on the water should be prepared for any eventuality, regardless of the time of day.

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Even though there isn’t a set of rules in the US Coast Guard regulations, there are two essential requirements you need to be mindful of when on the water after dark. These include:

  • Rule 5– Requirement to maintain a proper look-out.
  • Rule 25– Requirement of navigation lights on vessels under oars (or paddles).

Rule 5 technically pertains to all vessels at all times. It states:

“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

In other words, any boat on the water needs to stay alert and aware of its surroundings to prevent a collision. This is particularly important at night when visibility is limited, and you may have little time to avoid a collision with another vessel.

Rule 25 is part of a more extensive section that discusses what lights vessels need to have when operating at night or in areas of limited visibility. We’ll discuss these requirements below.

What Lights Do You Need on a Kayak at Night?

Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? (2)

Kayak lights are an essential piece of gear for any nighttime paddler. They’re a legal requirement under Rule 25, Part C of the US Coast Guard’s navigation rules. You’ll find that pretty much every maritime authority on the planet has similar requirements.

On the face of it, having lights for your kayak when paddling at night makes sense because they make it easier for you to see on the water…right?

Well, it turns out that legally required kayak navigation lights, while important, actually have nothing to do with your ability to see and navigate your way through the water. Instead, boating lights are standardized because they make it easier for other vessels to identify you as a boat so everyone can avoid collisions on the water.

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While paddling in US waters, you have two different kayak light options between sunrise and sunset. You can choose to display either a:

  • Single white light with a 360º beam
  • Red/green bow light and white stern light (or a tri-color masthead light)

Most vessels don’t get two different navigation light options, but paddle craft (including kayaks) are an exception in the US Coast Guard’s requirements.

So, which option should you choose?

There are differing opinions on the matter, and both of your lighting options have pros and cons.

Generally, it’s best to opt for a red/green bow light and a white stern light (or a tri-color masthead light) over a single white light whenever possible.

That’s because red/green bow lights make it easier for people to see your direction of motion (red lights go on the port side and green lights on the starboard side). Additionally, other vessels could confuse a single white light on a kayak with a standard anchor light, which isn’t ideal in high-traffic areas.

But, there are benefits to having a single all-around white light, too, including affordability and ease of installation.

Potential Risks of Kayaking at Night

Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? (3)

Even though kayaking at night is legal, it’s not without risks. Night paddling can be a fantastic experience, but anyone that wants to venture out in a kayak after the sun goes down should know what they’re signing up for.

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Some of the risks of kayaking at night include:

  • Collisions –It’s harder to see other vessels and objects on the water after the sun goes down. Staying aware of your surroundings can help reduce the possibility of a collision, but it requires constant vigilance.
  • Getting Lost –Navigating on the water at night is an entirely different beast from navigating during the daytime. When you paddle at night, you need to be confident in reading charts and interpreting navigation lights to get where you want to go.
  • Hypothermia –Even though hypothermia is also a risk during the daytime, it’s even more of a threat at night. Nighttime usually heralds colder temperatures than you get during the day, so paddlers must have theproper clothing to stay warm.
  • Increased Rescue Times –It can take longer for rescue teams to find you if you’re paddling at night and have an emergency on the water. Propersafety equipment(including navigation lights) can make you more visible on the water. Still, it’s often easier to spot a boater in distress during the daytime.

As you can see, there are quite a few risks involved with night paddling that aren’t as big of a deal if you only head out in your kayak during the daytime. But we don’t want to scare you into thinking that night kayaking is exceptionally dangerous and that you shouldn’t do it.

The reality is that any kind of paddling, whether at night or during the day,has its risks. Anyone who wants to kayak at night should be okay with assuming the additional risks that come with these excursions.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate these risks before you head out on the water. Having the right skills and equipment can make navigating your way through both subjective and objective hazards easier.

Additional Night Paddling Tips

Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? (4)

Once you have the right gear for night paddling, it’s time to hit the water. Here are 5 tips for kayaking at night to help you make the most of your upcoming adventure.

Start Small

If you’re new to kayaking at night, don’t be afraid to start small. Night paddling may seem very similar to kayaking in the daytime, but paddling in limited visibility can be pretty challenging.

Although it might seem tempting to head out on a big expedition for your first night kayaking experience, it’s generally best to start small.

Consider a short evening paddle on a local lake or flat river for your first outing. Start right before sunset so you can see how your paddling experience changes as the sun goes down.

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Stay close to shore and plan to paddle for just an hour or two after dark to help you get more comfortable with kayaking at night. Once you’re confident in your abilities, you can test your new skills in novel destinations and on longer outings in a wider range of conditions.

Paddle With Friends

Night kayaking comes with a whole host of additional risks that aren’t as big of a deal when you paddle during the daytime. As a result, it’s usually a good idea to paddle with friends whenever you head outside after dark.

Of course, as you gain more confidence and experience in your night paddling abilities, you may find that you’re comfortable kayaking alone. However, paddling with friends is an excellent risk management strategy, especially if you’re in a new location or if the weather looks like it might not cooperate.

Know Your Route

One of the biggest challenges of kayaking at night is navigation. During the daytime, most coastal navigation in a kayak is done using landmarks and other objects that are easy to see when the sun’s shining overhead. But after the sun sets, most of these landmarks become useless from a navigational point of view.

Therefore, any would-be nighttime paddler must have a solid understanding of theirplanned route. Take some time before your trip to look over the charts for your paddling area to get an idea of what buoys and illuminated markers might be visible along your route.

If you’re new to reading charts and navigating on the water, consider taking a class to bolster your skill set. Many sailing and paddling schools offer excellent maritime navigation courses that are well worth the time and money.

Check the Weather Forecast

Checking the weather is an essential part of any pre-kayaking trip checklist, but it’s even more critical when you’re paddling at night.

Foul weather during the daytime can be challenging and dangerous. When you combine high winds and heavy seas with darkness, safely maneuvering your way through the water becomes even more difficult. Checking the latest weather forecast before you leave home can help you avoid getting into one of these situations.

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Everyone has a different risk tolerance that dictates what kinds of conditions they’re willing to paddle in. But, in general, try to make more conservative decisions about the weather when planning a nighttime paddle. Doing so gives you a more significant margin for error if the weather conditions end up being worse than expected.

Make Yourself Visible

Finally, try to make yourself as visible as possible when kayaking at night. It’s challenging for other boats to see kayakers from afar because kayaks are so low to the waterline. So do whatever you can to increase your visibility.

Add a navigation light to your kayak, and then outfit yourself with other visibility tools, such as a water-activated light on your PFD.

FAQs

Kayaking at Night: Is It Legal & What Lights Do You Need? ›

What Lights Do You Need on a Kayak at Night? Kayak lights are an essential piece of gear for any nighttime paddler. They're a legal requirement under Rule 25, Part C of the US Coast Guard's navigation rules.

What lights do I need for kayak? ›

Kayaks are classified as “vessels under oars”. They are not required to have the same deck-mounted lights as larger vessels, but they are required to have either an electric flashlight or lighted lantern with white light that they exhibit “in sufficient time to prevent collision”.

What lights do you need on a kayak at night in Florida? ›

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?
  • Red and green bow lights for navigation.
  • A white stern light on a pole 3.3 feet high visible 360 degrees.

What color light should a kayak display in reduced visibility? ›

As stated, the minimum kayak navigation light required under Rule 25 by U.S.C.G. is "an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision." From U.S.C.G.

What lights do you need on a kayak at night in Ohio? ›

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? Powered Vessels (kayaks and/or canoes with a trolling motor) less than 12 meters in length (39.4 feet) must have the white masthead light and stern light visible for 2 miles. The red and green sidelights must be visible for 1 mile.

What light should a kayaker display at night? ›

Rowboats (kayakers and canoers) at night

When underway, the operator shall, from sunset to sunrise, display, if practical, sidelights and a sternlight, but if the operator cannot, he/she must have at hand, a flashlight or lighted lantern emitting a white light which must be lit in enough time to prevent a collision.

Where do you put lights on a kayak? ›

Installing White Lights on a kayak Part 2 - YouTube

Can you kayak at night in Florida? ›

The best time to go night kayaking in the bioluminescent waters of Florida is 5 days after the full moon, from May through October. You'll be provided with a life jacket, whistle, and a glow stick since it will be really dark out there.

Can kayaks be in the water at night? ›

The short answer is yes, it is legal to kayak at night.

Interestingly, the US Coast Guard doesn't have a dedicated section of its navigation rules that discusses nighttime boating. That's because anyone on the water should be prepared for any eventuality, regardless of the time of day.

Do you need flares on a kayak? ›

On a kayak or small boat (under 16 feet) you need to carry one visual distress signal device that's suitable for nighttime. This can include an automatic electric distress light, a hand-held red flare, or a red aerial pyrotechnic flare.

What qualifies as navigation lights on a kayak without a power supply? ›

length, a watertight flashlight qualifies as navigation lights. in time to avoid a collision. It is sometimes effective to use the light to illuminate the sail. watertight flashlight or lantern showing a white light to signal their presence to other vessels when travelling after dark.

How do you light a kayak? ›

Kayak Lights For Night Fishing - Rules and DIY Kayak Light Pole / Sidelights

What color all around light should a non powered canoe or kayak display in reduced visibility? ›

The requirements for small sailboats also apply to other unpowered boats under 23 feet in length, such as canoes, kayaks and rowboats. When boating between sunset and sunrise or during periods of restricted visibility, you need to display a white light so that other boats can see you in time to avoid a collision.

Can you kayak at night in Ohio? ›

However, if taking a moonlight paddle on Lake Eerie, the Ohio DNR requires that a U.S. Coast Guard–approved distress signal for night use be carried onboard. The requirement can be fulfilled by carrying flares or an electric signalling device as simple as a blinking flashlight.

What safety equipment is required on a kayak in Ohio? ›

All PWC operators and occupants must be wearing a Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device. All vessels less than 16 feet in length as well as canoes or kayaks of any length are required to have one Type I, II or III wearable PFD per person. Inflatable PFDs are not intended for children under the age of 16 years.

Can you drink while kayaking in Ohio? ›

There are no special rules regarding alcohol use on Ohio lakes or rivers. The same laws apply on land and in the water.

How do you light a kayak? ›

Homemade $5 Kayak Pole Light & Safety Light Setup Ideas - YouTube

How do you kayak fish at night? ›

Night Time Kayak Fishing Safety and Rigging Tips - YouTube

What is the best light for night fishing? ›

The best color light to attract fish is a true green color which is approximately 520 nm wavelength. The only type of light that can achieve this true green color is an LED light. Green sodium bulbs are not a true green color, they are more of a warm white tint of green.

What Colour is a stern light? ›

A stern light, which is a white light at the rear of the boat. The stern light needs to be visible across 135 degrees and from two miles away. When the masthead light and the stern light are combined, that makes up 360 degrees.

What color attracts fish the most? ›

What color light attracts fish the best? Overall, green light attracts the most fish. Green has a high lumen output of 130 per LED alongside a 520 nm wavelength. Shrimp and insects have both of these wavelengths in their color vision alongside green light receptors around 530 um.

What color light is best for underwater? ›

Great White – Is best where the water is clear and where a good view of underwater life is wanted.

What Colour light attracts fish? ›

Cree LED`s Green Light for fishing is also used for growing fish by attracting bait fish into their fish net pens. Green light also has a healthy metabolic affect upon fish species.

What do three short blasts of a horn mean? ›

One short blast tells other boaters, “I intend to pass you on my left (port) side.” Two short blasts tell other boaters, “I intend to pass you on my right (starboard) side.” Three short blasts tell other boaters, “I am operating astern propulsion.” For some vessels, this tells other boaters, “I am backing up.”

What qualifies as navigation lights on a kayak without a power supply? ›

length, a watertight flashlight qualifies as navigation lights. in time to avoid a collision. It is sometimes effective to use the light to illuminate the sail. watertight flashlight or lantern showing a white light to signal their presence to other vessels when travelling after dark.

What boat lights are required at night? ›

The required lights are: Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least one mile away on a dark, clear night. An all-round white light or both a masthead light and a sternlight. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away on a dark, clear night.

Videos

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