There can be many reasons you wish to paddle at night, or you can find you need to paddle at night by accident as you are returning from a trip later than you expected.
You may wonder, can you kayak at night as you rarely see it talked about.
Generally speaking, you won’t find any hard and fast rules that say you shouldn’t kayak at night, although this can differ between states for nighttime kayaking.
One of the most significant considerations is seeing what you are doing and making yourself visible to other boaters.
The United States Coast Guard says the night kayaking light requirement by law will be an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light.
In our ultimate guide, you can learn more about night paddling and how to stay cautious and avoid any rookie mistake that could lead to harm.
By the end, you’ll have a far better understanding of how to enjoy nature’s beauty on your kayak at night. Although, as with any outdoor activities at night, we strongly advise you to check local regulations before heading out onto the water at night. (Learn How Many Calories Does 30 Minutes Of Swimming Burn)
Do Kayaks Require Lights at Night?
When nighttime kayaking, you need to see what you are doing and others to see your location.
Kayaking safely is the number one consideration at night as the entire situation changes compared to kayaking in the daytime.
Here is the actual rule for reference. “A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this rule for sailing vessels. But if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.”
All non-motorized vessels under 23 feet, or 7 meters, in length – including kayaks and canoes – classify as “vessels under oars” and are regulated by the Coast Guard rule mentioned above.
Required light for night safety
The minimum light requirement is an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
Note that the definition of “sufficient time” means sunset and sunrise, not when it is pitch black.
To meet such requirements, it is best to take a hand-held, waterproof, 360° flashlight. Such light is easy to operate and gives off light in all directions. (Learn How To Hang A Kayak In A Garage)
A hand-held flashlight can do for most paddlers, although some states could demand your light to remain visible all the time on such regulated waterways.
Note: When using lights at night, these limit your visibility outside of the light’s beam. Because you’ll have limited visibility, take extra caution, or avoid waters navigated by powerboats or sailboats unless you display the correct night navigation lights and signals.
Place kayak lights behind you, not in front of you, to avoid affecting your night vision.
Red and green running lights, or sidelights, aren’t required by law but might be helpful when paddling with others. Green should always be on the right side of your kayak, and red should always be on the left.
Additional Light & Deck Light
The ideal type of “white light” for a kayaker is a Deck Light. The best light is a steady white light that can be seen from any direction. However, this is impractical for a kayaker to achieve. A light pole is flimsy and can impede paddling functions, so a simple deck light or headlamp can suffice.
Besides your identification light, any light you use should only be used when doing any actions or starting or stopping your kayak. As mentioned, you won’t see anything past the lights beam, so you won’t be able to canoe safely compared to daytime paddling when you can see your surroundings.
Additional Light & Strobe Light
The only time you should use a strobe light is in an emergency. A strobe is a flashing white light that other boaters can see as a distress signal. It is acceptable to employ a flashing red light.
A strobe light should be attached to a PFD at a high point, like the shoulder or chest. It could also be placed in a PFD pocket on a lanyard for “just in case” situations.
If you have a trolling motor, then things can take a different turn.
Powered vessels including kayaks and canoes with a trolling motor) and length less than 39.4 feet, must have a white masthead light and stern light visible for 2 miles.
For a mile, the red and green sidelights must also be visible. The only light required while anchored is a white light that can be seen from all sides and leaves no dark side.
What Do You Wear Kayaking At Night?
Even if you’re not planning to paddle at night and do so by accident, you need to be prepared, especially if it is just you on the water.
However, paddling at night by choice offers an extra element compared to paddling in daylight hours. Nighttime paddling can be cooler and offer a glimpse of nature you rarely see.
Here is how you should prepare if the weather takes a turn for the worse and you are hit by heavy rain or temperature plummet. A weather forecast can be way off when night kayaking, so prepare for the worst.
Preparation is the key for night kayaking, even if you paddle in the same water all the time. You’ll find the water looks different at night, so search your route first and pinpoint any landmarks. Using a GPS device is ideal for when you are off-course and can’t see where you are. (Read Can You Get A DUI On A Kayak)
Carry the Right Gear
Besides your lighting, to stay safe, there are a few things you need to pack for safety precautions on your nighttime excursion.
- Noise Maker
- In an emergency, you want to be heard. A noisemaker is essential even during the day, with poor visibility. Carry an air horn so you can be heard, even if you can’t be seen.
- First, put on your life jacket before you leave the shore. PFDs are required for all watercraft, including kayaks. In terms of USCG laws, this isn’t even debatable.
- A smartphone or a VHF radio for emergency communication
- Food and water
- Extra clothes in case you get wet
- Dress appropriately for the water temperature, and keep in mind the psychological effects of swimming at night safely.
- A flashing flare or emergency beacon to warn other paddlers or people of an accident
- First aid kit
- Get a dry storage bag for personal things and valuables that won’t survive wet: ID, phone, first aid kit, additional batteries, and electronic equipment.
- Make sure everything is easily accessible; the gear is useless if you can’t find it in the dark.
Is It Safe to Kayak At Night In Florida?
There are quite a few regulations you need to know so you can kayak and canoe safely in Florida.
- Florida Kayaking Law: Florida sees kayaks and canoes as non-motor-powered vessels.
- Florida Kayak Registration: Non-motor-powered vessels are exempt from registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration: On Florida’s public waterways, all motorized watercraft must be titled and registered.
- Kayak Operator Licensing: In Florida, to operate a kayak, there is no minimum age.
- Motorized Kayaking Age: To operate a 10 hp or above vessel, you need boating education ID cards and a photo ID.
- Kayaking BUI Law: Florida Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws are where 0.08% BAL is under the influence, and 0.02% if under 21.
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law: One Life jacket per person on board. Children under 6 must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD.
- Kayak Lights Law: Non-motorized kayaks must have a flashlight or lantern between sunset and sunrise or during periods of reduced visibility.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices: Any vessel less than 16 feet needs a means of producing sound.
- Kayaking VDS Law: On coastal waters, boats less than 16 ft. must carry 3 nighttime VDS, and if over 16 feet, must carry 3 nighttime and 3 daytime VDS devices.
Here are the three factors for staying safe when night paddling in any region.
Make Sure You Can Be Seen (Kayak Lights)
When workable, inexperienced paddlers should avoid seas shared with sailboats and powerboats. Conditions of poor visibility can only enhance the risk of boating accidents if you don’t know how to read night navigation lights (red and green lights) and signals effectively on other vessels.
For starters, keep an eye out for other boats on the lake. If you can’t see any moving lights, learn to trust your ears.
Kayak lights and a loud noise maker are two options for night kayaking visibility.
An inexpensive, simple, and effective noisemaker is a marine air horn or a long-range whistle – make sure it has a decibel level of 120dB or above. (Find the Best Kayak Lights)
The US Coast Guard requires a watertight, 360-degree white light — an electric torch, lit lantern, or, at the very least, a hand-held flashlight. It will be your primary navigational light, ensuring that others see you.
Make Sure You Can See (Lights)
Your essential safety during a night kayaking trip, where lack of light is a significant problem, hinges on two factors: making yourself visible to others and being aware of your surroundings.
So, if the first rule of night kayaking is “make sure you can be seen,” the second rule is “make sure you can see.”
Your eyes will dark-adapt within 30 minutes if it’s a moonlit night rather than a pitch-black one. However, precisely estimating the size, distance, and position of items like other vessels, landmarks, and waves will remain a challenge.
A waterproof headlamp may be helpful in some situations, but only if used sparingly because artificial lighting, mainly white light, obstructs your night vision. Use it only for important work and paddle with the lights turned off.
Self-rescue tactics should be practiced if you’re paddling alone. Visibility will be limited, and traffic may be lighter than during the day.
Knowing what to do in the event of a capsize or another emergency will buy you some time before help arrives.
Nighttime navigation can be a challenge and near impossible in bad weather. In the dark, you need to make sure you can see where you are, and most of all, that others know your location, no matter how dark or how bad the weather is. Navigational lights can help yet only go so far.