Night paddling with Kayak Lights
By Dominic Settle



        I remember the first time I paddled after dark. We had gone on a late afternoon paddle shortly after daylight savings time ended and did not anticipate how much earlier the sun set. While we enjoyed a beautiful sunset, finding our way back without any lights wasn't fun. It was impossible to see each other if we got separated. Since then I've paddled at night many times and have come to enjoy it a lot. After that first experience I did some research on lighting. The legal requirements for kayaks can be summarized as follows:

        Many people that paddle at night have found that in addition to the legal requirements having some kind of marker light to be particularly useful, particularly when paddling with others or in an area with a lot of boat traffic. This light should be bright enough to be seen easily but not so bright that it impairs anyone's night vision. I've looked at the lights used by a number of other paddlers over the last few years, have observed the visibility of other boats on the water, and have read the results of a kayak visibility test done some time ago in New York City that involved the Coast Guard and ferries.

        The visibility test tried various types and colors of lights on kayaks at night, and also included some flashing lights. They discovered that kayaks with the red, green and white lights like on larger boats were the easiest to see and avoid, and attributed this to the way these lights made kayaks appear more like other boats. Other lights and white lights alone were not as useful, in part because of the sheer number of lights around New York City. I've watched boats come and go in Milford harbor and have also noticed that the consistency of lights makes boats easier to spot and shows which way the boats are pointed, even at anchor.

        In addition to the small xenon flashlight and strobe I carry at all times to avoid collisions, I carry a set of red and green lights on the bow of my kayak and a white light on the back of my PFD whenever I paddle at night. These marker lights are waterproof LEDs that shine in all directions but are much dimmer than your typical flashlight. They are quite visible at short distances but not so bright that they harm my night vision or the night vision of others near me. I also carry one of these lights on the front of my PFD for viewing charts and my compass. Some people may think the red and green marker lights are overkill, but I want other boats to be able to see me and be able to tell which way I'm heading. The marker lights work well and make me easy to spot, even in a crowd.

        Regular lights can be found a most marine outlets. Good LED marker lights are harder to find. LED lights cost a more but don't use batteries as quickly and are less likely to leave you in the dark. The marker lights I use are from Tektite. I have Tektite's MARK III LED (one with a single white LED, the other with two LEDs) and their red/green Navlite (2 LEDs). They sell marker lights with 1, 2, and 4 LED's. The difference in brightness between the 1 and 2 LED lights is not very noticeable. Both use regular AA batteries and are waterproof to 1,000 feet. Battery life is 40 to 100 hours. Tektite makes a number of other lights and strobes as well. Their website is