Aesthetics vs Visibility

Ok – I’ve decided on the brand and model of the sea kayak I want, now I need to select a color. I was thinking a white hull with a cranberry red deck and black trim. However, when I mention this color combination to my paddling and non-paddling friends the response is the same “get something visible like yellow or bright red.”

The manufacturer I’m buying from doesn’t offer a conventional red, but yellow and orange are two high-visibility options I could choose from.


“Sooner or later you own general”

– Last Updated: Nov-13-04 8:38 PM EST –

Wow, I have the identical sports background and same discovery about kayaking, must be something to it!

I don't especially like yellow orange or bright red either, but got a yellow kayak after listening to Wayne Horodowich's rescue and recovery DVD shows you how invisible you are in a kayak both being run over and in need of rescue. And sooner or later with enough time on the water likely to happen, especially ocean, big lake conditions. Even perfect weather reports can't tell you a distant storm set of swells will arrive and at conflicting angle to wind and currents running and over your in it big time.

Of course you could rely on the big back ups, reflective visible paddle, illuminite on hull, smoke torch, flares, sat phone, VHF, cell, orange dye markers, orange ribbon in water, etc. I just think more is better. Some folks do it half way with an orange bottom hull and a softer top hull, so if go over the bottom is visable.

red is not particularly bright
there are other ways to be visible than a yellow kayak. I’ve seen white fabric ‘tuliqs’ made from a semmiflexible Tyvek like material that were VERY visible just because it was a big white vertical area from coaming to paddlers shoulders going over the pfd. Looked as bright as an old yellow plastic kayak and definately brighter than a red kayak.

Flourescent orange hunting caps or mesh highway safety vests are VERY bright.

I’ve got a light grey kayak with reflective tape on it. If I need to be visible I can add more visible items. I like looking at light grey.

The main thing…
…is that you gotta like your boat…

You can always wear a bright hat or PFD that you don’t have to look at while paddling…

Now days all I see are black paddles out there… GH

Visible from the air rescue streamer
Presumably you are trying to consider being seen from the air should you capsize in rough stuff and not be able to get back in, a hat is not great. That said, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too,

the rescue streamer

Kayak Makers!!!
Are you reading this?? A lot of us paddlers want to be visible without burning up our retinas on neon this or dayglo that for hours on end. Why don’t you make kayaks bright and visible except for the foredeck?

Adventure Kayak mag
had an interview with Leon Somme in the spring issue.Loen paddles an all black Explorer.He said the UK coastguard felt that robins egg blue was the most visible,yellow second and black on black was the third.Never would have thought.

My Pintail is sort of aqua blue and I always thought it would be close to invisible in all that blue water but from a search and rescue helicopter maybe it shows up against the brown bottom of the ocean if your in a shallow area.

Maybe the Brits are colour blind.

Maybe it’s not as important as we think.


Have one of your friends in their brightly coloured kayak paddle out (especially on a bright sunny day) while you take out in a powerboat of average size…See how close you have to get before you can tell the colour of the craft. I’m willing to bet the only thing you’ll really identify is the paddle blade in the air.

I had my surfski made a very dark grey hull/deck. I had them paint the front and rear ends bright red like most South African surfskis. I’ve been told many times that it really makes it stand out having that contrasting visual reference.


– Last Updated: Nov-14-04 10:53 PM EST –

Went on a 14 mile paddle yesterday with some of the usual cast of unusual characters -Greyak, Grayhawk, Vic & KayakTracy, and some others.

I, in my handsome and maybe not ULTRA-visible but still pretty much bight yellow bow to red-orange stern sunset color scheme Eclipse powered by yellow-bladed paddle brought up the rear. Uh, powered might be a misnomer: I'm good, I'm strong, and I'm a paddler -I'm just not a good, strong, paddler, *L*, and definitely NOT fast. "Half-fast" is more like it...

But what I realized after the first couple-three miles was that Greyak in his light grey over white QCC700, who'd put a good bit of distance on the rest of us using his GP in his 700, was that 1) the paddle motion cought my attention -but only because I was looking in that direction (his paddle is black carbon fibre); 2) the boat was basically invisible to me (in another low-altitude kayak) perhaps a 3/4 mile off; and 3) the one thing I COULD see was his yellow PFD.

Closer at hand -between a few hundred yards and perhaps a quarter mile away, I could see Grayhawk's aqua-over-white Caribou OK, but thought I'd see it a LOT better than I did. His red PFD was tough to pick up against either the tree line or the shoreline.

Tracy's sort of red/maroon over mustard Romany (?) was visible a short ways off, but after that, was difficult to make out unless she showed more of her hull edging or on top of a wave.

The black paddles' motions were there to distract an eye sort of looking FOR them, but the white- and yellow-bladed paddles sparkled in the sun from quite a ways away. Their motion was definitely noticable even when not particularly looking for them.

I just cannot fathom a dark hull being visible to the naked eye! Perhaps the Royal Navy Brits were using IR and the hotter hulls showed better, I don't know, but dark hulls on the water disappear to me and my friends.

And medium and darker blues? FORGET IT! They are really tough to see -Sally remaked upon it last week when she saw a friends's sort of slate blue boat. She was right on when she said it all but disappeared.

Our friend Swedge may love camo, but in open waters, it's just another invitation for trouble. Down here in South Florida and the Keys, where power boaters and jet skis abound, and sense doesn't, at least not nearly quite as often and not even close in proportion, "bright is right" to

Paddle On!

-Frank in Miami

There’s alot more to this…
…than meets the eye (pun intended). I think Kudzu raises a good point – manufacturers need to offer more color options and configurations, eg dazzle bright stern and easy-on-the-eye forward deck and bow.

I think I’ll just bite the bullet and get it in yellow with black trim. I don’t mind yellow, so…

Additional feedback appreciated.


I must have read that article…
Yeah, they got it right… No, is is just a coincidence that my tandem is light blue (Robins egg) and my solo kayak is bright yellow.

Neither are my favorite colors because I prefer translucent blue. Years ago, watching fireworks on the water directly underneath them, we discovered that placing a flashlight in the from and back of the cockpit lit up the boats like a 17 foot long torch and could be seen for miles. People who lived nearby commented as we pulled out how spectacular the boats looked on the water lit up at night. With the advent of LED long battery life (measured in days) flashlights, and rechargable batteries, this is a great visibility feature.

white goes with anything
White or yello are excellent. Was almost run over by a cigarette boat. Sailboats are bad if one man crew is at back. Be safe and visible and stay with other paddlers. No one likes bikes in middle of road and on right and left side of road.

aft deck colors/hatchs
a flourescent orange aft deck hatch is bright, on a few wooden boats I’ve left the deck varnished then painted the hulls yellow with a yellow aft hatch.

Other options
If you really dislike yellow or orange (or any of the other bright colors), you can always apply retroreflective marine tape on the deck, your paddle and so forth.

My husband’s “watermelon” Werner Camano blades stick out like sore thumbs. Ditto other bright paddle blades. The fact that they move in a manner that clearly says, “There’s a kayaker!” does not hurt.

my experience with colors
is that although yellow does a decent job showing up against the water, for me personally lime green seems to be by far the most noticible color. Whether it is on a sea kayak or on a whitewater boat, it seems to attract the eye because it is a color that is not often seen in nature. My paddling friends and I have often noted how a lime green boat can be seen at almost twice the range as a dark blue or red boat. My little fleet has a yellow, a red, and a dark blue boat. I never really had a choice of colors and now that I’m buying mostly used boats, I don’t think I’ll have a chance to EVER pick my color (I love light blue and lime as colors).

Color priorities
When thinking about being visible, consider who is it you want to see you.

Yes, light blue and yellow are easier to spot (orange a close third) - but from the air. Maybe important if you do a lot of solo crossings or remote country paddling and need to call in an air rescue. Otherwise - by the time anyone is sent aloft that you don’t cal yourself - it’s been a long time, and you’re still a needle in a …

Anyway, few folks are in those situations - so is that really the way to pick a color?

So who else would need to see you? Other boaters? You’re generally too low to the water for color to matter much - as others have pointed out. In even small chop it becomes a moot point. Bright PFD and hat are much more important for low angle visibility.

I picked based in two things:

  1. South Florida sun! Light colors are much cooler - and more visible as a side benefit.

  2. Psychological effect of seeing a bright color for hours. Many studies have been done showing the effect of various colors on mood and other mental performance. Trouble is, most only discuss short term effects. What they don’t generally tell you is that any vibrant color becomes irritating over time.

    Picture driving on a bright yellow highway for a few hours. Sound appealing? How about red? Robbin’s egg blue? Seriously - you’d go insane. Now consider that long piece of kayak deck out in front of you. A bit smaller maybe, and you’re more free to look around and take your eyes off the road (deck), but the effect is similar.

    Pick coclors based on your individual wants, likes, and needs (not some imaginary need to be neon). Road visibility is important too, but we don’t all drive yellow cars do we?

    So where did this leave me? Sun factor left me with yellow or white (I converted many colors to gratscale images to see which are really lighter. BTW - Red is VERY dark when you do this). Other light colors end up as pastels that belong on Easter eggs. Yellow was out - Yuck! (sorry Linda!) Sick of it - everyone is NOT on a wilderness expedition. Yellow is a happy color for a few seconds - but after a few hours it get;s to be a bit much (I’ve had 2 yellow kayaks). White is OK, but a bit bright for high noon. Result:

    Very light grey (over white). Completely neutral (except for reflected sky colors!), cool enough in full sun, less glare than white = but nearly as light and visible. May get lost in whitecaps - but so do all kayaks! It is close to white, and other boats see it as a boat, not a toy. I have had no problems being seen, and feel more visible than I was with my bright green boat.

    Maybe a bit boring for most, but has worked out great for me.

    As Frank noted, my on water visibility comes from a bright PFD. Had a POP orange one - just got a new yellow Astral. Watching other paddlers, I found the yellow vests can be seen farther, Plus it only came in yellow or grey - and grey on grey was a bit too much of an understatement.

    One more comment - paddle flash is very visible with white or yellow blades. HOWEVER, I believe this is only true for us PADDLERS! We are tuned to the rhythm so we notice it. I would to see paddlers off in the distance and point them out to Kim. Se could not see them for quite a while. Now that she’s paddled a bit - magically she sees them too now. Motor boat operators are not tuned to this, and are not looking in one spot long enough to pick it up. They are not running silent and slow scanning in the same way we do, they are doing much more rapid scans and identifying things through a different set of priorities. FWIW.


– Last Updated: Nov-15-04 7:20 AM EST –

I picked colors that were cool in the HOT sun, Not ones that were Visible, I don’t WANT to be visible, unless I want to be visible. Now If you want to go and get a yack and an outfit that makes you look like a U.T. Fan then hey what ever works for you. Like I have said Earlier, How many folks BUY cars that are highly visible colors? When the Chances are far greater that you will get Smacked in your car by somebody that didn’t see you then out on the water in your yack.

Black and White off water
Are quite visible in certain situations. I have read insurance company information that white is the most visible of the ordinary car colors. If you want to play hide-n-seek secret agent or ninja style forgeddabout black. I see people on my woods trails in black that stand out quite obviously, whereas medium to sorta-dark gray or brown on tan camo fades away. My yak is primary yellow and does draw yellow jackets occasionally. I have white paddle blades on which I have applied the silver portions of trucker’s DOT rated conspicuity tape. Just a couple of inches on the back sides that I could turn over flash at aproaching night traffic. This is the stuff that you see on the backs of semis that really lights up in headlights. If I really wanted to be seen at night I would find some of the yellow/green reflective tape used on fire trucks and school busses and line the top verticle edge of the hull.



– Last Updated: Nov-15-04 3:48 PM EST –

The Military did a test of new Camouflage schemes they found out that ones that contained black stand out the most, Black does not Occur very often in nature.