Anyone Enjoy Night or After Dark Paddling?

Hello All;

A couple years ago after reading a book (Complete Book of Sea Kayaking 4th ed) talking about it I tried paddling after dark in a large pond I know well without much in the way of obstructions, no real boating traffic and I Was impressed. Given how busy life gets I was glad to be able to extend my paddling season some more.

What surprised me is how well I could see in what appeared to be total darkness which truly doesn’t exist, and how poorly I saw with my headlamp on with my boat reflecting so much of it that I couldn’t see anything.

We live in a brightly lit world so for example if you exit your (brightly lit) living room in the evening going into your relatively dark back yard, you see nothing. But if you’re outside at sunset or not long after, it doesn’t take much time to dark adapt and you can start to see the same logs and trees you remember during daytime. Its surprising just how much you can see without lighting and after that kept going out after darkness enjoying more paddling well into the end of fall thanks to immersion gear.

Now I must say I am far more choosy about my spots and times versus when its warmer and/or light outside. For example I might go outside to paddle with some wind and waves especially on a lake it gets tricky but not too bad like the ocean so can be outside during day. The colder and darker it gets though the more I pick my days. Once the November and Dec heavy winds hit I will not be seen out there in that cold with those conditions. Just a thought/recommendation though you’d be surprised what you can see just with star, moon and ambient lighting once you let yourself dark adapt!


Night paddling can definitely be fun. I’ve done a bit of it training for and competing in the Everglades Challenge. You do need to find a balance between being able to see (generally no lights, but a flashlight or spotlight when needed) and being seen (lights, reflective tape). It’s a different aspect to paddling that many don’t get to experience.

First pic - Jug Creek, Bokeelia, Pine Island FL
Second pic - 10000 Islands off Goodland FL. Nearly full moon. The two lights in the distance are the headlamp and campfire of a group of fellow EC’ers that I was meeting up with to camp on Panther Key.


I’ve done this only a few times, always with a light attached behind me on the kayak. Then I’m visible to companions and any possible power boats … never encountered one. My location locally was such that bats were commonplace at that time.

night is a great time out. I don’t go out if it’s rough say 18" chop max . If I can’t read the water it’s not a good feeling. Depends what direction your going in for moonlight :crescent_moon: and your ability to see.


Night paddling did not work well for me on our river. Not sure what kind of insects they were but one or two ran into my face (probably the other way around) every few seconds. Visibility was OK on straight stretches, you could see glare off the surface like in @brodie’s photos. But on curves the trees made everything black and it was too hard to see obstructions without a light. With a light the cloud of insects was freaky.

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Most of my local paddling is on large rivers in an urban area so there are lots of illuminated bridges and ambient street and commercial lighting along the banks, though a large proportion of the shore is tree-lined. I always have white signal lights fore and aft, but there is always enough light to paddle without a headlamp or any kind of forward throwing light.

It’s actually quite a magical experience, especially on clear full moon nights. The waters here always look like molten silver at night and like molten gold at sunset.

One of my favorite night paddling memories is still of kayaking upstream on the Housatonic from its seagrass delta at Long Island Sound up to the bridge where we had launched earlier in the day.

Most years I try to paddle down the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh’s “Point” (the confluence where the Mon and Allegheny form the Ohio) on the Fourth of July to watch the spectacular Zambelli fireworks launched from river barges. Fireworks from the water are wonderful since the reflections are all around you.
Point sunset kayak


I’ve done some night paddles. Mostly I like paddling into the night… love being on the water at dusk and into the darkness, but then it gets kind of dull since everything kind of looks the same. At dusk, the surface takes on that purple-pink-silver, almost oily, hue and I always marvel at the beauty. Of course, a lot depends on location. In urban areas everything is lit up and the light reflects off the water, and that’s cool, too.

Then there was the time I went on the Shenandoah with a friend who “knew the river.” It was a long shuttle on a mostly straight highway. Rivers don’t go straight, so, I was apprehensive, but my buddy assured me we’d be back before dark. At dusk we asked a couple fishing people on the bank how far to the take out? Their answer, “I hope you brought a flashlight,” was not reassuring.

There was no moon. I was in the bow and we kept smashing into mostly submerged ledges. I’d hop out and we’d pull over and paddle a bit until, wham! Another ledge. I had no idea what the take out looked like in the dark, but we somehow found it about 3 hours after dark. That was not as fun as some other night paddles.

Then there was the full-moon night a friend and I decided to camp out along a short Class II stretch of river. It was quite lovely as we paddled across a mile-wide pool heading into the rapids. I somehow lost track of my friend on the pool. I waited at the entrance to the rapid. I tooted my whistle. I flashed lights. Waited what seemed like an eternity, and then decided she must have thought I was gone into the rapid and she was downriver. So I headed into the rapid looking for her. It scared the heck out of me. Out on the pool, I had great vision. But it was summer and dense foliage cast shadows on the narrow rapid, and
that really messed with my eyesight. In the shadows, I saw nothing but a black void. Where the moonlight was on the water it was bright, especially the foaming waves, which looked luminescent. Between the shadows, the bright white foam and the black pools of water, I just couldn’t make out the river features and could easily have passed my friend. It seemed like a miracle that I reached the camping spot without mishap, but my friend wasn’t there and didn’t show up for another 20, excruciating minutes. Where had she been? Waiting for me at top. All’s well that ends well, right? But good lord, I’ll never do that again.

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Haven’t done much but I do enjoy it. I put two headlamps on. The one that points backwards has a red setting which I use just to make myself visible. The frontward facing one I mostly leave off. I bought some little red and green lights that are supposed to attach port and starboard but couldn’t find them when I was packing for my last trip.
Lake Champlain at Ausable Point

Only under safe conditions. Power boats scare me in the day time.

first two times fish jumped up night paddling it startled me :astonished:.

Getting lost in the marshes is also fun like a maze. Have to watch water movement to make sure you’re not going yo a dead end.

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I have never launched in the dark but have paddled till 4 AM. Seems like a PITA to gear up and launch in the dark. I don’t do night when water is much below 60°F

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Don’t know if it counts as night paddling, but I was out shortly before sunrise a couple of years ago when a loon came up from behind and landed about 25 yards away. They are not graceful landing or talking off. Scared you-know-what-less!

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I enjoy the woods and water at night. Our Group have done several full moon paddles together. Here is a short tale about a canoe and a longbow I wrote. I have several hunting stories like this I have written in the past to share with friends and family.

A Canoe, a Paddle, and a Longbow

Frank and I had paddled this stretch of backed-up river two days before. The recent torrential rains had numerous trees down and debris floating in the water. We saw a deer on the bank of the river as well as a number of flooded out of their lodges beavers that day. I noticed the oaks and persimmons too. Brant and I had paddled this same stretch the first of May this year and talked with a man that hunted the area. Anyway, it all added up in a decision to paddle in and hunt the place.

It has been many years since I have used a canoe to transport me into out of the way places to hunt. I first used a canoe to hunt wild turkeys along the River Styx near Paynes Prairie FL. Later to cross Little Lake George, a wide place in the St. Johns River, to deer hunt. I would put in before daylight on the outflow of Mud Springs and paddle the crystal-clear spring run to the lake. The last time I used a canoe to hunt was about 20 years ago. So, I was looking forward to being in a canoe with a paddle, longbow, and arrows as companions.

The Landing at the old washed-out bridge on the dirt road was in the first blush of the fall season. The trees were changing from their summer wardrobe into their gaudier fall outfits, a last fling before the much more somber grays and browns of winter. In the Piedmont of SC they only rarely get a chance to put on winter whites. Red Maples, Tulip Poplar, Winged Elms, Sycamore, and Persimmon Trees seemed in the biggest hurry to change while the oaks like to take their time. Of course, the Loblolly Pines refuse to take off their summer greens.

The air was a nice mid-seventies and a clear sky made for a bright fall day. Some wonderful weather to be paddling my old Curtis Solo Tripper. I got out and checked for deer sign and white oak acorns at three different places and surveyed from the water the habitat as I paddled. The recent flood waters had receded, and the banks were scoured of much of the forest floor leaf litter making it easy to see new tracks in the sand and mud. At the last stop I set up and hunted until dark. I entered a narrow tributary creek that was too narrow to turn the 15’ solo canoe around so I would have to back out. The ground went up steeply on one side and several big White Oaks were on the hillside along with various red oaks, Shagbark and Pignut Hickory trees, and Loblolly Pines. The squirrels were everywhere, and a Red Shouldered Hawk flew through which caused the staccato chattering alarm that sounds to me like vile rodent invective. I could hear the fast-swooshing flight of ducks coming into roost on the water.

I love the twilight! The world seems more mysterious as the light dims and turns a reddish golden hue, and the beings of the night begin to stir the leaf covered ground, the air, and the water. Your ears become attuned to the rhythm and melodies of a realm on the other side of day. Twilight is the passage from a world of color where vision is master into the dark mystery which calls us to be more aware of our other senses. A chill begins to settle, and reality is muted, and excitement intensified as you listen and watch while the shadow darkens. It is the witching hour where we cross the looking glass boundary of the sun’s splendor into the preeminence of starlight and moonshine. To quote from a song “Cold hearted Orb that rules the night, removes the colors from our sight. Red is gray and yellow white, but we decide which is right and which is an illusion.”

Disrupting the night with a garish harshness I used my head lamp to secure my longbow and quiver of arrows in the canoe. For me the longbow is truly a magic wand of adventure taking me places I would not normally frequent. Opening life’s secrets and truths to me in the intimate and compelling age-old dance of hunter and hunted. I feel ancient, primitive, in the presence of mystery and magic which is both life and death.

The wary deer lived. I enjoyed the dance, and now was set to pick up a magic wand of another sort. One which contained motion in its static form brought to life in the hands of the canoeist and the fluid nature of water. Oh, the water at night, now there is magic in water, and it is magnified at night. Brought to the surface in the darkness. Illuminated this night by the setting, sliver of a crescent, newly waxing moon. It could be glimpsed between the trees, low nearing the horizon in the western sky. The very image of a full drawn longbow. Surely on this night held in the hand of Artemis moon goddess of the hunt.

As I paddled without the aid of headlamp, I paddled suspended between a pair of star-studded skies. In the one over my head, I could see Cassiopeia (Lazy W), Ursa Major (Big Dipper), Ursa Minor (Little Dipper), and Polaris (North Star). On the water’s surface, the boundary between the two skies, I could see the Big Dipper and Little Dipper as mirror images. It was enthralling. About now I startled a big fish very close by that splashed and swirled at the surface as I paddled past. The adrenaline took a bit of time to wear off, and luckily my abrupt jerk and jump didn’t result in a swimming lesson. Yes, there is wonder tinged with an edginess when alone in the night, in the woods, or on the water. It makes you feel alive with every nerve ready to respond just below your consciousness.

Invariably I would look down from the dark canopy of trees and starry sky to notice another shadow approaching on the starry looking glass. It would be a newly fallen tree or Loch Ness head and neck shape of bare dead branches rising above the water’s surface from long dead and submerged trees. I do alright as long as I can keep the bow pointed somewhere into the narrow strip of the mirrored night sky upon the water. It has the star shine to illuminate these watery phantoms. The moon’s crescent is now below the hidden horizon of this densely wooded waterway, and the stars seem to shine brighter as if they are coming out like the other more timid creatures of the night. The last of summer’s insect songs are being sung in earnest.

A thunderous splash at the rear of the canoe as a beaver tail smacks the mirrored sky. I flinch again, but less this time as the big fish has taught me to expect this type of treatment for so rudely being in their presence. I paddle on looking to my port for a break in the forest’s shadowed canopy, and a turn to the starboard of the mirrored sky on which I travel. This marks the entrance on my port to Big Creek.

There are some big trees down in the water with one extending across the creek. So, the alien light on my head shines my way now instead of stars on the water. Another beaver sees me invading it’s space and slaps its tail, goes under, and comes back up closer to the canoe. Objecting to my stupidity for intruding the beaver heads for the bow of the canoe, and just before running into it slaps its tail again splashing me and disappears below the once mirrored sky. A Great Blue Heron honks its displeasure launching from its roost and flies ahead of me up the creek. They always seem to fly away ahead of you be it night or day. Rarely daring to let you pass.

In the alien light the once looking glass sky becomes a flood muddy water with miscellaneous small leaf litter debris floating on the brown surface. Surprising little greenish and blueish lights appear riding on pieces of this debris. I recognize them as the reflections from spider eyes. As I work my way through an opening in the down tree’s top and come out the other side, I notice that the trunk of the tree acts like a dam holding back a big floating mass of brown dead leaves and sticks. On top of this mass is hundreds of bright little spider eyes shining back at me. I am glad not to be some poor insect rafting on a leaf into this mat of spider infested flood debris.

I land on the muddy bank, and load canoe and gear. The headlights of my car flood the darkness. Just a memory now, I leave the magic of the night behind.


In my state ¶ colored lights are prohibited on canoes and kayaks. I believe they are also a no-no on navigable waterways under Coast Guard jurisdiction. Red and green are specific directional signal lights for marine craft and having them on a tiny boat would be confusing. White continuous light only – flashing only for emergency.


That’s what I do as well. I don’t want to look like a powerboat when I don’t have the right of way responsibilities of a powerboat. White light on aft deck, reflective tape on paddle, pfd and boat, flashlight out and ready to use.

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With my ‘vampire-like’ hours, most of my paddling is in the dark.
(chart: hour of the day on top, the number indicates number of days paddled sometime in that hour)

I never see the falling light as a few have described above, my experience is dark to light. It’s interesting to mark the change in light - for several hours paddling with an invisible kayak, then, all of the sudden (over the spread of about 1/2 hour), I notice that I have a visible kayak.


Interesting. I had read that te recommendation was green on starboard and red on port just like bigger boats but that kayaks and other small craft it was suggested rather than required. I guess I had some bad info.

A red light on the back of the boat at night would be confusing because red should be on the port bow.

My enjoyment of night paddling was greatly diminished after nearly being run down by a zodiak running illegally with no lights and with an electric motor. We did not have lights on either although we were carrying them, which is technically legal according to USCG regulations. That’s not something that I would repeat.

In my early days my wife and I joined a group in the Adirondacks where a friend was leading a night paddle on a moonless night insisting that we turn off all lights. In retrospect it was amusing to hear boats colliding and crunching into rocks.

Generally I like exploring in a kayak and seeing things. Night paddling does not always align that well with that aim.