Best light for inflatable kayak?

I am relatively new to kayaking and not planning on any true nighttime paddles, but want to prepared as we come into fall and the days get shorter, in case it takes me longer than expected to get back to my launch point, etc. I have an advanced element ultralite kayak, so not sure a suction mounted light would work. Would something like the UST See-Me 1.0 Waterproof LED Light be ok? Or a more traditional waterproof flashlight? I also have seen that the UST brand has strobe models, which would be good for an emergency, but they don’t seem to have one that has both a strobe and a steady light option, and I assume for typical evening use I would want a steady light? Thanks for any advice!

Suction mount likely wouldn’t work.

Unless your locality has a different law (which is rare), paddle vessels only need to have a white light which they can turn on in time to prevent a collision. You do not need to have lights on all the time (and generally wouldn’t, as having a light on would impact your night vision). So a flashlight is all you need. Waterproof is preferable. Using a helmet light, like a Black Diamond Storm waterproof light, can be a good idea for hands free usage.

If I think I may be out late, I usually carry one of the Lucy inflatable, solar charging lights for night paddles. I attach it behind me (using the straps around a line on the boat). If I know I will be out after dark, I will also bring a waterproof headlamp. Most of the time, neither is on. Adding SOLAS reflective tape to your boat and gear is also very helpful after dark.

I’ll second Peter’s suggestion: a standard Luci Light lantern is waterproof and plenty bright to attach to your deck so you can be seen as long as you make sure it is fully solar charged. I keep mine in my car on the dashboard so it always gets charged. And a good LED headlamp or one of the models that can clip to the front of your PFD that has a good bright forward throw will help as a “headlight”. I always take both, plus a spare, if I am doing a nighttime paddle or will be out late in the day when I might be out past sunset.

If paddling at night I generally use a waterproof light that is designed so it can be attached to a PFD strap on the back or your shoulder. Provides pretty good visibility without interfering with night vision. i also have a small divers flashlight that I bungee in front of me so I can quickly access it, but generally don’t have it on. The PFD light by itself is questionable as to whether or not it meets the requirement of a light that can be shown in an emergency. I usually use one of those LED light that suction cup on the rear deck, but you indicated that it will probably not work for you. The PFD light can save your life if you ever were to become separated from your boat at night, especially if you have a VHF radio or other means of communication on you.

Bear in mind that a strobe is an emergency distress signal on inland waters and can be confused with a navigational marker on coastal waters. A strobe by itself does not meet the requirements for nighttime paddling.

Headlights are acceptable, but if you paddle with others you tend to blind people when you turn to talk to them.

Be aware that if you paddle at night in coastal waters you need to carry some type of USCG approved nighttime distress signal. Most kayakers carry the minimum of three aerial flares, either hand or pistol launched. I carry an Orion 12 gauge pistol flare gun. My experience with the hand launched is that they are very unreliable after they’ve been carried for a while, even in a dry bag and original packaging. .For inland waters, most states follow the USCG requirements, but some have their own regulations.

There are other options for USCG approved coastal waters nighttime distress signals. There is a whole chapter in the COLREGS, but most are not practical for a kayak. For instance you can light a fire on your deck.

I used to like paddling with lights off until one moonless night my wife and I were almost run down by a dinghy with an electric motor and no lights also. Last time with no lights.

In Florida a paddle craft is required to have a white light, aka flash light, that can be lit to avoid a collision. Your personal standards or state regulations may be different.

I did get an interesting LED flashlight at EMS a couple of years ago. it’s a conventional medium sized tubular flashlight but is watertight and besides having a switch to select low, bright or flashing, it has a moisture activated switch so if it is dumped in the water it automatically comes on. Also floats. I have yet to test it.

By the way, get familiar with your state and local regulations on kayak lighting. In most places it can only be white steady light. Flashing or strobing white is a distress signal and red and green are reserved for powered boats. Yellow or amber and blue are usually reserved for fixed location or shore signals (like locks and docks.)

SC is the same.

Thanks everyone for the input. For now I have purchased a Luci light and also purchased some reflective tape for the kayak and my paddle. I have already have a headlamp which I will add to the mix of my gear for afternoon/evening paddles, and am looking into the water-activated PFD lights too. As I mentioned, no true night paddling planned for now (in fact, 90% of my outings so far have been at dawn), and I am also quite cautious about where/when I paddle, so I think this will be good to get me started. Very glad to have this resource to help me learn about things I might not have thought about in terms of safety.

Water activated lights don’t make much sense on a kayak where there is a chance of water being splashed on them or if you’re paddling in the rain. They might make sense on a larger boat if they might fall overboard and will float lens up.

Some emergency distress signaling lights are water activated and designed to float lens up and flash SOS. These are generally too bulky to be carried on a kayak.

My VHF radio floats and has a light that is water activated in case it falls overboard. It took me a while to dig through the menus and turn this feature off.

The water activated one I have only seems to light up when immersed, not from being splashed. I presume it is because the switch gap is breached by the current flowing through the water, which is a conductor, instead of being blocked by air, which is an insulator.

Which brings up an unrelated topic: I wonder how many people understand that electricity conducts through water, which means you can not only be harmed by lightning while out on or in the water in a thunderstorm but can be electrocuted by ground fault currents while in contact with water around docks and power boats.

I figure the immersion illumination would help me find the flashlight if I dropped it overboard rather than having any “safety” utility. I bought it because it was waterproof, not because of that odd feature.

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A lot of marinas and boats have very poorly designed and maintained electrical systems. As many boats in marinas are hooked up to shore power which can be 240V 50A or higher One should never swim in or immediately around marinas. Besides documented electrocutions an unknown number of drownings in marinas are suspected to be caused by electrical faults.

An old friend and one of my early sea kayaking mentors was a marine specialist and licensed sea captain on the Connecticut coast who oversaw maintenance and major renovations of yachts and taught classes in related subjects. I remember him attending multiple seminars and speaking about the hazards of stray current around watercraft and marinas. There were some horrifying incidents used as examples including a young girl who was killed by electrocution in front of her parents when she jumped over the side to take a dip from their boat to which her father had made an unsafe jury-rigged connection to a corroded dock power pedestal. Proper grounding is critical and problematic with larger vessels – it is even more fraught when you are dealing with salt water corrosion and related electrostatic issues.

I give all marinas as wide a berth as possible since hearing his tales – as a career electrician and electrical inspector myself for nearly 40 years I am creeped out by a lot of the wiring I see around them to begin with. If paddling near a marina is unavoidable I’m careful to avoid immersion.