Black paddle safety?

-- Last Updated: Jan-16-07 3:29 PM EST --

Has anyone else noticed that GENERALLY paddle manufacturers sell either:
(1) cheap, heavy, BRIGHTLY colored paddles, or
(2) expensive, lightweight, BLACK paddles?

Are we to believe that there is no way to manufacture a really lightweight carbon paddle that is anything other than black? I'm willing to spend money on reduced-weight paddles, but not if it means that I get run down by some power boater---while I franticly wave a nearly invisible black paddle in the air.

Some paddle manufacturers even purposely market paddles that are black---to LOOK like they are expensive, top-of-the-line carbon paddles. I hope it doesn't take the Consumer Product Safety Commission to step in and set rules---for a sport which has so far policed its own safety concerns quite well.

I know there exist some fairly light, bright paddles out there, but it seems as if we are being asked to concede that the absolute lightest paddles available MUST be a dark, hard-to-see color.

I should disclose that I am complete newbie, wet behind the ears, and may be entirely off base with these concerns. I also recall enough of high school chemistry to to know that carbon... is black! I just wonder if somewhere there is a paddler/chemist who might be tempted to try and coax carbon into a brighter appearance.

Decals & stickers man!
I have my Zaverals junked up with all kinds of decals & reflective stickers. It doesn’t add much weight, but gives you visibility and personalizes your paddle so it’s easy to find when leaning against a tree along with the paddles of everyone else when you make a pit stop.

chrome tape is cheap and light

There ARE light weight, non-black ones
Weaner and Swift are the two manufacturer that makes fiberglass paddle that are respectably light. And they’re not black.

I confess my paddles are gray, not any better than black as far as visibility goes. But I usually watch out for power boats and NOT relying on them to see me or my paddle.

waving paddle
If a power boat was moving directly at me I wouldnt be sitting there waving my paddle, I’d be paddling. all you need is a little red, yellow, or orange reflective tape. or sand lightly with some 240 grit and spray with your choice of highly visible paint

paddle visibility …
i use an AT carbon paddle. it’s black. i think the visibility of a paddle blade is highly over-rated and color makes little difference to your ‘safety’.

In plastic manufacturing (I don’t know
about carbon), one loves to run products in black because you can use a high percentage (if not 100%) of scrap material because black will not show defects or blemishes and you can blend many diverse plastic colored resins together and add black colorant and use up excess regrind.

I believe “bending branches” also
has some brighter colored light wgt paddles. However, Like previous poster indicated; “i’d be paddlin away from the boater”. You should think about a bright PFD rather than worrying about your paddle color.

Good observation…
You are on the mark including the black wanabe paddles. Except we don’t need no stinkin’ regulators.

I often see white or yellow paddle blades long before I would see the kayak without them. I have both carbon and FG paddles and on night paddles I frequently take the white paddle.

The silver stickers would help and add very little weight.

A real concern…
A $400 paddle is a huge investment. If you have a black paddle and let it go on a high volume river it will be very difficult to find. Also the color blends in with rocks and the road. Stepping or driving over it accidentally can be an issue.

Solution: I slap some neon orange tape around mine, on the shaft - where my hands will never be. That tape has allowed me to find the paddle when it would have been lost otherwise.

My experience is that motion does
more than color for visibility. I’ll generally catch the motion of another kayaker’s blades well out, even if it’s only intermittently visible above the waves. Often the first time I spot an OC-1 will be when the paddler switches sides and the hands come up overhead. I’m probably a lot more attentive to what’s going on around me than many powerboaters, but motion does tend to draw the eye.

black is stealth
i like to not be noticed. i remember an evening paddle last fall when other boats were stopped by dnr, they seemed to stop every boat that came out. they escorted two of them off the water. i’ve also had motorboaters change course to blast by and ‘check me out’ i prefer to go unnoticed. that way my life is my responsibility. my homemade paddles have black or natural wood blades.

best to always assume
the other boaters will have a hard time seeing you no matter what you wear, carry, paddle, etc.

Kayaks ride so low in the water.

The smart thing is to paddle alertly and defensively, be able to assess distance and speed, and understand about boat paths and wakes.

Some basic understanding of maritime law is good too, although not (yet) required for kayakers as it is for people who operate boats or PWC.

Then you can choose whatever colors you like :wink:

Paddle, don’t wave!
You can avoid an impact in a stroke or two. IMO - Waving only indicates you have no business being out there.

Odds are if someone hasn’t seen you by the time they get close enough to be a real (vs. perceived) problem, and they’re going fast enough to be a risk to you can’t avoid - paddle color isn’t going to matter.

In the time it takes you hold the paddle up and wave (or blow some silly horn) you could have simply moved. Having your paddle up in the air leaves you with no way to control you kayak (and so even more likely to be waked/capsized/whatever. Paddle in the water, moving and steering is better - and what they are made for - in any color.

You are in almost certainly the most maneuverable craft out there, so take advantage of it. It’s wrong to expect everyone else to take action, and crazy to count on it. Don’t act like a newbie speed bump sitting there waving and yelling. It’s their water too.

The visible “paddle flash” of color and/or motion is HIGHLY overrated by your fellow paddlers. Only other paddlers are likely to pick up on it. We tend to be the only ones at the right angle to the horizon, and going slow enough, and (most importantly) having enough time to leisurely look around and pick up on it. That rhythm means something to a paddler, not so to non-paddlers. Maybe someone on shore, or drifting in a boat would see it too, but in my experience non-paddlers miss it or pick up on it much later than paddlers. Worst being motor boat operators - who are scanning differently - more quickly - and mostly looking for other boats. They simply aren’t looking in one direction long enough for this rhythm to register. Besides - if they are about to hit you, that whole distance/visibility issue is really not coming into play. Way too late for that.

Keep a constant active watch, be aware of sun angle, etc., etc.

I seem to have a lot less issues since I switched from pool toy colors to boat colors (white/gray/brown) and from big white paddle blades to skinny black or brown Greenland paddles. They seem to react to me as another boat more, and expect me to act like another boat - which I do. I also prefer it when they either ignore me (or don’t see me at all) - as when they do react to me they are more likely to make unneeded course corrections, make poor estimates of my speed, etc. A lot of bother when they’d been better off simply holding course/speed.

Mostly, I’m just not as concerned about them as I used to be. Gaining some skill and learning to enjoy wakes really changes things. While I do frequent high traffic areas - including ports - I don’t paddle speedboat infested inland lakes. My condolences if you do.

Long story short: Use whatever paddle you like. If you want color - OK. If you want to add color, OK - just don’t think it is a substitute for being able to handle you kayak in the conditions (including traffic) you find yourself in.

PS - Safety is in YOUR hands. Please keep it there (and out of silly regulations on paddle color, etc.)by becoming competent with all your gear in all conditions you’ll see (+ a good margin of error). Kayakers tend to have a bad name among power boaters - and it’s largely earned through the waving/yelling mentality. Don’t be one of them.

Bright PFD and hat are probably good ideas.

carbon blade safety
In sunlight, the water on a black blade reflects light quite nicely. That is one reason why wildlife peepers prefer the old single blade stick.

Those who are concerned about their lives, and I hasten to point out that, as some of 6 billion folks living in enough space to support 3 billion, none of us should be allowed to be, a trip to a hardware store with a five dollar bill will provide a can of yellow or orange spray paint.

Paddle Defensively
Just as driving a car, or even more so a bike, you will greatly reduce your chance of accident by driving defensively. Paddling defensively will do much more for you than changing your paddle color would. One of the very last things you want to do is wave your paddle. As several others have said, use your paddle to do what it was intended for, manuver your boat to stay clear or out of harms way. That said I have several friends who have painted their paddle tips a bright color. String painted his several years ago and he says the paint has held up fine.

I paddle a variety of locations. I often paddle amoung power boats, sail boats, jet skis, and commertial traffic. Generally speaking we paddlers know less about the rules of the road than other users of the waterways. That makes us the unknown quantity apt to do the unexpected, like stopping in front of oncomming traffic and waving our paddle instead of paddling out of the way.

Happy Paddling,


I don’t agree
"Waving only indicates you have no business being out there"

If you are talking about waving and doing nothing else, then yes - but a properly timed wave is a good thing I think.

I will generally give a wave if I am crossing a main channel and a fast moving power boat that was out of sight when I started my crossing comes within a few hundered yards of me, on a course that will come closer to me than I care for.

One wave, because it might help the other guy see me.

Then I change my speed or course to get the heck out of the way, assuming that I was not seen.

Many interesting viewpoints…
…and observations have turned up in this thread. As the original poster, I certainly did not intend to give the impression that the color of a paddle ranked anywhere near the top of the list of things to consider when trying to avoid a collision on the water. Nearly all of my experience on the water is that of a sailor—and most of it switching back and forth between sail and motor propulsion—so, while I am quite aware of the rules concerning “right of way” I’ve never thought it wise to press my luck even when I was sure I had it. On the water is no place to prove any kind of point.

I am also guided by the advice given me by a driving instructor several years ago: “When driving a car, always be playing a game in your head. Always pretend that you and your car are invisible to anyone you encounter on the road.” That good advice has withstood the test of time.

Much of my boating experience was long distance cruising on the Ohio River and similar waterways. I made it a habit to maintain VHF radio contact with tow operators because I was certain I would get the short end of the stick in any kind of close call with one of those behemoths! As for power boaters, jet skiers and the like—we found that we enjoyed ourselves much more by proceeding Monday thru Friday, and then anchoring in a secluded spot on the weekends—so we could merely observe all the crazy antics rather than have to deal with them close up. Even that degree of caution did not keep us from being buzzed by jet skiers. I readily admit to recurring fantasies about having some kind of “open season” on jet skiers (bag limit of two per day…) Oh, gee… I hope the DNR folks are not reading this. :wink:

Of course I am not advocating that paddlers hide on the weekends, but just that I have observed a more civilized form of boating occurs in many places Monday thru Friday… and that certainly has nothing to do with what color your paddle happens to be!

“closer to me than I care for”

– Last Updated: Jan-17-07 12:30 AM EST –

Yeah... seems to get us gets back to that perceived vs. actual danger thing.

"... closer to me than I care for."

Hmm... Just how close would that be?

What is the waving supposed to do? Make them alter course or speed? Or are you simply trying to alert them to the presence of a "special" boater?

In such a situation, with you crossing a known channel - it's normally up to you to keep out of the way. You are the more maneuverable craft, and the one cutting across traffic. Timing your crossing and stopping or altering course so other boats can operate normally. I'm not sure I see where the paddle waving fits into that.

I will conceed there can be times/places it might be a good idea - just not as a general practice or mindset. If you have time to wave - you also have better options and don't need to.

Lack of perception is actual danger
If someone is close enough that a course change would put you in danger of collision, you want them to know you’re there. Same drill as making eye contact with other drivers. You want to be on their mental map of places not to run their boats through.