Glow in the dark line vs. reflective

It has been suggested that we (a not for profit kayak club with about 35 boats) replace our bow and/or deck lines with glow in the dark lines.

In the summer we do paddle on a river with tug boat traffic after dark and have radios, lights, pfds, etc, we do not have a large budget and another option is reflective lines.

Any opinions on the worth of this or experience with the glow in the dark rope?

Call me a skeptic
but I cannot believe that a power boat under way could see the dull glow of a phospherescent line. Even if it had ben well-charges with sunlight.

At least the lines with reflective tracers do reflect even low light - I know that due to evening pictures I have taken. And polyester line w/tracer would sag less than the Pelecan nylon variety.

My $0.02.


Do you use SOLAS patches?

– Last Updated: Feb-10-11 12:36 PM EST –

Reflective line is nice, but for a commercially traveled channel it seems that you would use that AFTER you had made liberal use of SOLAS or similar reflective patches on the paddle shafts and blades, the boats themselves on peoples' PFD's. The Great Hudson River Paddle, which ends in NY Harbor, focuses on these options. Given where they paddle and the fact that they haven't lost anyone yet, their provisions are a good guide.

well, likely neither
Glow in the dark lines do not put out that much light. Someone who doesn’t see a kayak with a person is not likely to see the lines.

Reflective lines only work when lights shine at them. These may be useful is someone is searching for you (and using a light), but not likely going to be of much help when someone is not looking for you.

Most of the tour companies around here that do night trips use those disposable light sticks on trips. Often they strap them onto a paddle blade, so you get light, motion, and it can be easily waved in the air if you need to make sure someone sees you.

GITD too feeble a light
Unless there’s some new superbright version (which I doubt), glow-in-the-dark materials are too dim for use on moving vessels.

Suggested by whom?
Paddle easy,


put on some 4"x4" solas patches and carry appropriate lights. Glowing or florescent lines require illumination to glow and the amount of florescence is inadequate to define who or what you are. Better off putting on reflective tape that will instantly reflect your position with much brighter amount of light.

USCG Reflective Material

– Last Updated: Feb-10-11 7:55 PM EST –

Skip the glow in the dark nonsense, the glow sticks, and other gimmicks.

Use battery powered lights along with SOLAS tape on the paddles & kayak.
Supplement with reflective deck lines.

Perhaps take a hint from the sculling community

Consider a reflective flag:
Researchers at England's Heriot-Watt University studied the visibility of various signaling devices
and found that flags were by far the most reliable and cost-effective location device tested.
Yellow was the most conspicuous color in all sea states,
even with breaking waves and deteriorating light.
A day-glo yellow pennant was consistently spotted at 1.2 miles to 1.8 miles.
Red and orange flags were only visible to a mile away.

Here’s my same old question
Forget glow-in-the-dark rope. If you need to be seen at night, do it the right way and use lights.

Now to my standard question about WHY people love reflective material so much.

From your post, I see you are concerned about boat traffic in the area, not about searchers finding you. Have you ever seen any kind of powerboat in your area scanning the water ahead with a spotlight while underway? If yes, are they vessels that you can reasonably expect to take evasive action?

Here’s why I ask the question. In my local power-boat infested waters, I’ve never seen a powerboat use a light to see what’s ahead, first, because almost nothing which can reasonably be expected to be floating in the water as an obstacle can be seen with a light while traveling at high speed, and second, because other boats on the water are supposed to have navigation lights to make them visible. No amount of reflective material will protect you if the other boats are not using “headlights” to light their way. On the Mississippi, I see tugboats pushing strings of barges all the time, and those vessels DO use spotlights to guide them up and down the river at night, but if you get in their way, no amount of reflective material on your boat will do any good because they are completely unable to take evasive action to avoid you, so you just need to stay out of their way. I’m expecting that in coastal waters, other boats are NOT shining lights ahead of them except when looking for channel buoys, and certainly some of those vessels (you mentioned tugs) are big enough that you should be staying out of their way with the knowledge that they won’t be able to avoid you even if they see you.

Search and rescue is a whole different situation, and if someone is looking for you at night, they will be using spotlights so reflective material on you or your boats is great in that case. But the nature of your question makes me think you are putting misplaced faith in reflective material instead of proper lighting.

not so sure anyone’s right
At least in an urban or heavily trafficked environment, use your radio wisely and let captains know you are there and what your plans are. Otherwise they won’t be looking at the water surface for traffic. Salty?


I agree with everyone else

– Last Updated: Feb-11-11 5:52 PM EST –

Glow in the dark is not going to put out nearly enough light. I would look into some kind of powered lighting. You could even rig something up, wouldn't be that expensive and wouldn't use much power if you used LED-based lighting.

The problem with kayaks isn't just that they are unlit, even kayaks with deckmounted lighting are hard to see at night because they are so low. It would be best if you could put a unidirectional (dome) white light on a pole attached aft of your seat that is at least higher than your head.

reflection of light on the water
just speaking as an urban paddler but your light on a pole is still inadequate. I’ve tried store bought and home made, they’re still too low, too small, too dim.

Stay out of the channel and if you need to cross it use your radio. I’m not saying don’t use lights, I use fore, aft and sometimes headlamps. But don’t blind your paddling partner in the hopes that a motor powered boat will see you. Assume they won’t, because unless they’re cops or homeland security, they won’t.

One of the best I’ve seen
On one of our night trips a member bought a LED puck light made to stick in a closet, cost a few bucks. He took a white plastic cup from the mini-mart for a diffuser lashed it to his back deck lines and stuck the light under it. It was almost bright enough to be distracting so we made him sweep boater. Even from the front of the group it was easy to tell where he was.

Not necessarily waterproof but good for occasional use.

Good luck


I did that and put it in a chart case
Made it perfectly waterproof, and the chart case attached to my back deck perimeter lines.


– Last Updated: Feb-12-11 1:07 AM EST –

The other boats are looking for running lights. The line might be good for a rescue or you could shine your own light on it to help show you have a boat but no substitute for running lights.

You can hear boats several miles away, make sure to have lights to shine at them.

why not, but…
If you’re not relying on a few strands of GITD anything for your safety, go ahead and buy a bunch and use it. Of course if it’s very expensive, it’s your money!

When I see a little plastic “NavLights” going for $60 I’m kinda flabergasted. I can buy 10 - 30 led lights for that much at my local hardware store. If you’re on the water in the dark where power boats travel you NEED lights AND reflectors.

If a good portion of the paddlers wear headlamps and you all stay in a group you improve your safety and visibility too. I wouldn’t travel with a group that had all kinds of lights on their boats (unless it was some kind of flotilla or event), but feel very strongly about each person having a good quality headlamp or waterproof floating flashlight at the ready.

glowing replies

– Last Updated: Mar-03-11 7:00 PM EST –

Thanks for all the replies. 99% of our group hasbeen dubious from the start about the value of replacing our regular rigging with this expensive glow in the dark.

We already equip all kayaks with white stern light and green and red bow lights. every group goes out with marine radios, most have reflective pfds, adn some have reflective lines, etc.

And yes, I have seen police boats, coast guard boats, water taxis and even tugs use their powerful search lights to find us after we make a radio call that we are in the area. And we do radio calls periodically as we change position.

And of course we stay out of the channel instead unless crossing.

So you have all confirmed that the glow in dark lines are not for us.