Headlamp and night vision

Shopping for a waterproof headlamp to be used for evening paddles. Some models have a red light, claiming it helps with night vision.

Any truth to this? Would a red light be confusing to other mariners since red = port?


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What the red light does is not affect your already night adapted eyes like the bright white light will. It’s also not nearly as obnoxious at the bright white light when you forget that you have it on and blast someone else around the fire.

You will need to check with the Coast Guard in your area to see what is required/recommended of paddle craft at night. I seem to recall some previous discussions around here on this subject that went in several different directions.

A red headlamp won’t illuminate much beyond your cockpit but won’t destroy your night vision. We would normally paddle on bright nights without lights but carry a flashlight to warn oncoming boats. You can also use running lights to warn other boats.

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If you are paddling in conditions where there’s a concern for confusing other boaters with the color red, that means you are in relatively wide-open spaces, right? If so, what is the purpose of illuminating what’s around you at all? Isn’t it just an expanse of water, with the nearby water lit up by your light and the far-away water remaining completely unseen? In those conditions, I feel no need to see the nearby water any more clearly than I already do without a light (and the far-away water becomes more visible this way).

If you are reading a map or some such thing, a very dim white light might work as well as a red one. I have an old Aurora headlamp that’s barely bright enough to be useful by today’s standards, but often it’s enough, and when it’s on the low setting there’s hardly an issue of having it light up something in the foreground so brightly that my eyes overreact.

Regarding running lights, I avoid using them if I can on account of the incredible swarms of tiny flies that are so unavoidable on our waters, but when running lights are the safest option, I use two, with both of them being shielded such that neither is visible to me, but at least one is visible as seen from any direction. Having one’s eyes in the dark and yet still having a highly visible boat is a good combination.

Regarding the reading of maps and charts, illumination by red light causes anything red on the map to disappear. Try it sometime and you’ll find there are a lot of useful things printed in red that aren’t there anymore.

I like having the red setting for occasional use, but with today’s dimmable PWM LED technology the units are already very energy efficient and you just adjust the intensity for the situation. I doubt that most red LEDs will give enough illumination to be useful at the distances you’d encounter on the water though. Even strong white light is only useful near shore.

I tend to walk in the forest at night with very little or no light. I remember a time when I was using a very bright red LED headlamp and I saw these GLOWING RED EYES coming STRAIGHT FOR ME down the path in front of me. My heart started racing and I was thinking about going for my knife… then I turned on my white light and the world became an entirely different place. One where I was just about to stab someone’s pet dog that was trotting happily down the path to say hello. That was another era, when I thought “nature” was out to get me. I’m much more relaxed with “the wild” now.

I like and use lights with a red option for close work. You know how bright, white light will temporarily blind you? Doesn’t happen with the red. Dimmable white light is good, too.

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We use “Black Diamond” ones that have the red light feature.
To me it is absolutely useless for vision and I never use it.
It is water proof and has a tremendous beam, but as someone above mentioned, don’t look at your paddling partner(s) -you’ll blind them.
Mine has two different brightnesses
If you paddle where there are power boats; always keep a white light on somewhere on the boat or your head just to alert the other boats

Light on you head is not visible 360° .
I use Paddler Supply lights one front and one rear deck. Tape off 180° of front deck light. I also have Princeton Tec Apex head lamp two settings and one flashing mode. Also smaller Princeton Tec light with red light and white. I can see good in marshes and if I hear a motor boat I put brightest headlamp light on.





Red lamp.

I use rechargable batteries in head lamps. Deck lights will not fit rechargable batteries. I guess they don’t want you to.

Also have 4 spare Duracell AA batteries with me. They will fit headlamp or deck lights. Smaller vizz takes AAA

Red will not attract bugs etc, but for crossings etc you still need a white light. The question is whether you want it on your head. I find that even LED lights attract enough bugs that a deck mounted white light is easier to live with in warm weather. You may find your area wants the white light to be visible 360 degrees. Headlamps have some limits there.

On the evening group paddles locally at home we are headed back to the launch site by the time it is dark. I stay near the shore. Short of an outboard that would be easy to hear, a motor boat is going to take out their hull before they get to where I am. I will make sure I have a white light on for crossings or if I think it will be helpful to others around me. But I prefer the paddling without a light when I can.

Bad news is that I have yet to find a waterproof deck light that doesn’t die by the end of a season if I actually try using it a lot but I can’t say much better about waterproof headlamps if they end up getting wet either. I just expect to have to replace one or the other each year.

If you have reflective patches like SOLAS on your paddle, on bow and stern each side of the boat and a stripe on your PFD, a motor boat coming along at a slower pace will likely figure out you can’t move fast to get out of their way. The jerks however may be quite before they realize you are not motorized. A white light is a clearer signal, but that also assumes you are talking about an informed operator. Can’t count on that.

@PaddleDog52 said:
Light on you head is not visible 360° .
COLREGS do not require it to be visible 360°. They don’t even require it to permanently turned on.

Of course, your local area may have law which exceeds COLREGS. Or there may be other, good reasons for being constantly visible where you paddle. But one should not automatically dismiss a type of light, just because it is not 360 ° visible.

Ask a power boater if they can see reflective tape when they are NOT shining a light across the water. They already know the answer because buoys and channel markers have very efficient reflective patches, and they can’t see them at all at night, UNLESS they shine at them. Therefore, when looking for such markers, that is what they will do, but a motorboater running without such a light shining ahead will not see the reflective patches on your boat/paddles either. This is not a new topic here, and plenty of others have said this same thing many times over the years. A proper demonstration of this principle would do a lot more good than preconceptions and faith. (Oh, and your own lights won’t light the reflective patches from the power boater’s point of view, since the light is reflected straight back at the light source)

My understanding has been that the Coast Guard prohibits use of red lights on the big commercially navigable rivers like those many of us here in SW Pennsylvania frequent because they can confuse traffic on them. Red and green are reserved for indicating starboard and port on large vessels (so that they can judge the position and breadth of approaching craft.)

I hope everybody who has lights with the flasher option knows that is a distress signal on inland waters and should only be used for that.

I like the frosted solar LED Luci Lantern for glare-free map reading and for 360 degree visibility on the deck. Cheap, recharges in sunlight and waterproof, easily clipped to rigging with a small carabiner. It doesn’t replace the CG and State requirement for a bright white directional indicator but the large glowing cylinder is very visible from some distance. Don’t know what the maritime authorities would think of the version that cycles through psychedelic colors.

I think Luci Lights would have a winner if they made a flexible tubular version of the lights (like those “rope lights”) that you could stretch along the gunwales or drape around your neck.

Regarding the 360 degree thing, plz don’t start a silly battle about this one. I said it may be requested, note the may word. I have run across guidance in my state suggesting that light should be visible for 360 degrees. Once lawyers get involved, whether it is absolutely required is unimportant if There is an event and such visibility would have prevented it.

And yes, reflective patches only work when light is pointing at them. Hence no option but to turn on the light if in water where the,big boats play.


Don’t let shallow water give you a lot of confidence. I see boat’s around here 75 feet into the dry Marshes.

Paddkers Supply light is good to 100’ depth. Never had a problem with them 4-5 years.

Why have a light if it’s not 360° visible?