Info about safety LED lights

I’m looking at various white stern light setups for my kayak. DIY and store bought. What I’m having trouble figuring is: 1) what level of brightness is really required by coast guard, 2) how number of LEDs in a light correlates to light output between manufacturers. On the latter, if you’re buying a household bulb it tells you how many lumens, so you can compare apples to apples, but I’m unclear how to get similar info on LEDs.

Can anyone shed any light on this?

Info about safety LED lights
The CG doesn’t require a certain brightness, only that your white (non blinking) light can be seen by other boats while underway, or in times when other boaters should see your light. in otherwords you can be dark which is better for your night vision, then turn it on when you approach other traffic.

there’s a few night paddling lights on the market, but i use the Guardian LED wp light which is plenty bright and easily clips on to your gear. cheap too,

I also small wp lights by PrinceTec and Pelican. A good idea is to tie your light on a small string to your pfd so you don’t lose it. if it attaches directly, no worries.

check out my blog posting on the subject…

Thanks. Still have a question.
If I’m sorting between various flashlight options, is there any standard of lumens between numbers of LEDs from different manufacturers? Is a 6 LED twice the power of a 3 LED regardless of who makes it?

different LEDs
There are different wattage ratings for LEDs, just as there are different wattages of light bulbs. So a single LED light could have a 3 watt LED which is brighter than 3 much less powerful LEDs.

So the short answer is no - you can’t compare brightness of two lights simply by the number of LEDs they each have.

Respectfully disagree
The CG very much regulates the intensity of legal nav lights. And the exact color, and also the angle.

Look up the particulars in 33 CFR part 84.

Also, the “one bright all around light” is not exactly the legal requirement. The legal requirement is found under COLREGS Rule 25(d)(ii). This requirement is to have one of the following- white stern light (Not a 360degree white light!) and sidelights (keep in mind the brightness, and particularly the angle of view are regulated), or to carry a bright light that can be turned on as necessary. Also keep in mind that the Rules also specify that the use of such a bright light (think searchlight) must not be shined into the eyes of another pilot (legal interpretation of Rule 36).

A major point I would like to make about theses LED lights, is that they give a false sense of security. In addition to these lights being insufficiently bright enough, they also rarely if ever meet the necessary legal requirement of height (also regulated). On low freeboard boat, given that information, one has to assume that they are easily not observable. Which means that the operator is flagrantly violating one of the most basic of all Nav regs, Rule 2.



(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner,

master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply

with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required

by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the


(b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had

to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances,

including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a

departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

One interpretation could be the following-

As an operator of a small vessel that is not required to have any sort of navigation lights I am doing my best to make navigation safer for everyone involved by putting that subpar white light on my boat.

Oh yes, I still have that bright hand held torch that I can shine upon my boat if I decide that taking my hands off the paddle to operate the light is more beneficial to the safety of navigation than getting out of the way of approaching vessel for which holding the paddle in my hands is a requirement.

You seem to know the regulations VERY well. With that in mind, what lighting system do YOU use or what products would you recommend?



including the limitations of the vessels
That is the key phrase to be taken out of Rule 2, that can be used to interpret behavior as well as any useful lighting.

Too often, I witness “vessels under oars” at night, with all sorts of crazy lighting (red strobes, white strobes, etc), and what I see is that their overall behavior assumes everyone can now see them, and get out of their way. Nothing could be further from basic operation.

Even with legal lighting, one should assume that the “limitation of the vessels” of kayaks is that they are likely to not be observed. Thus, our navigation decisions should be made based on that assumption.

I only carry one bright light, nothing else. I also operate with a an emphasis on maintaining a proper lookout, and am willing to paddle in a place that other vessels are not willing to go (due to draft, shoreline irregularities, etc). If I see another vessel that may potentially be an issue, often I just change my course sufficiently to negate any possibility of danger. If it is necessary to inform the other vessel, the best results I have had is to shine my bright light not at them, but on my foredeck to shoe my position and my heading.

A very interesting extra bit lies in Rule 6, the safe speed rule. Under (a)(iv), there is specific mention of the danger “presence of background light such as from shore lights or from back scatter of her own lights”. In a city environment, with wind ripple on the water reflecting all those lights, vessel lighting is close to worthless.

Another Rule which must be respected is Rule 20. Rule 20 is very clear- various lighting schemes are reserved for specific use. For instance, while an ignorant kayaker might think themselves more “visible” by carrying a flashing light (unfortunately very common), such a light is reserved for a fixed Aid to Navigation light, specifically indicating danger. Flashing red lights (again, I have seen illegal use of, locally by rowers, sometimes kayakers) is also an ATON, and is a channel marker. Imagine the unfortunate, but informed, boater who sees a flashing white light at night, has to assume it is a new ATON indicating danger, slaps themselves for not updating their chart using the light list…and then sees the flashing white light move!

Not arguing, just questioning. Isn’t there some debate as to whether COLREGS even apply to kayaks?

None at all
Even SUP’s, outside of surf zone or a marked swimming zone, are subject to COLREGS.

In my judgement, anyone who has ever claimed that kayaks are somehow exempt from COLREGS, ought to be ought to be thrown out into the middle of a VTS without a paddle.

No opinion on this. Absolutely without question, we are considered vessels.

DIY it’ll be above the norm for that…

Yes, I’d already seen that! nt

there is no “safety LED light"
you either carry a " electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.”

or you use running lights.

what I’d suggest is this if you’re expecting to cross paths with other boats:

and this:

which may not technically meet the colregs it is a lot closer to what any small boat would use providing continuous information on position and direction to other craft.

your state boating laws should help
give you an idea what you need.

I made my own white stern light from a 3 AA cell Maglight with a clear tube on top and a refractor on top, and it works well. I use a red/green bow running light on my bow, retrofitted to run off of a Radio Shack battery pack and LED, with a 3 D cell LED Maglight mounted on the bow for a spotlight, rigged with a remote switch to turn it on and off. So far as I know, nobody makes a complete LED running light setup for canoeing/kayaking, so you may have to make your own.

Best bet would be to talk to some ultramarathon length racers and find out what they use. The MR 340 forums are rife with info on lighting.