Kayak color for safety

I know I read an article, pretty sure it was on this site, that discussed choice of kayak color in terms of safety and visibility on the water under different conditions. I’m not able to locate it again, and hope someone can point me in the right direction.


Here is one FAQ from Cobra Kayak site:

Q- The waterways where I kayak have lots of boat traffic. What colors do you recommend for best visibility?

A- We recommend either white, yellow or mango for best visibility to other boaters.



– Last Updated: Jul-10-06 10:18 AM EST –

Yellow works well in a variety of lighting condtions. White looks too much like whitecaps, and red disappears quickly in low light.

Electric greens and even blues can be very visible in some conditions.

Many folks feel that boat color is important primarily for capsize & rescue situations. For visibility while paddling, your paddle blades, PFD, and shirt/jacket colors are more important.


If you search archives on “kayak color”, you will find several threads going back a couple of years. After reading all that, you might end up being as undecisive as you are now.

Take a look at the life-boats
Life-boats are designed to be found at sea and they are ALL orange/red.

Lime green
Highway safety departments have concluded that neon lime green is the most visible color in confusing situations, so they’ve switched all their safety vests from hunter’s orange to lime green.

You can get boats in that bright lime green, but it probably makes more sense to get your pfd and jacket in neon, high visibility colors. Out on the water, when I’m paddling with friends, its the bright yellow and bright lime boats that stand out. My white and wood boat vanishes (as does my greenland paddle).

I’m frustrated that kokatat, a great company, only offered my pfd and jacket in dark blues–pretty colors, but as camoflaged on the water as any color could be. Bike clothing companies realized a while ago how important neon colors are; I wish kayak clothing companies would do the same thing.

I’m tempted to get a highway safety vest to wear over my pfd (and also wear biking)–they’re lightweight, mesh, and only cost a few bucks online.

White is not a good color. Especially in wavy conditions. The white looks just like a wave. Some boats are two toned with white on bottom. When it flips over you can not see it. I think the Sea Kayaker Trouble book gets into some of this.

Grey is also not a good color. My wife had borrowed one and I could not see her at all only a short distance away. Especially at dusk.

Good luck and thumbs up to you for recognizing the issue!

one test
From the Irish Sea Kayaking Association:


Achill Island, October 1999

The ISKA and RNLI Achill conducted a useful and sobering exercise during the recent Symposium. The general objective was to establish how to find and rescue kayakers in trouble.


12 kayaks paddled out between Achillbeg and Clare Island in calm conditions. The first exercise was to test handheld VHF range. The lifeboat went to about 7 miles off and tested reception at various ranges. The second exercise was to find the kayaks and the third was to rescue injured kayakers from their boats.

Here is the feedback given on behalf of the RNLI by Tom Honeyman, 2nd Coxswain and Training Officer of the Achill Lifeboat and on behalf of the ISKA by Stephen Hannon, group leader and Coach Tutor with the ICU.


Honeyman: The first thing that’s noticeable (or not!) when dealing with sea kayaks is their invisibility! Even with the relatively large group that we were dealing with (around 12 or so) they were very hard to spot with the unaided eye beyond about 1.5 miles. Conditions were very good with a calm sea, moderate swell and good visibility. Just imagine what it would be like trying to find one or two kayaks in deteriorating conditions in poor light. Radar did pick up an indistinct smudge but this would be easily confused with ‘sea clutter’ when looking for smaller groups amidst heavier sea conditions.

The most noticeable kayak colour was yellow with the darker colours being least effective. A good aid that wouldn’t cost a lot would be the addition of reflective tape on the kayak and on the paddle blades. Where searchlights are being used it’s literally absolutely brilliant.

Hannon On his return, he drove about 800 metres to our right and seemed not see us at all and circled before he spotted us. A simple conclusion -he is big, we saw him - we are small, he couldn’t see us. His comments about visibility are interesting and seem to emphasise what Pat Smyth and Ruth Bracken said afterwards - they hitched a ride to shore on the ‘ferry’.


– Last Updated: Jul-10-06 10:58 AM EST –

I searched "kayak safety colour" and got no hits. Maybe it was my spelling...

Thanks, all.
ETA: Oops...hit the 'reply' on the wrong post. Redid the search. Yup. Pretty much as many opinions as colors out there.

FWIW: I don't get the 'spending all day looking at your kayak's deck color' issue. The ones I've had for courses and rentals have been yellow, red, blue, green, but never noticed a difference. I'm looking ahead where I'm headed, and around at the scenery and/or to make sure no one is headed for me, not at my boat. Granted, have never done more than one full day at at time (ie, no multi-day trips). Am I missing something?

Have you paddled neutral colors like…
light to mediums grays, tans, browns, black?

The bright color all day thing is something you’ll only notice once you get away from it.

Sort of like the way I thought having my feet on small hard foot pegs was OK until I tried full bulkhead foam. Or the way I thought my kayak’s stock seat was good until I put in a decent low back band. Or the way I used to feel paddling without rolling was OK before…

Visibility is a good thing to have - but I’ve found I actually get seen just as well in light gray as I did on bright light green. My light gray over white looks like a boat (boaters scan for other boats) - and I get treated like another boat more than I did on the beach toy colored kayak.

All kayaks are low vis to other boats. Get a bright PFD/hat.

Yellow/orange (the runners up are light blue or lime green) is helpful for spotting you by air. If you expect to be needing that - stick to those colors. Otherwise, get what you like.

My gray one is the only one I custom ordered new. The green one (sold) was what the shop had. Back then I wanted yellow, and have had 3 other yellow kayaks, one that only came in yellow, and two used. The rest I have/had were used too and I had no color choice (red, orange, blue, teal, green) except my SOF which I did in brown to look more natural - but could have done any color. Black rocks - but TOO hot down here.

Kayak colors, related to Motorcycles

– Last Updated: Jul-10-06 12:43 PM EST –

When on the water, the colored deck is only seen from the side. This presents a small color patch for people to see.

I believe this is similar to a motorcycle article I read a while ago. They studied Motorcycle accidents, to see if the color of the cycle made any difference in the number of accidents.

They finally found that the cycle color made no difference, BUT the color of the jacket or shirt worn by the riders made a big difference.

A large percent of the accidents were with people wearing dark colored jackets, Black, Brown, ect.

The smallest percent of accidents were with people wearing bright colored jackets.

My & their conclusion is that the color of the paddling shirt or jacket is just as important, if not more important than the boat deck color.

Your body is sticking up out of the water higher than the deck, so a BRIGHT colored shirt or jacket will help you be seen. MAYBE even more than the color of your Kayak Deck.

Think about this, and watch other paddlers, and draw your own conclusion! :)

2 cents
I have a 21’ surfski, medium gray hull and deck with 1’ or so of the bow and stern painted a bright red. All I know is that most people (when talking about my surfski) refer to it as ‘the red boat’. Literally only 3 feet of this 21’ long boat is red, but they see that contrast and it obviously stands out.

Enough for now?






From The Rescue Helicopter…Or…
The Coast Guard did studies from rescue helicopters, and found that a nice light, Robin Egg blue is the easiest to see, especially in low light conditions.

Red/orange is the first color to disappear in low light, and blue/green is the last.

But ON the water, the kayak doesn’t make as much difference as paddle, jacket, and helmet.

I paddle off the NORCAL Coast were they are always rescuing kayakers and surfers by helicopter. Most places you just need to tbe concerned about being seen from the water.

The other day I was out with a buddy in 3-5 foot whitecaps. I quit early and was on a bluff looking for him; he was out a couple hundred yards in a white arluk trimmed in light blue. He was wearing a white t-shirt and white hat. His paddle blades are white. He was mostly invisible to me until I finally notices the paddle blade motions. Not good visibility at all. I have a mango orange Sirocco and it is pretty visible. My paddle blades are bright yellow.

When I was a kid
I took part in a color-related psychology game/experiment. A bunch of us kids were supposed to find and pick up as many tooth picks in the grass as we could. Tooth picks dyed different colors. Surprisingly (to me), black were the easiest to see. Since then I heard somewhere, maybe on this site, that black is a very rare color in nature. Something all those ninja-turtle wanta-be weekend warriors might want to take into consideration the next time they dress up all in black.

Lime Green and USCG
I know I’ve posted this several times: My son is a USCG helo pilot; flew off Air Station Cape Cod 2000-2005. He says, in essence, from the air a kayak is very small. Lime green (neon) is the easiest color to see; the more, the better: jacket, PFD, paddle blades etc. Flares can help, but under certain circumstances can disappear! like in “bright fog”. Dye packets make a big smudge in the water, sometimes helps.

The Radar on board the HH-60 (The Big Iron) and the HH-65 (smaller) is capable of picking up seals, fishing net/crab pot bouys and other small floating objects. But the helo crew must often go look at each “blip”. In dense fogs (vis=200’) and in shipping lanes, it makes ol’ Dad pucker to hear the tales!

All of son’s “kayak/canoe rescue missions” found 100% of boats, but only 25% of the paddlers; all were rec boats. Sad.


Mango Orange
The wife and I paddle Mango Orange Boats while fishing for visiblity and wear brightly colored shirts on top of that. An article I read advised that you should place a strip of reflective tape on your paddle blades, front and back, and when in distress, extend one blade high overhead and wave it side to side. We also carry flares, strobes, a radio and cell phones.

I flew with the Marine Search and Rescue Squadron in Kaneohe Bay Hawaii for three years, and aboard Marine Helos for nearly 14, even an Aircraft Carrier is hard to spot from altitude, but of course it is gray. Hah.

We will stick with Mango, and go with the bright shirts as well. Good Luck.