Kayak Colors

My wife and I are probably going to buy two Manitou Sports (our first kayaks), but are wondering about kayak colors. The two on the salesroom floor and ready to go are both bright blue. Recognizing that bright colors can be particularly valuable for maximum visibility by operators of other vessels (especially, in our case, yacht jockeys running fast down the intracoastal waterway in SC), we’re wondering if anyone has any comments about whether bright blue has the high visibility we believe would be smart to have. If we were to decide that we’d better get brighter colors (red, yellow, orange…), is there a particular one(s) that might have less of a startle effect on wildlife than others…or doesn’t it really make any difference?


Invisible Boats

– Last Updated: Feb-08-06 12:13 PM EST –

In even the smallest chop kayaks quickly become hidden.

The good news is that the paddler and even more importantly the paddle are still very visible. A solid colored paddle with a contrasting reflective tape will show up long before anyone can tell what color the boat is. Movement and altitude are what get other boaters attention.

I knew a Coast Guard helicoptor pilot who said that from the air, against the southeasts 'nutrient rich' brown water, that the color baby blue was most visible.

Startle effect
I don’t think wildlife react to kayaks’ colors. Though some assert sharks particularly like yellow :wink:

While IMHO orange and yellow are among the most visible to other vessels, your paddles, hats, and pfds are more visible than your kayaks. I think that reflective material on paddles (either blades or shafts) is the most visible to other vessels of any passive method.

Studies Support Blue
They did research from helicopters that showed robin egg blue was easiest to see.

BTW: Red actually disappears first in low light conditions.

blue boats “disappear” as the sun

– Last Updated: Feb-08-06 1:09 PM EST –

sets down here in the keys where the water is blue.low light conditions really make that color less visible, same with red. as was said already, the most visible are the paddle blades. regardless of the color you choose for you boat, bright yellow or neon green blades will make a huge difference.

The more I read about color
opinions, all of which have validity, the more I think it doesn’t matter much. I really don’t believe that power boaters, those who are inherently reckless at least, are going to see a kayak any more than some idiot on a cell phone is going to see a motorcycle on the highway. Buy what looks pretty to you.


Yellow is a great high visibility color
esp. in low light, but the boats do disappear in a mild chop.White paddle blades are good for being seen because they move. I painted my black blades(carbon fiber paddle) white and tipped them with dayglo yellow. Very eyecatching.

More about Yellow.

I thought that much wildlife is color

– Last Updated: Feb-09-06 8:56 AM EST –

blind...arn't lions, tigers and bears color blind... whales, tuna etc. Birds and bees must recognize color though...

Life Jacket Color “more” important
IMHO,… The color of your life jacket, and shirt and hat, is more important than the color of the kayak for visibility to other boaters.

When you are in the water, the smallest waves make the boat almost dissappear to other boaters. What people will see first will be the color of the life jacket and hat you wear. After spending enough time on the water, and looking at other kayakers, I believe you will agree.

I used to ride motorcycle a lot, and read a study on motorcycle accidents. They proved that the color of the cycle made very little difference in the accident rate, but the color of the coat/shirt worn made the largest difference.

The highest number of accidents in the study were wearing black jackets. The smallest group in the accident study wore bright colored shirts & jackets.

A motorcycle is a lot like a kayak in the way that what is the highest is what is seen the best.

A bright color shirt or paddle jacket, and a bright color life jacket are the most visible to others.

Stay safe!



I have a mango colored yak
and have never been attacked by a shark on Lake Michigan; if that’s any help.

Mango Rules!
I have a mango yak as well. No shark attacks in Boston Harbor.

Colour and light
I have heard (but cannot cite where), that hot pink is the most visible low-light colour. the greenish-yellow of modern fire engines is the second most visible.

I would recommend scotchlite reflective tape, or similar, on your paddles and boat, as well as a shoulder mounted light like the VIP or Princeton Tec aqua flare. These don’t really count as navigation lights, but should increase your visibility in the dusk and dawn. Of course, if the sun is in the eyes of a boat driver . . . I have no idea there. Maybe head for a shallow spot so he runs aground before he hits you!

My thoughts/recommendations

– Last Updated: Feb-08-06 5:04 PM EST –

1. Rely on your eyes and/or ears to detect other boaters - NEVER rely on them to see you even if you're paddling a giant neon sign.

2. Use your paddle, not color - to keep out of harms way. You can stop in a boat length or less. You can turn and even spin in one spot. You can quickly and easily reverse course, or sprint a few strokes. All off these can get you out of a boats path in seconds. Why should other boats have to see you, and presumably also take action to avoid you, when it's far easier (and safer, and smarter) for you to do so? When operation among other vessels - act like a boater, not someone with a big plastic toy who doesn't belong there.

3. If going on long offshore expeditions, or into remote back country - where rescue would likely come by air - use yellow or orange kayaks. Otherwise, buy what you like.

4. A bright PFD makes sense. Easier to find your body after...

5. "Paddle flash" is over rated by paddlers as a visibility aid. Other paddlers key into it because we have that motion ingrained in us from our own paddling - plus we are at same eye level - plus we are moving slowly enough and scanning our surroundings at a rate that works well for picking it out from the background. Motorboat operators tend to have none of these factors working in your favor. If they do see it - odds are very good there was no risk of collision in the first place. Also, in even very minor whitecaps/chop spray it will not be a factor for anyone.

5. Reflective tape needs light to reflect. Preferably directed light. It's of some use in daylight. Better at night - but boats don't have headlights to really light it up anyway so it wont work as well as on the highway signs and trucks it was designed for. It would work for finding your paddle on shore in the dark with your flashlight. Use it anyway (particularly on that yellow/orange remote expedition boat and PFD so the air crew can keep you in sight in the rotor wash as they're preparing to drop the rescue swimmer!), but don't assume it's doing all some seem to think it does.

6. I tend to feel safest when the other boats pay me no mind because I'm not presenting a hazard for them. Next best is invisibility - as they're easier to operate around when they operate normally instead of doing weird things to avoid a paddler. But, I tend to paddle areas where the boats are going somewhere (be it a small outboard on a quick fun run around the ICW or the QM2 heading out for a long cruise) - not small inland lakes with drunk bass boaters and jet skis zig zagging all about. Nothing works for that - except going somewhere else.

buy a yellow one

– Last Updated: Feb-09-06 3:01 PM EST –

Last year I flew over lake Tahoe in a 757 and I spotted two yellow kayaks 35,000 feet below.

I also read an article in Reader's digest about a paddler who got caught in a strong current off of Hawaii and swept out to sea. The searchers knew where he was paddling, and were pretty sure what had happened so they went looking. Just as they were about to call off the search one of the coasties in the search plane spotted the guy in his bright orange kayak below...nearly 50 miles out in the Pacific, and sent a chopper to pick him up.

As far as spooking birds I don't think the color really matters. I have a bright yellow kayak and the birds don't seem bothered by the yak silently gliding by. Once I got so close to a mature bald eagle that was perched on a low branch over the river that I could have almost reached up and touched him with my paddle!

Eagles live a life of indifference…
I have passed by many eagles in red, green, yellow and blue boats…they could care less

buy the color you like looking at …
it actually makes little difference what color your boat is with regard to visibility. therefor, buy the color you like looking at for hours on end since you’re going to be looking at it for hours on end.

red almost looks black at dusk

Colors and wildlife
My wife is sure that the butterflies are more atracted to blue than any other color. However, sea-kayakers probably don’t see many butterflies.

I’d go with what is easy on the eye of the beholder.