Kayak Light for after Dark

-- Last Updated: Jul-07-16 6:28 AM EST --

Recently I've been reading that the police in my area are cracking down on Kayakers without PDF's, a whistle, and if on the water from dusk till dawn a 360 degree white light. What type of light(s) do you have for your kayak?

I should mention that I live in Western New York and go on local creeks (i.e. Oak Orchard) and rivers (i.e. Buffalo and Niagara). I am unable to get a clear answer from the news articles, local kayak shops, or the local Kayakers in the area. I would like to obey the laws of the water, but there's a different stance on the type of lights (i.e. White light that shines 360 degrees, or a flashlight is okay), or if it is required to have the red/green bow lights as well.

If anyone can provide examples of the lights they use, that would be helpful.

what state?
It depends on the laws of your state. Here in PA you only need a 360 light after dark if you are at anchor but if you are not at anchor at night you need some sort of light to signal other boats. A flashlight or head lamp is fine. But if you are at anchor you need a uscg approved 360 light that is visible for a min of 2 miles.


– Last Updated: Jul-07-16 7:07 AM EST –

And to above reply, Buffalo is in NY state.

To summarize two threads -
The law states that craft under 23 feet in NY state need to display a white light in time to prevent a collision. Obviously to make that practical the light needs to be seen from all angles, though the 360 degrees itself is in some guidance I found at one point, not in the laws. White lights attract bugs like crazy, so get a suction cup mounted one that you can mount an arms length away or paddle after dark in shallows where a motor boat can't reach you.

You can get a suction cup mounted white light at West Marine. It is supposed to be waterproof, which I have not found exactly, but if you keep it in a small dry bag when not in use it'll last a season.d

Red/green lights indicate a boat under power, so should NOT be on a paddle craft. Red/green means to other boaters that the boat carrying them can get out of the way very quickly since it is motorized. While kayakers have been seen carrying these arrays, it is not correct.

And you will find that local authorities themselves are often confused, understandable since they spend the bulk of their time worrying about drunken motor boaters.

Strobes are a distress signal, also no go. Happily for kayakers who like them, there are not a ton of well-educated motor boat operators out there. Otherwise we would have read more stories about kayakers getting run over by well-meaning motor boats coming to rescue them.

kayak lights

– Last Updated: Jul-09-16 12:56 PM EST –

Celia is correct in that if you use a red/green bow light others will assume that you are a power boat that can quickly move out of the way. This issue has been debated in our paddling group, which mostly kayaks on Lake Ontario off Rochester, NY. If you are in an area with lots of shore lights, and the other boat is further offshore, then your 360 degree white light looks just like the street lights and porch lights on shore. It takes a careful, studied gaze to discern the distance from a light. Is it a boat with small light 400 ft. away or a street light 2 miles away? Most powerboats are operated with an occasional glance forward. In addition to the 360 degree white light I choose to use a red/green bow light because I want them to instantly think "boat" when they glance forward and see the red or green. I think the risk of them not "seeing" me at all with just a white light is much higher than them running over me when they know I'm there because I don't get out of the way fast enough....Rochester is a friendly town like that :-)

To answer the op's original question: I find the Navisafe lights have held up the best for me. The red/green bow light mounted on the bow and the 360 degree white light on a homemade pvc post on the aft-deck to get the light up above my head

Not quite
here is the law


says red and green is OK… or a flashlight! No wonder NY’ers are confused.

The COLREGS for inland waters say white light only. NY S must be unique

I agree red and green on a handpowered boat adds to confusion.

The law says flashlight is OK
I posted links in the other NY light thread

no red and green in PA
The rules on red and green lights may be ambiguous in New York, but never use them if you venture into our Pennsylvania waters, where colored lights of any kind are illegal on paddle craft.

red/green lights
There must be something I just don’t get. Why would they be prohibited? Really? People are going to run over you because you don’t move fast enough? I’ve always used the red/green bow light for the reasons stated in my original post. I became yet more convinced after a dark, rainy night of paddling with a group of 10 or so people that had become very spread out. Even knowing people were out there, and searching very hard to make sure we had the whole group accounted for, the white light only kayaks were virtually invisible against the shore lights. (“Is that light moving?”, hard to tell in your moving kayak) Kayaks with bow lights were easily accounted for. Using my light set up I have been complimented by several power boaters, including the Coast Guard boat, for my visibility.

Lots of experienced people here seem to have the opposite opinion. What is it that I don’t understand? Perhaps it’s a difference of paddling environments. Lake Ontario near Rochester is surrounded by shore lights and a curved coast line. I maintain that only having a white light will leave you lost in the blur.

None of this is opinion
Its Coast Guard regulations and state laws. NYS seems to be different and a little more lenient as to paddlecraft light patterns

PA may conform to COLREGS only. Maine does too.

Nothing that was posted here is opinion. But if you have a good reason for a belief that something needs to be changed in your state, the place to start isn’t with us.

We can’t do a thing about it.

I’m not looking for a rule change as I’m glad I’m allowed my red/green bow light here. I’m mostly puzzled as to why the rules prohibit them elsewhere. The “opinion” I referenced is the apparent belief that it’s dangerous to have a red/green bow light on a paddle craft. The stated reason, “they can’t move fast enough to get out of the way”, doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to assume some boater will see a boat in front of them then just continue on assuming the boat can “get out of the way” without continuing to watch and avoid a collision.

Given that so many experienced kayakers and apparently the regulatory agency think it’s dangerous for a paddle craft to have navigation lights I wonder if there is another reason that hasn’t been stated and that I’m not aware of.

Not different
The nys boaters guide, an in-English summary of everything legal for boating in ny state, specifically says in the section starting on page 19 that boats over 16 ft should carry usgs signals. There is something not dissimular after that for kayaks canoes etc, but nowhere does it say they have an exclusion from usgs guidelines. If the Coasties can tell you not to do it offshore in CT someone can also say it is ill advised inland.

I looked it up in one of the major navigation references in Hamilton Marine the other day, the white book that boaters are supposed to reference, again boat measurements for the major lighting like red/green were much longer boats than a kayak.

That said, and as people have discovered, it is not always as reliable that local enforcing authorities will be clear on paddle boat requirementsm

I used to work for the state and for a while that included building manuals for my agency. In an age before digitization, a confusing illustration was caught. With limited work forces and massive stuff having been digitized, a graphic by itself is not the most reliable reference.

No, not necessarily allowed
See above. There is some confusing stuff to be found, but it is pure old human error.

Great Lakes are more under CG management than inland waters, so if kayakmedic was advised against a red/green pattern in the Sound you could have the same experience. Depending on who notices. On Lake Ontario it could be CG or some local folks who are guessing. If a guy in an inner tube was told he needed a pump, it suggests that kayakers are not the only confused people out there.

But as I and others have said, the incidents of anyone actually bothering to stop and advise you are considerably fewer than the number of kayakers out there with the running light patterns. I understand the rationale and use white myself, but I have never advised anyone in our local group to change their lighting. It is more important they stay out of the channel so lighting is a secondary issue. If you are paddling somewhere that a deep draft boat can’t go without sinking and get across channels fast and with a very clear time, you will probably never have to find out.

I was interested in NYS law
As we have a couple of dozen from out of state going on a moonlight paddle in NYS

Which I thought the original post was about.

It did drift

There is no need for confusion
The law is pretty clear what the MINIMUM is. In most places a flashlight suffices as per USCG regs but some states may require more.

There are also rules about what is not allowed as they have a meaning of their own, such as strobes or blue lights are pretty much universally not OK. PA bans red and green lights on kayaks but I don’t know of any other state that does.

So beyond the minimum and excluding what is illegal it’s up to you if you want something more. If you paddle congested waters in the dark you are free to step it up. If you’re in a New York harbor you’ll spend more time shining a flashlight than paddling, If you’re out in the swamp a deck light on a pole is pretty ridiculous.

Anyone can find any states boating regs in less than 5 minutes on google and I have yet to find one that is difficult to understand, they are all dumbed down for the powerboat group and gamies to understand.

Confusion comes when people start talking about what they think you should have based on where they paddle and express that opinion as a requirement.

Get one of these


Iam also in Buffalo NY. Talked directly to Coast Guard and mine was fine, mine is the first one in the 2 links above.

Just shows how inconsistent enforcement
… can be. There’s no way a water cop with any amount of sense would call that a 360-degree light when probably about 45 to 60 degrees of its potential arc of visibility is blocked by the person who’s sitting in the kayak. To be truly be legal, you’d either have to mount it higher than your head on a pole, use two lights (one in front of you and one in back), or perhaps supplement it with a headlamp or flashlight at the ready.

Light For kayak
I use an all-round white light mounted on a pole that meets COLREG and VA state requirements. It also comes with a high visibility orange flag. I’ve provided a link to the one I have. Have fun and be safe on the water!


Sorry if I caused this "confusion"
I guess I should have been more explicit in my original answer to the post. In no way was I trying to imply that the red/green bow light was required by law. In my defense I did state that “I choose” to use the red/green bow light based on the location of where I paddle and stated why I thought the required 360 white light would not be as safe in these conditions. As many have pointed out my lighting configuration would be ridiculous in more secluded areas. I don’t think it’s a disservice to point out that different areas and conditions need different safety equipment and practices.

You are unlikely to be bothered
Simple. That is what matters. Whether red/green is OK on a kayak strictly speaking is something different, because as I said a number of times we have local paddlers who use them and they have never been cautioned.

Those tall ones can be seen 360
Several paddlers in our group have them. The tall ones cast enough light high enough that you can see if around the paddler’s body from the front. The shorter one, only several inches tall, do have more of that that issue.

Our local evening group is usually on slower rivers or smaller ponds. Very few have the fortitude to turn the headlamp on while paddling, at least on their heads, because of the proteinaceous bug diet that results.