Lighting for Kayaks

I would appreciate to hear what others are doing to add lighting to your kayaks for evening paddles. I also find myself out late in the afternoon and am concerned about getting caught out after dark. I am looking for temporary solutions.

Thank you,


SC requires a light source . I use a flashlight.

Assuming you are paddling or pedaling (human powered) and have not installed any type of motorized propulsion, you only need a flare up light, i.e. a flashlight (that works).

Prefer handheld lights such as a Pelican Nemo1960 or other dive light (Princeton Tec League 420 lumens) = great directional light beam.

Also have a Kayalu Kayak lite but almost never mount it unless paddling in a heavy boat traffic area. The dim 360* light ruins my night vision and that of other paddlers nearby in the group.

ACR C-Light
They are waterproof. They stay lit a long time on a set of batteries. They are to be seen, not to light the way, so your eyes get to remain in focus for your entire surroundings, not just what’s in front of your flashlight. For me, they’re closer to perfect paddling lights than I would ever have expected to find available.

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Patches of reflective stuff like SOLAS on ends of the boat and on the paddle blades. And white lights per above. Reflective deck rigging if you want to add that.

Please make sure what ever lighting you use it conforms to the marine navigation standard, navigating at night is challenging enough without trying to figure out some weirdly lit object floating around. Also, a 2 foot swell is enough to make a kayak disappear from my sight 50% of the time from the helm.

Paddler supply LED lights. You need something 360°. I have one on the back and one on the front. I also have a headlamp Princeton Tec Apex. It has a few settings for intensity. Good in the marshes at night to see where to get out. If I want I can then turn the front one off if a see nobody around me looking forward. I have ACR lights and strobes also.

Also have round light with magnetic Iight I can wear on my head with hat for high 360° visibility. Navi-light is the name. Lot’s of boats at night here. I stay out of the channels but many boaters are clueless where the channels are. Proof of that is when you see them high and dry in the marshes.

The USCG only requires small manually propelled vessels to have a light readily available that can be shown to avoid a collision. Most states also follow this rule on inland waters. However. after my wife and I were on a night paddle with our lights off we were nearly run down by some idiot running a dinghy with an electric motor and no lights, we now always paddle with a light on.

We generally have a light on our stern deck like this. There are several manufacturers of these types of lights. We also have small PFD lights Velcoed to a PFD strap on the back of our shoulders. Lastly I generally have a small divers flashlight under a bungee on the front deck for use if I need to see something. It is generally off.

A few additional notes. I don’t recommend a headlamp if paddling with friends. You tend to blind them when you turn to talk to them. A strobe is a distress signal on inland waters and can be confused with a navigational marker on coastal waters.

If paddling at night on what the USCG considers “coastal waters”, some form of nighttime visual distress signal is required and must be readily available. This is a complex area and USCG approval is hard to meet, but for kayakers this generally comes down to three aerial flares within their expiration date. I carry this at night. I’ve found it much more reliable than other hand launched types. State laws for inland waters may vary, but most states follow the USCG requirements. There are a couple of approved electric nighttime distress signals, but they are generally too bulky for use on a kayak. One approved nighttime distress signal is to start a fire on your deck. For real.

Get a headlight that has red option. Then if you need look at chart or something else you won’t be blinded or blind others.

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Around here even on the river, the police will force you off the water or ticket you if you have no light past sunset (even though the visibility on open water can be good for another hour). I have this small light strapped to the back shoulder of my PFD which I just leave there:

Because it’s behind my line of sight it doesn’t bother me. It’s not too bright, anything less would not meet the need.

I also keep this small flashlight in my front PDF pocket clipped into the D-ring. It’s frosted globe makes for a good area light, and to signal oncoming boats that can’t see the light on the back.

An advantage of PFD mounted lights it that they will always be with you, even if you end up swimming.

For paddling in total darkness, I would say a good headlamp is a must also.


In addition to various lights, I wear a reflective vest at night.

After being pulled over by the NH Marine Patrol 15 years ago, while fishing in the Piscataqua River at 2:00AM, because my C Light w/post was “not visible when” my “kayak canted” - I bought a Kayalite and mounted it over the same post with a PVC extension. I had to show my driver’s license; the officer, who addressed me a “Cappy” ran my name for warrants. I had none so he let me go with a warning. I have used the Kayalite since 2006 in fresh and saltwater and have not been stopped. ( (2000 I was stopped by the Coast Guard near Jaffrey’s Point - I was wearing a head lamp but my flashlights were stored inside my insulated bag. ) Lessons learned.

I like reflective tape on my paddle and deck. In real darkness on big water I mount sailboat lights on my bow and stern. I know it does not fulfill the request that we follow marine navigation standards, but glow sticks provide a nice temporary solution.

The biggest argument in kayak lighting that comes up is whether to use lighting that resembles what a motorized craft would have. You can get lighting that has bow and stern colored lights. My personal issue w those is a motor boat operator may think that you can maneuver as fast as them. A white light is a less distinct message, to someone who knows which end is up they will understand that it could be anything from a sailboat at anchor to a paddle craft. In other words slow down and give them room.

Reflective deck rigging and solas tape patches at stern and bow will tell a motor boat operator that you are a small craft close to the water.

The problem after dark, anywhere, is how much you can trust a motor boat operator. This is an excellent question. Personally l go w a white light and try to stay where they will tear their bottom out before they hit me.


Oh boy! We can debate all day. I’m a commercial boat captain and work for a ferry company on very busy, congested inland bay/waterways. And I do night paddles in my sea kayak. There’s a lot of good advise above.
I use mainly only a 360° white light. Elevated as best as possible, as far aft as possible. Here’s why: White is visible from a greater distance that green or red. A lone white light may be a stern light or an anchor light. In both cases the other boat should expect to be a “give way” vessel (though many don’t know it). Elevated makes it more visible in seas. Far aft reduces the angle that it’s blocked by my body and not shining in my face.

I’ve seen folks use red/green side lights like a power/sail boat, and would recommend against it. Here’s why: The side lights are required to show over a very specific angle and the little temp-rigged jobs don’t comply. Their purpose is to show what aspect/angle the boats are approaching at to determine who stands on course, who gives way. A kayak frequently bounces, turns and veers, confusing to other boats. A group of kayaks at all different angles (showing reds & greens) would look very confusing. I’ve also seen several cases of paddlers unwittingly mounting them reversed. On a kayak they are so low that they can appear/disappear in the smallest chop, looking somewhat like a flashing light, even a flashing buoy. That could cause confusion to an approaching power boat. Don’t pretend to look like a power boat. A bunch of whites just looks like something to avoid.
Of course if your local regs require something else, by all means follow them.

I also carry a strobe on my PFD shoulder. If I get separated from my boat I want to have a recognized, attention-getting distress signal. And I carry little pocket size flairs too, as well as a chemical light stick or two if all else fails. The chem stick is good for reading charts too without being too bright.
I don’t really use a flashlight. But it wouldn’t hurt to have one handy. We should indeed avoid shining it at other boats. But if one is bearing down on me appearing to not notice me you can bet I would make my presence known by any available means. As a last resort I would hit him with a flashlight.
those previously mentioned are good examples. I try to use USCG approved. And I strive for most reliable. Simple twist on/twist off LED is my preference.
I never assume the power boater can see me, is even watching, or is sober.
Safe paddling


Celia, Troy great observations/suggestions…When I was stopped over by the Coast Guard, more than 16 years ago, with no running light, I was wearing a headlamp - using the red LED. Bad decision; I was informed that such lights can be confused with the front running light of a motorboat. So I bought the C light which years later proved to be not visible at times (when the Marine Patrol enlightened me). I soon purchased a Kayalite, white LED, visible 360 degrees. I made my own PVC extension, raising the top of the light approximately 3’ above the deck of my kayak. My wife watched me from the municipal dock as I paddled across Frenchman’s Bay and could see the light from more than a mile away.

A word about “retro-reflective” tape; All that reflective piping, trim, decals, etc. is quite effective for sighting/locating a kayaker at night. The stuff is brilliant! Pun intended. Never needs batteries, works great, just check your nighttime photos. But consider that it’s really intended for finding you during a search (emergency). Under normal circumstances we shouldn’t have and don’t want lights shined at us, and should not do so to other boats. So the reflective stuff, although highly valuable, should not normally be expected to make us more visible.

Another important consideration is that our lights are easily and quickly lost against a shoreline background with lots of lights. Not much we can do about that except try to stay where power boats can’t go.
Also, it’s important to be mindful that when we see a boat quite well with a low Sun behind us, the other guy may be looking into the sun. I’ve had many occasions when I’m nearly blinded trying to spot a vessel into the sun. It’s a risky place to be, no matter how bright your lights.
Just one more thing I’ll mention. When I begin a night or late afternoon trip I don’t wait till darkness to turn on my light. I turn it on when I launch, ensure it’s working, and leave it on. I don’t want to discover a switch or bulb failure when I need it most. I feel that once it’s burning it will likely stay burning. I believe that conserving battery power is a poor excuse. LED’s draw little power and shame on me for not having fresh batteries.

I always have three or four lights with me minimum for night paddling. Three for day paddles in case I end up out at night by choice or not by my choice.

I’m rarely out after dark anymore but I always have one of these attached to the back of my PFD. If paddling after sundown, I turn it on to constant mode (it also has a strobe and SOS mode). I like it immediately behind me because it doesn’t affect my night vision. And have others have said, having it attached to your person ensures it will stay with you in the unlikely event you were to get separated from your boat. If some traffic is coming in my direction from the front quarter, I temporarily alter my orientation so as to make sure my light is visible. I also carry a flashlight (you can get pretty powerful lights in small packages these days) if I needed to more actively wave someone off (I’ve never had to do that). I also take one of these with me when the days grow short because I saw it and thought it was a cool idea (and it is), but really my PFD light is enough.

Another light I can buy. Thanks :sob: