Lighting on a canoe

Any suggestions for lights to use on a canoe when it is getting dark or foggy? I was paddling yesterday afternoon and it began to get foggy. A motorboat came by and the driver told me that from a distance he had not been able to see me at all. That was chilling. So I’d like to get a light but not spend a lot of money on it, if possible. It’s not like I’ll be using it often.

1 Like

These type of pedestal lights are fairly popular. There is another similar light that is held in place with bungees instead of a suction cup.

You can mount it on your stern to preserve night vision.

You want to avoid colored lights that may make people confuse you with a power boat and strobes. Use of a strobe is a distress signal.


A waterproof flashlight in your PFD is also handy to have. I use the non-suction cup version of the pedestal light that @rstevens15 mentioned (made by Kayalu) but always have the flashlight at arms reach.


I have used a headlamp when paddling at night, but there were no power boats around. If you are in an area with boats, maybe a headlamp and a “blinky” (a taillight for bicycles) on the back of your headlamp or PFD.

1 Like

I’m not a canoer, but will give a bit of advice:
Even if you use lighting, especially in an area where there are other ‘lights’ about (city), a motorboat will likely not see you until very close (not advising not to use, you should, but it won’t help much).
Fog - you should be nowhere near where motorboats are - or at least for a very short time (crossing channel).


I’m going to get a light, but I think you are right that it won’t help much. More important is staying out of the way of powerboats by hugging the shore when possible.


I’ve not found lights to be much use in fog. As inconvenient as it may be, better off using a foghorn if you otherwise cannot avoid areas used by other boats in fog.

A flashing red (or white for that matter) should not be used. It has a specific meaning or could be confused as an aid to navigation.

1 Like

There are battery operated clamp on lights. Power boats make me uncomfortable in bright sunlight. No way I am paddling at night or in fog if they are around.

Headlamps should be carried on board for emergency night landings.

i’ve paddled the Adirondack Cannonball-90 more than a dozen times. It’s the old traditional route of the normal 3-day staged official 90 mile canoe race, normally held in September each year. But my team and I, and a few others like to do the old route all within a single day, in about 19 hours. In order to end in daylight, we do this on or near the summer solstice, normally ending around 7 PM if we begin in total darkness at the stroke of midnight that same day. Rarely are there ever any motorboats at any dark time or any place on the route to worry about. But those few that are, are probably operating drunk, so wide berth caution and bright illumination is safest. Normally we enjoy paddling lights out only by starlight alone, since the exact route path and any obstacles are well known to us. A bow deck mounted light is helpful in narrows and stump fields, more useful than a headlamp. The problem with a headlamp is every stroke illuminates your paddle grip arm in front of your face, thus annoyingly blinding you for a split second. Fog is the worst condition to navigate through in the darkness. When away from shore in the thickest white soup, a compass placed at my feet will get us through on course.

Bike shops carry lights which flash, most are probably red or white, you could rig a filter for blue, which carries well in poor visibility. One on bow, one on stern.

Note to FORUM: The USCG regulations tell you what is legal and proper. You can’t just make this up.


The USCG and most states consider a strobe a distress signal. A flashing light of longer duration is not permitted as it might mimic navigational aids. Various colored lights have distinct purposes and should not be used for non-specific lighting.

The rules for lights are fairly complex and covered in the COLREGS or USCG Navigation Rules, specifically in sections C,D,E and Annex I.

As @jyak said, you cannot just make these up.

The requirements for most canoes, kayaks, SUPs and other manually propelled boats are fairly simple. A white light, readily available, that can be shown to avoid a collision. It need not even be on. After some personal experiences with night paddling I have a white pedestal light mounted behind the cockpit that is always on, in addition to a PFD light on my shoulder out of my line of vision that is also on. I carry a strobe for an emergency signaling light in addition to 12ga aerial flares for night paddling.

Various states and localities may have more stringent requirements.


Generally, steady white light, 360 degrees, visible from front and rear (pedestal)
Port Starboard (red green) not required.


I use a headlamp which is permanently on as soon as it gets dark, pointed up so it doesn’t light the boat and destroy my night vision.
in CO the requirement for a canoe is a single white light. In my night fishing I can always hear motorboats coming, will make sure to look at them so they can see my light.

Added red and green LED lights strapped to the thwarts, after a couple incidents with idiot motorboats running fast at night… a search on Amazon or Aliexpress for ‘canoe lights’ should find a few hundred choices. I have these.

Not much for fog around here, if there was I’d look into some kind of foghorn-emulator app for the phone or similar…

1 Like

Here are the dinghy lights I use on the dinghy when under power. Relatively cheap. Don’t remember where, maybe West Marine.

Florida law allows paddle boats under a certain length to carry a white light , ie flashlight, to avoid collision.

Which all reminds me of a story. Wife and I were fishing one day in December. Fog was still set in when we arrived at the jetties, Mayport (Atlantic ocean). We decided not to venture out to the end cause fog was getting thicker. So we moved to about 20ft from shore, anchored, with lights on. River is wide ships pass through there.

Not long after we hear a loud outboard at high speed coming our way. Just then a flats boat with large outboard comes at high speed and passes between us and the shore.

We moved back to the marsh where it was clear of fog.


One advantage of a headlamp is that you can turn your head to aim it directly at an oncoming boat, to be sure they see it.

'Coming from a USCG licensed captain and previously certified kayak instructor.
Nothing much is going to be beneficial in dense fog during the day. Lights may be somewhat useful after dark in those conditions. It’s best to stay away from areas where you’ll likely encounter larger boats.
If you’re going out the law obligates you to carry a white light and nothing more. You needn’t turn it on until you choose to…
If you’re serious about going out after dark, best bet is to buy real navigation lights that are USCG compliant. Most of the portable ones are complete junk because they’re so weak. You’ll be able to see them, but anyone else will have to be pretty close to see them. Look at Navisafe lights. They are not cheap, but they’re truly effective and in my experience very durable.
Remember that your puny white light can easily blend into the background. A proper red - and especially a green - light show up quite well. Coupled with a decent white light on the stern and most boaters will keep their distance.

1 Like

Hi. I purchased suction cup lights that are white (for the back of the kayak) and red and green for the front. First, the suction cups work great on my smooth marble kitchen counter… They don’t work at all on my kayak… It is just not smooth enough :-(. Also, I carry a kayak cart and life vest on the back of the kayak, which makes it harder to place and see the stern lights. Third, the lights are not on stalks - 2 ft. stalks would get in the way when I transport the kayak, so, the lights sit REALLY LOW to the water. Forth, red and green lights on the bow, do nothing for your vision at night.

My preferred solution is 2 “miner’s” style lights with the elastic strap to put around your head. 1light faces forward and the other faces aft. What I like is that they are at the highest point when I am seated in the kayak - the top of my head. If there is an oncoming boat that does not appear to see me, I can turn my head to try to shine the light directly at the person operating the boat and, if need be, they will flash red as well. I can also turn my head so I can shine the light to see sandbars, buoys, etc. Also, if you only have bow and stern lights, and the batteries weaken and die, you can’t reach them to replace the batteries, without making shore and getting out of the kayak… Lastly. When I am back on shore and I have to strap my kayak to the cart, I have instant, hands free lighting to help me get around in the dark. 1 more thing - always put a few FRESH batteries in a zip lock bag and put them in a pocket. The best lights in the world will do nothing if the batteries are dead :frowning: Happy kayaking! Day and Night!

I have a used a couple of the collapsible light poles for years (1 per boat) which are great for low-vis situations. The bag that the unit comes in doubles as an orange flag, which attaches below the 360 degree white light.

Mounts with a Mighty Mount.

Folds down and stores in the bag when not needed.

1 Like

These can clip into bungees, or Velcro around other parts of canoe or kayak. I used red and green and yes I know that could confuse boaters as to what craft I am, but would you not rather be seen? I also have a white one clipped to my PFD. In addition, a headlamp for emergency late situations (which it is best to just avoid if possible).

These lights do work well in fog. Read the website and reviews. For visibility I’ve not seen anything brighter.