Lights on boats discussion (moved from "show off your boat" thread)

Maritime regulations prohibit use of colored lights on human powered small craft on waterways under their jurisdiction. White only, and fladhing only for distress.

Colored lights indicate the size and travel direction of vessels and cause visual confusion on small craft. In my state you can be fined for using them. You ought to check with your state on where they stand. But they are a bad idea for a canoe or kayak.


Just remember that colored lights imply a bigger or different type of boat. Larger boats might treat you as another large boat, and expect you to be able to handle larger wakes. Lsrger boats may think the depth around your boat is deeper, which could be misleading if you’re sitting in 6 inches of water or take shortcuts through obstruction, shoals or rocks. Especially if a string of kayaks with red and green lights give the impression that your course is a channel used by power boats.


Actually, read the details regarding Rule 25 in this very good explanation of kayak lighting regulations and “best practice” posted by Kayalu (maker of very good kayak lighting). The photos you attached to your post (which I realize may not be your own but from a manufacturer) show incorrect application. A red or green light on the bow or stern of a small craft will “cause confusion” to larger vessels.

I most often paddle, at times after dark, in rivers that are major commercial waterways (feeders to the Mississippi drainage) which I share with huge barges, cabin cruisers and even replica multiideck paddlewheel “steamboats”. Even though I stay out of the shipping channel, it is important that the pilots of other craft are clear what the kayaks are and where they are heading.

Excerpt from the link below: " Lights of any color, including running lights, should never be displayed by a paddler incapable of understanding how the operator of another vessel will interpret their precise meaning in the dark. Furthermore, your display of running lights signal to other vessels that you are maneuvering your craft in response to your view of their red light, their green light or both of their running lights.

It should also be noted that the use of a strobe or colored light that is not being displayed in conformance with a specific regulation (a blue light or rapid strobe on a kayak, for example) places the vessel in violation of regulations."

Sorry, there is no justification for using colored lights on a kayak or canoe. The two colors are supposed to indicate to approaching or following vessel the width and direction of travel of another watercraft, which is not a practical application in a boat less than 3’ wide.

I have a good friend in Connecticut who is a licensed captain (he used to move yachts from Chicago to Florida and headed an open water sailing school in the Virgin islands ) and marine consultant who does training for the Coast Guard and is on panels that review and comment on proposed changes to maritime regulations. He’s also been an avid sea kayaker for years and agrees that many of the regulations that apply to human-powered small craft need to be clarified and tightened up now that they have become so popular and diversified. But most of the people in these advisory capacities are concerned with larger and more urgent issues surrounding maritime regulations so there is not much impetus to update them (yet.)

IMHO, until the rules of the waters are formally revised, I think it is safest to attend to the best practice of not messing with colored lights, even if the regulations are vague on them.


Rule 25 clearly allows nav lights to be displayed. Who ever said that rules/laws were based on common sense ? (especially for a niche shallow draft vessel moving at 4-5 knots max - except for a few phenomenal racers)

Hand held dive light(s) keeps me legal when kayaking at night.

Good to 1,000 feet DEEP!

Available in 2 and 4 led lights. Two has better battery life as you can imagine.

However the pic shows a starboard running light on the bow.
Rules say you can use them, but I bet you have to use them correctly

Good catch…and the shoulder mounted white light means the paddler is not in compliance as it facing forward thus not a stern light. Lights should be the prescribed navigation lights (green/red/stern white) or a white torch/flashlight at the ready…not both, i.e. the use of “or” in the colregs.

Notice in your depiction of lights, the white stern light is not visible when the port & starboard running lights are visible. By using a shoulder mounted light, you have confused every vessel on the water because the white light is visible in front.

Lights and their characteristics mean different things when seen/unseen or in combination with other lights. The “arc or light” is hugely important in the world of navigation.

You are trying to do the right thing very obviously, however your lights are confusing other mariners and definitely confusing professional mariners such as small & large tug boats & ocean vessels. In the case of human powered vessels (i.e. a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, row boat), a single white light is simplest and least confusing.

However, IF you use a trolling motor on your kayak, continue using your port & starboard running lights & get a real stern light when proceeding under motor power.