navigation lights

I’m supposed to give a talk on kayak navigation lights required. Having trouble finding info online. I think all that is required is a 360 degree white light. Need info for New York. Would appreciate anyone directing me to a website where I can get the information I need.

USCG Reg’s

Considering the relative speed difference between a akyaka and most everything else, my opinion is that it is best to simply present yourself as a vessel at anchor with the 360 deg light.

You can do the red/green bow light, but others will expect you to follow the other regulations that require you to maneuver properly as you approach other vessels. They may not understand why you are not doing so in an expediaent manner.

Also carry a flashlight so you can light up your kayak as others approach. Once they see you are a small craft, they will at least understand your limitations.

Rule 25


Is it enough? I don’t think so but that is the requirement.

I think your best offense is recognizing that everything else is bigger and some less maneuvarable… Knowing the light pattern of a towed barge could save your life as you would not go there.

For sure a little white light shone in time to avoid a collision with a tanker is not going to be recognized…either the light wont be seen or the tanker too close to maneuver.

A white light to be shown as needed (lantern - flashlight. Anything else is illegal (because you are showing your boat as something it is not).

Full reading of COLREGS
An often overlooked bit about legal lighting, is that COLREGS rules pertaining specifically to lighting has to be interpreted and used in conjunction with all the preceding Rules.

What this means is that, simply displaying the proper and legal lighting is not sufficient.

For kayaks, Rule 25 clearly states that one can either use the legal lighting for a sailing vessel, or “have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision”.

Rule 36 states that the use of the latter shall not be shined directly at the operator of the other craft (I think this is a “duh”, as it compromises night vision…yet I have seen kayakers do it many times!)

Use of the former (sidelight/sternlight) is highly regulated! One cannot simply put on red/green glow sticks, or weak LED lights, and think one is legal (info in Annex 1, and Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 33.84.

It is imperative that a clear understanding of Rules 2/b, 5, 6/a (read carefully the sub-part starting with “at night…”), 19, 20 (very important, you cannot use a lighting of your choice!) all be used in interpreting the value of lights. Put all together, the simple concept is that lights alone are insufficient and untrustworthy. Proper lookout, and proper behavior trumps lights.

While no court case that I know of has clarified the law, the best interpretation is that a kayak, even with proper lighting, is extremely difficult to see at night. Assume you cannot be seen, keep a proper lookout, assess all potential for collision, and keep in mind your limitations.

Too often, kayakers that turn on lights, turn off their minds.

NYS Rules
Don’t have time to find it right now, but if you scout out regs for NYS waterways you’ll find one saying that any vessel under 18 ft has to have a white light visible for 360 degrees. Hence most kayaks unless you have the biggest Kayak Sport yaks.

A vessel larger than that, or one under power, has to have the red/green light.

The conundrum many who prefer more lights have to consider is that, should you attach a red/green light to your kayak, someone may think you have a motor and can maneuver out of their way a good bit quicker than you can with a paddle. Personally we stay with the 360 degree white light for NYS waterways.

Once you get to the coast, or to the commercial areas of the lower Hudson down close to NYC, you have to look at the Coast Guard rules. You may also find some rules specified by individual Harbormasters on the coast, though that may be more of a Maine thing than a NY state habit.

Navigation lights
Paddling At Night

To be legal (and safe), you should have some basic equipment:

The laws pertaining to small craft (small boats, sailboats, canoes, etc.)require that a white flashlight be available to be shown when required to

warn approaching boats as to your presence. (This light does not have to be “on” all the time, just readily available.) Proper etiquette for use is to shine it in the direction of the oncoming boat, but not in his eyes. (Shining in the eyes will destroy the other skipper’s “night vision” for about 20 minutes).

Some or us like to carry better lighting, so we use red, green, and white lights to light our craft according to the rules for larger boats.

It’s important to note here that no individual “creativity” is allowed in attaching lights to your boat. Every light color (green, blue, even strobes)

have a specific meaning to boaters. Depending on the color, a strobe can be a distress signal, or even a surfaced submarine.

By law, a boat should show red and green lights forward. Red on the port (left) side, and green on the starboard (right). Viewed from the front, dead-on, you would see both red and green. The white light goes on the stern,and should be visible from 180 degrees from the rear.

If you are on the water and see a steady white light, you are looking at the rear of a boat that is under-way. It could also be a boat that is showing a

white all-round light because it is anchored. Either way, go around it.

If you see both red and green, you are directly in front of an oncoming boat. If you see just a red or green, you are looking at a boat that is passing

you in one direction or the other.

If you decide to light up with something other than a white flashlight, very suitable stuff is available at your local marine supply store. It may be helpful to take a look at what other more experienced kayakers are using first, to see how they have adapted the lights to their boats.

Found the NYS language
Here it is re lighting. Looks like it has been slightly updated from the language I found last time I looked. It seems to be a match for what is in the current Boater’s Guide from NYS Parks and Recreation, foujnd at

"Recreational vessels must display their required navigational lights at all times between sunset and sunrise, and during daylight periods of reduced visibility. Sail vessels less than 23 feet in length as well as manually propelled vessels may carry, in lieu of fixed lights, a lantern with a white light which can be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

Law enforcement vessels may also exhibit a blue No other vessels are permitted to

carry a blue light. If you see this light, reduce speed, yield, and if necessary, stop your vessel.


All vessels between 7 and 50 meters long must exhibit an all around white light when anchored between sunset and sunrise. During the day, a black ball shape must be exhibited so as to be visible 360 degrees around the vessel. "

And it goes on about distress signals etc.

so red green and blinking

– Last Updated: Jun-16-11 12:12 AM EST –

strobes are a no no.

Legally you cannot get creative..
Its been awhile since I paddled in NY (Long Island Sound( but I do remember that we were lectured against red strobes by the local Auxillary)

Yaeh - red strobes
Officially a no-no for a regular light on someone’s PFD for example, though they do seem to be popular inland. I suspect they haven’t caused an incident because the paddler wearing one is usually in a group of other boats with white lights, and local boaters don’t realize they should be running over to provide aid.

It’s good to check out local reg’s
Back when I lived in Alabama, a flashlight was required. Here in Jackson County Missouri they reguire the red/green with 360 degree white.

You may disagree with the need for the red/green and white lights for a kayak but the enforcement guys apparently don’t really care what you agree/disagree with. Them’s the rules.
search around the site, ten years ago there was a test of all kinds of lights and the one that worked the best was red/green/white stern light.

I like these lights, I paddled through a mooring field and folks on the moored boats would ask about my lights as they worked better than the red/green lights they used on their inflatable dinghies.

Thanks for all the help. Think I have what I need now.

A good point, with caution
State and local law can augment COLREGS or CFR, but absolutely cannot be in variance.

For example, a paddle propelled craft must meet Rule 25, but state law cannot make a paddler use the lighting used by other vessels, including Rule 23 c/d (power vessel under 7m length, less than 7kn). But state or local law can mandate that paddlers use the sidelight/sternlight combo in lieu of the optional “white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time”.

A common example where state or local law can add to but not negate national law, is pfd’s. CFR states the requirement to carry, state law can add in the requirement to wear a pfd.

I have found that law officials too often do not know the law pertaining to the various boat classes, and simply say that one must have a red/green/white…something. To be informed is to forewarned- on both lighting, and pfd use, I have been confronted by law enforcement officials on what they thought was a violation, but being able to quote the law, I was able to tactfully educate them!

For example, 33CFR 175 states that every vessel over 16 feet must carry a throwable type PFD in addition to the personal PFD. But 33CFR 175.17(b) exempts kayaks and canoes.

Same with lighting. Unless a state requires a kayak to display the red/green/white sternlight, then carrying a white light to be turned on as necessary can be sufficient. More important (from personal experience), if a person gets in your face about having to have the red/green lights, use of such can violate Rule 20(b). Using bright lights on a kayak is very difficult without potentially violating that part of Rule 20- how do you use them without compromising your night vision, and thus the legal and safe requirement for “keeping a proper lookout”?

Another couple of light options
REI sells the Paddlers Supply Light (tektite) and the most recent purchases we made were from Kayalu (these have an interesting base) the same light as from REI but without the suction cup style base.

Good lights
I picked up a set of suction cup mount LED red/green and white nav lights at a marine store 8 years or so ago, and have gotten many a compliment from power boaters and law enforcement for using them.

I also keep a headlamp on my head, turned off unless needed. Redundant, but it makes me feel better.

The point of keeping a good watch is central to boating at night for all craft, but especially for human powered craft that have limited speed. Knowing how to navigate and knowing the rules of the road are necessary in order to paddle safely after dark, and get respect from other boaters.