night paddling light equipment

I’m wanting to expand my paddling a bit into the darker times of the day, especially with winter here. What’s the boating rules on lighting devices for a kayak? What type of lights are you guys using? I have a lotus PFD with an attachment for a light on the back. I could probably also mount it to the boat if needed. Thanks.

Light Requirements
What is required depends on the local rules and/or laws. Even the Coast Guard rules get superceded by local rules in many places. Check with whomever patrols and enforces such laws in your area or your loacl kayak shop. Check a few sources as you may get different answers.

According to the coast guard, all you need is a hand held light you can turn on to make people aware of where you are if they come close. There is some required distance the light has to be able to be seen I think it is half a mile.

Some people believe the more lights the better. This isn’t true and there are restrictions on displaying 360 degree lights.

In open water the lights and colors you can see on another boat allow you to know which direction it is traveling or if it is moving at all or anchored. For example: 360 degree white lights are for anchored vessels only. The Coast Guard passes out expensive tickets for running with a 360 degree white light on.

It requires some looking into!

Check your state laws

– Last Updated: Nov-10-04 10:37 AM EST –

NH requires a 360-degree white light.

I put battery-powered navigation lights on our kayaks -- red/green bow, white stern. We've had compliments from a few of the local boaters.

Reflective tape on the hull and paddle blades also helps make you visible.

LED running lights
theres’s a red/green 3AA cell running light combo available on the internet,that with a white LED light shining off the back would be correct for being near/in traffic. But I wouldn’t paddle in/near traffic unless it was unavoidable.

The following combo is NOT legal but I wouldn’t use the legal option of paddling unlit with a “handheld light to be shown in time to prevent collision.”

360degree white 2AA cell light on pfd, or 4AAAcell LED light pointing up to be lit as needed or what you’ll use for signalling when a strobe isn’t appropriate. Ideally for that rescue situation it should be a strobe but my $.02 you should have a good white light on your pfd that will never run out of power and is small enough to be stored in a pocket. The single LED Princeton tec with 4AAA cells is bright and focused,batteries last 75hrs. The one with 3 LEDs last 150hrs.

On foredeck is 4AA halogen or high output LED,LED preferable as halogen burns up batteries. This is the minimal legal light you would use “to shine in time to prevent collision” in that it’s BRIGHT and can be handheld to shine on shore/boats. It’s not a legal running light but under the bungies and pointing straight ahead onto the bow it will be seen.

On the back deck can be one of those 360degree white incandescent 2AA cell lights in a vertical holder but honestly I’d go for another 4AAA LEDlight or 4AA LEDlight shining up onto your back or straight back. No it’s not legal,or maybe it is with just the 360 but those incandescent 2AA lights aren’t that bright. I’ve seen friends paddle off 100yds away with low batteries and they aren’t that bright. I think they only burn for about 8hrs. Use them three times and they’re burning a dim yellow.

I used to paddle in the S.F.Bay and it only takes a couple night time paddles for the 2AA lights to run out or a bigger halogen light to dim out. It is NOT fun to see your only light turn yellow,or your spare turn yellow,or the last spare turn yellow and dim only to paddle back alone or with friends with no light.

Check archives
I have the LED red/green running lights which show up from a good distance. Nice set of lights. For a stern light I modified a AA minimag with a luxeon 1 watt LED from and a 5" white cone from niteize. I made a hole in a chunk of styrofoam for a light socket and strap it under the aft bungies. If it should get loose and go overboard it will float.

When camping I wedge the base of the minimag in an old candlestick for a pretty good table light. The light/cone combination is bright enough to draw all of the bugs on my local reservoir so I usually keep it off unless needed for approaching traffic.


Check out mine

Strobe light is for those in distress
only!!! Not for other uses.

Same LED
that comes as NavLite ( in the cordura pouch. I like the pouch design because it keeps the glare out of my eyes. The hat clip set-up looks good. Does it draw bugs down the back of your neck? I guess if you’re wearing a dry top it would make less difference.


but a little more than i was looking for. i live in florida, and as far as i know the state law says you have to have a device that, such as a flashlight or white light on your vest, to show your whereabouts.

Even paranoid kayakers have enemies
I have liitle experience here, however, I have followed many posts on several forums and read David Burch’s book on Kayak Navigation.

Danger- There are laws here, with big big fines, and big consequences in terms of our life being messed with, bigs costs if you cause or contribute to any negative outcome, confusion about whether to go with your own local interpretation, state, coast guard, etc. Big nasty stuff here and we come to this often as folks look for fun and enter a world of commercial legal seamanship laws. Burch opened my eyes, if you go where the big ships go, ignorance will not save you, and huge fines in the offing. I personally am going to really learn about this stuff.

Around Fort Lauderdale
My understanding is a paddler is required only to have a flashlight or similiar to turn on as needed to warn other approaching watercraft.

Of course meeting the requirments of larger motorcraft isn’t a bad idea nor do I think any law enforcement agency would have a problem red/green on the bow and white light astern.

One bad idea though is to shine a bright light at the operator of the approaching craft because they will lose their night vision for a moment and often upset them terribly. Second hand experience I had.


Home built system
Here is a link to a great site on homebuilt light systems for bicycles. (sidestepping the whole legal thing.)

perhaps some of it is relevant.

I’m in SE FL - regs state
that you (as a vessel under oars) can have a light you can direct at other vessels (flashlight) - or you can outfit with running lights like other small boats -or of course both.

As for running lights, the other boats really appreciate it - and fixed lights sure beat grabbing for a flashlight!

***Boats look out for other boats at night - not some invisible kook who suddenly starts waving a flashlight.***

Inland paddlers (non-CG areas)- do what ever you want. I paddle ICW and other heavily traveled areas and have a CG station 2.5 miles from my put in. Waters here are mostly empty at night except Water Taxi, etc. Those guys get really pissed if you’re out at night with no fixed lights - regs or not!

Requirement vs. reality
Yeah, flashlight may be legal minimum - but sucks for lots of reasons. Do the bare minimum at your own risk - and based on where and how you paddle. I use two hands - and using a flashlight means stopping. If I’m about to be run down - I ain’t stopping to mess with no flashlight!

Added lights are perfectly legal - as long as they follow the guidelines on color and location (and NO STROBES!) for smaller vessels.

I thought that was implied
"or what you’ll use for signalling when a strobe isn’t appropriate. Ideally for that rescue situation it should be a strobe "

Now that we’re off daylight savings time
I still try to get in 60-90minutes worth of paddling in after work at least 2-3 times/wk. I bought flashlight (D-cell)type running lights from Walmart for $15 and mounted them fore & aft on my Minn II. I also have reflective tape along the gunwhales and on my paddle blade. I also wear reflective bands on my clothing and PFD. If I’m paddling my Perception Carolina, I usually wear a headlamp. There’s not much after dark boat traffic on Lake Norman, but 40mph bass boaters are always a potential danger. That’s why I always have a red strobe attached to my PFD if needed.

basics needed
Basic questions: should i have a white light on the back of my PFD or try to mount one on the rear of the boat. I’m not going to put the green/red lights or similar reflectors on the bow. I may add reflective tape. But, is a constant white light toward the rear of my boat enough to get me by?

Don’t anyone steel my invention
Radio Shack has all kinds of doohickies that can be turned into running lights.

They have nifty little boxes, drill 3 holes for red and 3 holes for green LED’s, add silicone, attach nifty little battery box or connector for AA’s or 9 volt, manufacture a little blinder for between the red and greens lights to seperate them and badabing, you have a running light that might work. Some one let me know, I haven’t made one yet but they have all the fixins and wouldn’t cost but about $ 8-10 dollars.

and rig up a toggle or push button switch. I know it will work but will it be bright enough ?


Too much work, and then…
even more work to make something like that stand up to my requirements for paddling gear (submersible, reliable, accessible from cockpit, etc.).

But I already have something tough, light weight, and simple that works. Worth a little more $ to me.

Agree and not

I totally agree with you a flash light is not the safest way but I don’t agree with your system either.

The purpose of the red/green light is to understand the course of the other boat, which side are they showing us, basicly where is the other boat going.

Anybody with a point of view more “elevated” then your kayak (all power boats) will just see both lights, just one of top of the other.