night time paddling

Anyone been out paddling on a lake after sunset? Maybe late night fishing? How do you get back to the launch site in the dark?

Haven’t done much recently…
but I used to do a lot of night time fishing float trips on Ozark rivers. It’s a wonderful and completely different experience, and requires considerable familiarity with the waters you’re floating, because running riffles in the dark is adventuresome, to say the least. Since it involves putting in at point A and taking out at point B, it’s a little different than getting back to the same access like you would on a lake. I’ve also done a lot of night fishing on lakes, though. Usually it’s pretty easy, especially on a night with good moonlight, to find your way back to the access, but I’ve been out at night when the fog rolled in, and then it’s nearly impossible. The times it happened to me it was on a fairly small lake, only a couple miles long and with only a couple of arms, so I found my way back by getting close enough to shore that you could see the shoreline even through the fog, and then following it around until you got to the access.

I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, though, about night-time float fishing!

You get used to it!

– Last Updated: Apr-27-14 11:48 PM EST –

It's like anything else. When you do something, you learn how. I've been going out on lakes at night since fishing trips with my dad when I was a just a tyke. I loved it then, and love it now. I'm always amazed when people ask about this as if it's not perfectly natural - no offense intended.

When you leave your launch point, look for some landmarks that are memorable, such as distinctive trees, that weekend cabin with the old fashioned yellow porch light, anything you can use. Then, don't panic when you start seeing other things that look like the landmark you picked. Really, all I can say is do it and get used to it. Also, learning to keep track of your orientation via the night sky or other landmarks makes a big difference. Do you ever hike in the woods for long distances? Can you imagine doing that without constantly keeping track of where the sun is, or which way the wind is blowing, or even just looking at your compass? Paddling at night on a lake is the same as hiking in the woods in that regard. You need to keep your positional and directional awareness up to date via methods other than those that you use in situations where you can see long distances all around you.

On a big round lake, finding your way back is easy unless you haven't been paying attention on the way out. On long skinny lakes, or crooked lakes with bays and islands, it gets a lot more interesting. All I can say is that you learn to pay attention and keep track of where you are. Hey, I've even gotten slightly lost while motorboat fishing on a crooked lake in the daytime, so if someone with my feeble observation skills can enjoy night-time paddling without getting lost, just about anyone can.

Everyone who hasn't paddled at night should do so. It's a magical world out there at night, and you won't know how much so until you do it. You will hear things you never heard before, smell things you never smelled before, and run across wildlife that you've never (or rarely) run across before. Same goes for hiking at night, for that matter.

Do it
Start with a full moon paddle. Just let people know where you are, as you always should and be prepared in case your landing spot isn’t where it is supposed to be. Stick to waters your familiar with in daytime for a start. I love night paddling.

Just use a GPS.

Put a way point in at your launch site.

Then do a “go to” when you want to go back nd just follow th arrow.

Or another way is to just “track back” and follow uopur “bread crumbs” (tracks)back.

You can do it in the pitch black with no moon, or a pea soup fog.

Jack L

Oh Yeah, GPS. And I happen to have one that my dad gave me and never got used. Now I can use it.

the secret
Is to use as little white light as possible. Keep your night vision.

I’ve learned
that it works best for me when I know the area well ahead of time (day trips), but in less familiar areas, I’ve been known to stop at various distances away from the launch site to see what it, and the surroundings, look like before I actually set off. This degree of familiarity has helped considerably.

Light, as someone mentioned, can be an issue because it destroys one’s night vision, but it is possible to leave a lit indicator at the launch site - a low watt beacon (LED) aimed at a landmark may work well for this as they can last a few hours.

On the return, paddling well in sight of shore also helps reveal one’s launch site. Avoid complex navigation (side trips into coves, streams, or off the main body of water).


learn what the launch looks like
Learn what the launch looks at night like before you go out. What lights are there in the area?

Unless you need to show lights to protect yourself from other boaters, go without any lights illuminated on your boat. This way your night vision kicks in. Doing this on a night with moon light will be helpful. Law for most areas does require paddle powered boats have a light they can turn on in time to warn other boaters of their presence, so keep one handy.

You could also set some sort of mark on shore to help you find it. Example would be to leave a flashlight or bike light shining out to water (but place it some place where someone walking by may not see it and take it).

GPS also works, so long as you know how to use it and the batteries have enough charge,

Marking the launch site

– Last Updated: Apr-28-14 11:54 AM EST –

That's a good idea about marking the launch site with a light of some kind. Some friends of mine have done that with a glow stick.

Here's a trick though, that works amazingly well at shorter distances. If you are returning to a wooded shoreline to an invisible campsite, and you know how to return "pretty close" at least, hang a white sock on a bush or tree branch. You would be amazed how far away you can be from shore and still be able to see that sock. If the moon is out, you can see it when hundreds of yards away. If there's no moon, you can probably see it at 50 yards and perhaps more. It's only a trick for finding a site that is virtually unrecognizable at night otherwise.

a good thread,
I’m learning a lot. I like the white sock and gps ideas, and a glow stick or flashlight. As great as a gps is though I’m not ready to rely on it as my sole navigational aid. Although I do wish I had used one when trying to cross Raquette Lake (NY, NFCT) in the early am to beat the wind. I left the map and compass out, readily accessible, had no gps, and also forgot to leave a flashlight out to see the map and read a compass bearing. So I tried to wing it (relying on my memory of the map from viewing it the night before) and guessing in the dark and totally failed- the wind picked up as dawn approached and I got blown off the lake and the wife and I ended the trip early.

The few times I’ve done it, I was very familiar with the lake and wore a headlight. At the launch, my car’s reflectors picked up the light of the headlight even if all the other cars were gone. GPS is also nice to carry.

Depending on where
Two of my favorite spots have eather navigation lights for is a bridge.the other is a cove that has a night marker for barges. If you can find spots like that it is nice. even if you dont have many stars or a moon to work makes it easer to find put in. Do keep a few lights on you. Pretty sure its coast gaurd regs.

I don’t disagree with using your natural night vision as much as possible, but you do need lights for safety—to let other boats know you’re there and also for a rocky landing.

I use a headlamp, a flashlight mounted on the deck in front, and if there are other boats around I also clip a blinking bike taillight to the rear of my pfd. The headlamp and flashlight are around 110 lumens each. That’s enough to light up the shore very clearly for your landing. The throw is about 400 feet, which is handy for spotting obstacles. There are far more powerful flashlights but 110 lumens is enough for a lake in my experience.

I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of lights.

I’ve paddled at night in rough water and it’s not much fun. I would choose a calm night with moonlight. That really is a beautiful experience.

Sock or …
I think some strips of silver mylar tied to a branch at the put-in would help a lot. Maybe strips from a space blanket or one of those cheesy mylar birthday balloons.

keep in mind
blinking lights are often taken for emergency markers, so your rear blinkie may do more than just let people know you are there.

If you were in the ocean …
the Coast guard wouldn’t be too happy with that red blinking light.

Why not do what is correct -even on a lake !

Jack L

Night Kayaking
I do it regularly throughout the summer, depending on conditions. It’s one of my favorite experiences to be out under the stars, with the glowing bioluminesence in the water. Magical.

We use green chemical glowsticks on the bow and stern. These give enough light to keep track of where everyone is on the water and doesn’t interfere with night vision. We also have some powerful spotlight headlamps (biking lights actually) that will light up the shoreline very well. These work great for scouting landing or giving other boats in the area a heads up that you’re there.

Finally, I never night kayak to a destination that I haven’t been before in the daylight. Things look different at night.

Good point
and I misspoke. Although my tail light has a flashing function, I set it to nonflashing for kayaking.

Use a rope
You have two options: use a long rope or risk getting lost.

If you make it back to your campsite you can put your brain back in your head.