Paddling with the visually impaired

I’ve a friend who is legally blind. He’s gone out with me on the double and is now venturing out solo, with supervision, of course.

Does anyone have any ideas to help? Is there a beacon, sound or flashing light I might be able to mount on the stern of my kayak for him to follow? Any suggestions?

Obviously flat water only…


Combination light and sound…
Paddler’s Supply has a stern light that sits atop a 2 foot high mast (scroll down on this page to find it):

Then, I wonder if you could hang some sort of bell from that same mast? With the movement of the boat, and the additional movement of the flexible mast, this might provide a constant ringing of the bell.


Best beacon
We have a visually impaired paddler in our group.

As a friend, you soon become accustomed to keeping an eye out, and providing vocal cues. “Left a bit Craig” is part of the normal club conversation on the water now for us. He listens carefully for nearby paddlers and rarely needs course correction.

Crosswinds can be brutal for the visually impaired however, as we’ve noticed our friend’s tendency to not recognize weathercocking when it’s happening.

Strobes or noisemakers are a bit demeaning, I think.

Hope that helps.

Strobes or noise makers
Since a “strobe” light is generally used as a distress signal, I don’t think that would be such a great idea at all, but I will rethink the light and sound idea I proposed in my previous post (since the original poster did mention both, I was just thinking of an easy way to combine the two).


The stern light I mentioned is just a constant 360 degree light (no strobe), and at least for evening paddling, it’s something that is used whether or not it might be serving the dual purpose of helping a visually impaired person keep track of another boater. So this, I think, should not feel particularly demeaning. In any event, that’s for the paddler in question to decide.

Obviously, the light idea would work better at night, just because of the obvious contrast between dark water/sky and the light (same for a partially visually impaired person, I’m guessing). One concern I have even with this part of the idea is that it would almost require the visually impaired paddler to always be following his paddling companion; perhaps not the ideal situation. Paddling side by side, especially if there are only two paddlers, is often preferred anyway.


I like your method of voice cues when needed. This does seem like an ideal solution. You also mentioned that he already does “listen carefully for nearby paddlers”, and since visually impaired people often do develop very sensitive and accurate hearing as compensation for missing visual cues, not only voice, but paddle and boat sounds could well be enough for him to keep track of his paddling companion(s). Probably wouldn’t need to mess with a bell. :slight_smile:

One final thing, just because…

As yet, anyway, I’m not physically impaired in any way, but for safety “just in case” practice, and sometimes just plain fun, I do experiment with things like paddling with my eyes closed, or with my ears plugged, or without the use of one hand/arm, or with one or both feet/legs “disabled”, or any combination of these. In terms of safety practice, this allows me to see how I might handle an unexpected loss of one or more of these faculties/limbs while underway. Paddling in very thick fog is something I have experienced while in open waters, as well as paddling on dark nights, so the practice of paddling with my eyes closed has been an especially interesting exercise. In fog/mist and/or wind, sound carries differently than in clear, calm conditions, so getting used to judging directions and distances with sound alone is an interesting thing to play with. I also enjoy doing this when the water is a bit lively, so body/boat/blade sensitivity and reactions are tested in a different way when there are no visual cues.


Blind skiers use sound makers to follow
their guide.

My grandfather was only partially blind for years and could locate/follow a bright light, but if I remember right the bright light was not very effective outside in bright sunlight.



My thoughts
The group needs to be aware and help out. Simple “a little left, little right, winds blowing you” etc.

Don’t use a sound device. Much of his experience is probably through listening to what is around him. A sonic device would disturb that for him and the rest of the group.

An LED taillight for bicycles might be a good idea. From the rear, they are very bright and would be distinguishable from sunlight reflections etc.

Placed on the rear of another boat, he might be able to track that. It would be an inexpensive solution and free him up to paddle “visually” and give him a little more freedom.

more thoughts on the subject
I’d have to agree about noise makers…they would be annoying to all of the paddlers, and not necessary for your friend. I think if you simply carry on a conversation with him/her, they will be able to orient to your voice (given a little practice). Windy days may be a challenge, but even then, depending on water conditions etc., someone who is “good” should be able to orient to the direction the wind is coming from and with that, and your voice, they would eventually be able to do fine (again, depending on the person, conditions etc.). I’ve seen some impaired people do some amazing things with the senses that DO work.

Answer not Bullsh_ _

– Last Updated: Jun-28-07 5:34 PM EST –

Go to a Scuba Dive shop, purchase the small BCD mounted blinking strobe light and duct tape it on the back of your kayak. Divers have used blinking strobe lights to keep track of each other for years.
or you could put a radio in your kayak. This is neither a joke or smart remark. My legally blind friend was the one who suggested it and it works fine. Put it in my dry storage and turn it up.
The only danger is he/she will paddle a straight so always make sure there is nothing (branch, buoy, marker) between you.

the radio
sounds good but dont the paddling elite complain.

I get some smart remarks

– Last Updated: Jun-29-07 12:37 AM EST –

but when they find I'm leading a blind paddler they apologize and commend my efforts especially when they find out I'm also donating my time and equipment.

a lot of good ideas
Thanks to all. I have both the flashing light from my bicycle and a radio.

Will try both and let you know.

safer than walking!!
I have been legally blind for 6 years, but can still distinguish shapes and light. I can no longer drive or bike, but I can paddle solo just fine. When you think about it, you can’t fall down steps or curbs when you are paddling, and if you bump in to something it happens at realtively low speed. Obviously, you need to be even more aware of your surroundings usng whatever vision is left and your other senses. I tend to abvoid areas with overhanging obstructions and stay clear of heavy traffic areas.

My guide dog loves to paddle with me, but he is not much help in the boat! He loves the water and knows how to lie quietly on command, so is not a problem either.

Your frined is welcom to email me directly and I will geive him my phone number if he would like to discuss paddling with another visually impaired solo paddler.

Blind paddlers
West Michigan kayak asscociation will have some infromation for.

Kayak for Light

Where: Ramona Park, Long Lake, Portage Michigan.

When: July 7th, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

This event sponsored by Lee`s Fun and Adventure, and The Ski For Light Organization. Is an outing for Blind paddlers to have a chance to Kayak. For more information, or if you are interested in volunteering to guide a blind paddler email Bill Keith: