Was told today I should carry a flag.

I heard a powerboat coming up on my starboard side while paddling to my take-out. I looked backward and saw it was an older gent and his dog in a 22-ft inboard. He came to a stop and hailed me, asking if I could hear him. I nodded and said yes. He told me that I was difficult to see and should carry a “small flag” because he didn’t want to run me over. I thanked him for taking the time to stop - and for not running over me.

At that time I maybe a quarter-mile off shore, having moved in because the boat traffic, water skiers, and joy riders had increased as the afternoon progressed. This was a large inland lake connected to Lake Michigan and I was watchful of the traffic.

It was a cool 66F and windy so I was wearing the top of my purple/gray/black Radius as a drytop, a purple hat, bright yellow PFD, my kayak is red and has two strips of highly reflective prism tape on each side, one at the 10 & 2 positions and one where my knees are. At the time I was using my Werner Cyrpus, which has both Solas and sparkly prism tape on the back of the blade, but not the front.

While I could easily see other kayaks half a mile away, I know we’re hard to see by power boaters. I’ve seen flags on fishing SOTs but can’t imagine attaching a pole four to five feet tall with a flapping flag to the stern of my kayak for a number of reasons.

I’ve added prism tape to the front of my Euro blades and more on the back; nothing I can do about my Lumpy stick, which I used while paddling into headwinds going out. I can switch to a neon-green ball cap which I know has higher visbility and I would have worn a brightly colored rashguard had the air temp been warmer (water temp unknown, but survivable).

All other suggestions most welcome.

I have considered taking a flare gun. There was a suggestion here about carrying a CD to use as a signaling mirror. Haven’t done it but I think it’s a good idea.

I guess one can never be too careful. Thankful my paddling ground has no joy riders. Not allowed. On other bodies of water I do however signal oncoming boats by holding the kayak paddle by one end and waving it back and forth until they see me and then I wave to let them know things are good. But only to those that could be a collide concern. Jetskis and skiers are the worst.

How would you use a flare gun while you’re paddling to your destination? I guess it would attract lots of attention if you shot it off every now and then, but probably not the kind of attention you want. I carry a hunk of a CD in my PFD pocket - but it’s for signaling in an emergency situation. There’s more shiny stuff now on my blades than on that hunk of CD (and makes my Cyprus look ugly, sadly).

You should carry a hunk of a laser disk. That’ll really get their attention.


How will carrying a hunk of laser disk in my pocket make me more visible to power boaters?

It was a joke. Sorry, I should have added the customary smiley face.

Ahh, am slow today. Got it.

It seems that with the modern conversion to LED lights, it should be possible to find a low power (waterproof) strobe that can be attached to the front/rear of the boat. I haven’t looked into this, but I doubt that such devices would be overly expensive.

That said, I’m not too certain that the beer infused yahoo’s I often see in powerboats would notice anything smaller than a supertanker crossing their path.

And yes, I am (slightly) exaggerating the incompetence of powerboaters, but they are such easy targets.


I have flag mounts on both of my kayaks, but have yet to use them. When I start paddling on Lake Powell, I will use them. Huge lake with lots of power boats.

Probably two years ago now I was coming back from Flowerpot Island (near Tobermory, Ontario). Waves were quite large, probably approaching 1m (3’). I haven’t experienced ocean waves, but I am led to believe they are rounder with longer period for the most part. Waves on the Great Lakes are usually steep and closely spaced, not to mention my skills were less than they are today.

There’s a lot of tour boat traffic in the area so I was a little concerned about not being seen while down in a trough. Before beginning the crossing I’d put out a Securite call on VHF 16 giving my approximate course.

About half way across I see a large power boat come racing out of a cove from shore - directly toward me! As the boat came nearer I did end up putting my paddle in the air and waving it slowly to improve visibility. In the last few seconds before an imminent collision, the pilot cut power and came around, passing me within about 20’. As his wake caught up to the almost stopped craft, it passed by me as well, completely burying my boat in a frothy torrent of water. At the same time he was yelling over the wind “ARE YOU OK?”.

Thinking to myself, “I was until you just about dumped me into the drink”, I was also contemplating which of the five digits on my hand would offer the most adequate response. I opted for the more civil choice - a thumbs up.

He gave a little wave and jammed the throttle hard forward, but not continuing past me on his original course. Rather back exactly the way he came from.

It still puzzles me when I speculate about what happened that day. I’m left to think maybe he heard the Securite call and misunderstood it as a call for help? The one thing that’s clear in my mind is that I was a perfectly visible target from almost a kilometer away!

Here in Pennsylvania unpowered boaters are not permitted to have flashing lights on their boats during normal operation. I suspect other states have similar rules – we have major commercial marine traffic on our big rivers so coast guard regulations are usually extended to all waterways here. Flashing yellow lights are reserved for certain applications on large powered boats . Flashing white lights are for emergency signal only (summoning for help). And kayaks and canoes are not allowed to use any color light but white in our state.

I don’t buy the “you are hard to see” fussing from power boaters and their insistence that we do something to make ourselves “more visible” or even get out of the water completely – bicyclists and pedestrians can be hard for motorists to see in many traffic conditions, like rain or glare from low sun, but that still doesn’t excuse drivers running them down because they don’t carry signal flags.

My answer when boaters complain about me being “hard to see” is that they need to watch where they are headed more carefully. i constantly see power boaters out on our rivers and lakes with one hand on the wheel, a drink in the other and their eyes on their fellow partiers instead of the water ahead. There are often swimmers in these waters too, intentionally or unintentionally (the latter being dumped water-skiers and wake-boarders). If you “can’t see” my 18’ kayak and my fruit salad of brightly colored gear and wardrobe, then you shouldn’t be driving that boat in the first place.

Coast Guard says strobes are emergency lights. And yes the light must be a steady white. The powerboater was kindly but his vision may be deteriorating… I have a neighbor who drives a boat and relies on his wife to detect small hazards. That to me is just unconscionable.

No flashing lights allowed here in Ontario, Canada for non-emergency use either. I think this is pretty universal, probably international. Besides, it would have to be an insanely bright light and huge battery to be bright enough to improve your visibility in daylight. Overcast days, yes. But a steady light would serve the same purpose.

I do plenty of reasonable things to make me more visible:

  • Reflective tape on the deck and at about four places along the length of the hull.
  • Reflective tape on my paddle
  • Reflective tape on my PFD (as purchased) and helmet (when I’m wearing it, usually rough and rocky conditions)
  • Orange (mango) colour theme for much of my gear
  • Turn broadside when a fast boat is on a collision course

So really, I don’t buy the “I can’t see you” argument either.

Now if I had a sleek black drysuit with a matching shiny black very low volume Greenland boat, or worse one of those rotomolded boats with blue and white that looks like aerated water? Well then I deserve what comes my way and runs me over - sort of. If anyone is paying even a small amount of attention, and exercising caution when rounding blind curves into narrow channels, the least visible kayak should still be seen in enough time to avoid a collision.

Oh, and regarding a flag… no way. For anyone who kayaks in wind or explores full 360° rotation about the long axis of the boat, this just isn’t going to happen. I’d consider a sail long before a flag, and that’s not likely to happen either.

No matter WHAT you do to make your vessel more noticeable, you still have to rely on the OTHER GUY paying attention to piloting his powerboat. Sometimes, you could set your canoe/kayak totally ON FIRE, and the distracted powerboater would still say “I didn’t see them.” Akin to car drivers when texting. Flags will only work IF the other guy is alert.

I was almost hit by a ski boat that had one driver and one skier. That is illegal yet the idiots were doing it anyway. The driver was watching the person skiing and not looking forward. In a direct hit I would be dead and they would get a wrist slap. I take 100% responsibility for my own protection because I don’t trust others with my life. Although most people care about others there’s enough self-centered twits out there to make staying alive a little more difficult than it needs to be.

The flare gun would be for those times of immenent danger. Fire it where they are looking, not at them though that is tempting.

Hi Rookie. This may have gotten overly complicated. Even if a flashing strobe was a good idea, as above it is not, what the guy was talking about has been recommended by various parties figuring it puts a visible signal higher up. Where someone trying to see over the bow of a speeding boat can see it easier than at head height of someone in a sink. Particularly the head of you or me.

Actually the harbormaster of Bremen in Maine tried to require that a few years ago. It got shut down when he insisted the Coast Guard enforce it. Uh, no.

So this idea does get floated among motor boat groups, the guy may have honestly thought he was correct.

Personally, l do the wave paddle with solar tape on it a lot. But the concern is enough even trying to do everything right that l have adjusted my paddling. I don’t go onto highly popular water bodies like Lake George over July 4 weekend, and in Maine l favor Muscongus or western Penn bays over Casco.

If you do get stuck having to do this in a spot sometime, it is not a,big deal. You can find lightweight 3 or 4 ft pole with a small orange flag on top. I think they suction cup on. I know l have seen them in use. The noise of the flapping is probably the worst part. In the meantime it sounds like you are doing all you can.

I’ve often wondered if there was some sort of non-noxious smoke “bomb” one could carry that would produce a visible, maybe even colorful, cloud of smoke trailing behind you, like whatever they use in skywriting planes. Something like that could even act as a signalling devise for offshore emergencies, so a boater’s (or a hiker’s) location could be pinpointed. More obvious than a mirror flash and less weather dependent (though it obviously would be less than effective in windy conditions).

I just did a perfunctory search and they do sell colored smoke bombs that people apparently use for paintball games and weddings (???) I’m thinking this is something you could use when paddling back through a crowded channel at end of the day, or even grab and quickly ignite if you spotted a power boat heading at you. The big drawback is wind, and the fact that some of these produce a dense obscuring cloud that you or an approaching boater could be stuck in and blinded by.

Not kidding, they actually do use these in wedding photos and videos for some inexplicable reason.

Maybe I’ll buy a couple and experiment.