What should a non-powered canoe or kayak display in reduced visibility?

Non - powered kayak

Navigation lighting products and DIY projects for paddlers and kayak anglers are available. We recommend that you read the regulations and make your own judgments about what is appropriate for your application. Paddlers, kayak anglers, and other boaters operate in a variety of environments, each with unique safety, visibility, and night vision requirements. The placement of poles and fixed mounts, particularly on the decks of sit-on-top kayaks, should be planned ahead of time to make use easier and ensure that lighting does not obstruct re-entry if the boat capsizes in the dark.

Paddlers, anglers, canoeists, stand-up paddleboarders, surfers, and other recreational paddlers cannot all use the same lighting configuration.

when paddling inland, on waterways where traffic is limited to other kayaks and canoes: .

Paddling in low-visibility conditions (night, fog, rain, etc.) necessitates different lighting requirements depending on the environment. Check with the US Coast Guard or your state hydrographic office for rules and regulations in the United States, and be careful not to obstruct other paddlers’ night vision. Night is defined by the United States Coast Guard as “sunset to sunrise,” not just when it gets dark.

Inland night paddling regulations vary by state in the United States.

The USCG’s “paddling” regulations govern the minimum requirements for kayaks and canoes (both paddling and floating), which state that they must be “visible for sufficient time to avoid collision with a flashlight or lantern illuminated with a white light.” We recommend having at least one 360° waterproof flashlight on board in areas where kayak and canoe traffic is restricted. This flashlight can be lit and displayed from any direction at any time. It is a minimum requirement and should be sufficient to display such a light when needed in most waters where access for other paddlers is restricted.

If you want to attach a light to your paddle so that your companion can see you while paddling, you must consider both your own and your companion’s night vision. You must calculate the amount of moonlight and starlight available and display the appropriate amount of light for the situation. This amount of light is typically much lower than that required for boating on waterways. When paddling on waterways that are accessible to kayaks and canoes, follow the advice in (b) below, and dim the light beam when paddling on waterways that are not accessible to kayaks and canoes.

Night vision can be harmed by light sources that directly enter your field of vision or reflect back into your eyes from a forward-facing surface, such as a headlamp reflected off a paddle. The positioning and installation of lighting should be given careful consideration.

Lights must be visible at all times on all regulated waters in some states (for example, Texas), including waters closed to “boats under paddle” like kayaks and canoes. If the lights are mounted on the deck, they must be positioned so that they can be seen from all sides within the arc of the horizon and are not blocked by any part of the kayak or canoe (e.g., higher than the seatback, box, or stand).

A 360° rotating beacon that is not obstructed by any physical part of the kayak or canoe is recommended when anchoring in an area where access to the kayak or canoe is limited. Anglers have the most trouble with anchoring, and paddlers are more likely to drift or paddle ashore rather than anchor. Kayakers who anchor in navigable waterways must follow all inland and federal regulations.

Unless artificial light is required in waters only accessible by kayak or canoe, moonlight or starlight should suffice.

In both domestic and international waters, “paddle boats” like kayaks and canoes are not required to have red or green running lights (or “sidelights”).

However, kayaks are allowed to have red or green lights under US Coast Guard regulations (see Regulation 25)

For the reasons stated above, it is not recommended to install red/green lights on kayaks in general, particularly on waters shared with boats (B). A red/green running light may aid in identifying the bow of the kayak while protecting the paddler’s night vision on inland waters shared only with other paddlers. To be in compliance, the red/green lights must be displayed and illuminated in accordance with USCG regulations and the USCG definition, which states that they must be visible from a clearly defined draft line.

The green light on the port side and the red light on the starboard side, each with a continuous beam 112.5 degrees above the horizon and mounted so that the light can be seen straight ahead to 22.5 degrees beyond the beam on each side, are known as “sidelights.”

The sidelights can be mounted as a single lantern on the centerline of the forward and aft portions of the vessel for vessels under 20 meters in length; for vessels under 12 meters in length, the sidelights should be mounted as close to the centerline of the forward and aft portions of the vessel as possible when mounted as a single lantern.

Furthermore, when a red/green light is installed, USCG regulations dictate the exact position of the other lights in relation to the running light; a red, green, or colored light that is not properly installed in accordance with USCG regulations will render the vessel unseaworthy and cause others to attempt to interpret its signal. On the water, this can lead to confusion as others try to figure out what the signals mean. Other vessels may maneuver by focusing on the red, green, or both signals. The driving light (or parking light) is used to accurately communicate your intentions while driving, as well as to show others how you look.

Using these lights in kayaks is not recommended.

When paddling in a shared waterway with a motorboat or sailboat:

Above all, adhere to local navigation and paddling regulations in low-visibility situations (e.g., night, fog, rain). When navigating navigable waterways off the coast of the United States or inland, check with the United States Coast Guard and inland regulatory agencies to make sure you’re following their rules and regulations. It’s worth noting that the US Coast Guard considers nighttime to be from “sunset to sunrise,” rather than just after dark.

Paddling in waters frequented by motor or sail vessels at night or in poor visibility is not recommended unless you are familiar with the use and reading of navigation lights and signals. Amateur paddlers should avoid sharing waters with motorboats and sailboats, and if passage is necessary, paddle as close to or as far as possible to the shore. In the event of a capsize, light failure, or accident, always consider how to maintain visibility. Prepare your boat as well as your nighttime gear.

We recommend the following kayak lights based on our years of testing kayak lights for night navigation in shared waters. Install the light on the aft deck (behind you) with a solid mount, not a suction cup, magnetic base, or other mount that won’t withstand the shock of the bow or another kayak’s paddle stroke. The light should be mounted near the rear deck of the kayak or canoe so that it can be turned on and off easily without disrupting the kayak’s or canoe’s balance. In waters where sailboats or motorboats (powerboats, jet skis, inflatable boats, etc.) are present, this light should be kept on at all times.

To protect your own and other boat users’ night vision, the light should not be obstructed by any physical part of the kayak or canoe (backrest height, box, stand, etc.) and should not shine on the cockpit lip of the paddle or rudder (if present), deck, or bow area, especially when paddling in dark areas. A 360° rotating light, mounted behind the head or shoulders, is recommended.

If the light is to be mounted high up, there must be enough shielding or lensing to ensure that the light passes through the plane of the waterboard and away from the front and oars or paddles, ensuring that the reflected light is not overshadowed by ambient light. If your kayak or canoe tips, rolls, or capsizes in the dark, whatever solution you choose, think about how the light will help you recover and stay functional.

Turn off your lights when entering waters where kayak or canoe access is restricted if your country’s navigation regulations do not require a solid white light. This will allow you to navigate in starlight or moonlight without compromising your night vision. By turning lights off and on only when necessary, night vision is most effective in dark areas with limited kayak or canoe traffic, especially when paddling with other paddlers.

It is recommended that each paddler (and tandem passenger) have a second light in addition to the lights mounted on the kayak’s rear deck. When paddling with other sailors, we prefer to have a 360-degree waterproof flashlight in our hands, which we strap on and turn on so that we can always see what’s ahead.

Headlights and kayak lights can help with visibility, but if they shine into your eyes, paddles, or the deck of your kayak, your night vision will be impaired.

When anchoring your kayak or canoe, please keep the above lights on. When anchoring on navigable waterways, paddlers should exercise extreme caution and adhere to USCG inland waters rules and regulations. The visibility of the omnidirectional lights during anchoring can be improved by positioning them so they are not obscured by the shoulders or head. During anchoring, maneuverability is limited, and unexpected wake and wave effects are possible.

Red/green running lights (or similar) are used in both domestic and international waters “Kayaks, canoes, and other “boats under paddles” are exempt from this requirement.

“Kayaks can, however, be equipped with red or green lights, according to US Coast Guard regulations (see Regulation 25)

In general, it is not a good idea to use red or green lights on kayaks, especially in areas where boats are present. When the red or green light is mounted on the kayak’s bow or low on the hull, it is too close to the waterline to meet USC requirements for horizon visibility, and the running light (or “sidelight”) flashes on and off, confusing other paddlers and boaters. It’s not a good idea to use running lights.

Depending on the environment, lights mounted on the hull or bow of a boat are frequently inaccessible to the paddler. The angle and intensity of the red/green light, as well as its position relative to other lights, are all specified by U.S. government regulations in addition to the physical installation requirements.

Oncoming boats must be aware of where they are going and at what speed, according to Coast Guard regulations. Paddlers who are unable to understand how another boat’s driver might interpret their exact meaning in the dark should not carry lights of any color, including running lights. Furthermore, the running lights you carry will identify other boats’ red, green, or both running lights, indicating that you are operating your own boat.

You should also be aware that using strobe lights or colored lights that do not comply with certain regulations (e.g., blue or fast strobe lights on kayaks) could result in your boat being fined.

navigation lights

Between sunset and sunrise, as well as when visibility is limited, recreational boats must have their navigation lights on (fog, rain, haze, etc.). Lighting requirements for each type of watercraft are specified by US Coast Guard navigation regulations. The information in the attached link is only applicable to vessels that are less than 65.5 feet/20 meters long.

It’s also a good idea to have an anchor and enough anchor lines on board, as well as dewatering equipment like bilge pumps in case of flooding and backup propulsion like oars or paddles in case of engine failure. You may apply for the FWC or Coastguard Auxiliary safety mark if your boat meets the above equipment requirements and recommendations. Please contact the FWC regional office nearest you for more information.

Lighting Requirements for Kayaking at Night

You might want to paddle at night for a variety of reasons. Paddling late at night isn’t uncommon. This is why we decided to write an article about it. Paddling at night raises many questions.

“Is it safe to kayak at night?” is the most common question. Yes, it’s possible. There are no specific rules prohibiting kayaking at night in general, but keep in mind that each state in the United States has its own set of rules.

“Do you require lights?” is the second query. The legal requirement for lighting kayaks at night, according to the United States Coast Guard, is a white-light flashlight or lantern.

In case you’re interested, here’s the actual regulation: “Rowboats may have the lights required by this regulation for sailboats, but if they do not, they must have a white light torch or lantern on hand and carry it for a long enough time to avoid collisions.” Kayaks and canoes with a length of less than 7 meters (23 feet) are also classified as “boats under paddles” and are subject to USCG regulations.

This is a very common occurrence, believe me. Paddling at night offers a number of benefits. For instance, if you live in a country where summer daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees, you will enjoy nighttime paddling. Paddling at night adds an extra layer of surrealism to the experience. The moonlight reflects beautifully in the water.

Get some night paddling advice before you go.

Here’s an overview:

Make a strategy beforehand.

Ascertain that you have the necessary tools.


It is best to plan and know your route before you go kayaking, whether it is during the day or at night. This is especially true at night when kayaking. You’ve probably been through these waters before.

You will notice that the water takes on a completely different appearance at night. First, plan your route, keep an eye out for important landmarks, and, if possible, bring a GPS device with you.

When around motorboats, be extra cautious. It’s difficult to see even with a flashlight. Stay in small groups and set smaller “targets” if you’re paddling with friends. Kayaking and biking at night are both enjoyable activities.

Be prepared with the right equipment

Lighting is a must “A flashlight or lighted lantern with a white light that should burn long enough to avoid collisions,” we wrote at the start of this article. By the way, “sufficient time” refers to the time between sunset and sunrise, not to the period following total darkness.

We recommend a portable, waterproof 360° flashlight (see photo below) to meet the minimum requirements. The ability to turn on this light when necessary is a must-have for most waters where other paddlers are few.

A handheld light will suffice for the majority of paddlers. However, some states require that lights in regulated waters be visible at all times. As a result, think about putting a 360-degree light on your kayak’s deck.

Deck Lighting/Additional Lighting The best type of “white light” is deck lights for kayaks. When kayaking, the best light is a steady white light that can be seen from all directions. The light’s pole is too high and susceptible to damage, compromising the kayak’s and paddler’s ability to operate properly. On the deck, moderate lighting is recommended.

Strobe / Auxiliary Lighting Only in an emergency should strobe lights be used. A strobe light is a white light that flashes rapidly and is interpreted as a distress signal by other sailors. A red flashlight is another option. Attach the strobe light to the top of your life jacket, such as your shoulder or chest. You can also stow it in a pocket of your life jacket and attach a lanyard to it so it’s always ready to go. Turn it on only if you truly require assistance.

Sounder You need to hear voices in an emergency. That is why having a sounder with you during the day is so important. A compressed air horn should be carried. If you need to raise your voice in an emergency, there are many inexpensive and portable horn models available.

Check before it gets dark

Early in the morning, turn on the lights. Before you go kayaking, make sure all of your gear is charged. Before leaving the house, it’s a good idea to check. Finding your night paddling gear after it’s already dark is the last thing you want to do. You can avoid a lot of problems by turning on your lights early. Before it gets dark, double-check your lights and night paddling equipment.


These are just a few suggestions to make your night kayaking experience more enjoyable. The most crucial aspect of night kayaking is your ability to see and be seen at night. Keep in mind that local regulations differ by state. Don’t deviate from the law. Lighting is required for a reason. Enjoy your night kayaking!