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Kayaking At Night – Safety, Laws & What Gear You Need

Mark Armstrong
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Getting out in your kayak at night can definitely add another layer of excitement and fun to your paddling experience. But is it really safe to paddle at night? And are there any rules?

We’ve put some information together to help you stay safe on the water at night, whether you’re out for a midnight adventure or looking to do some kayak fishing.

A look from yellow kayak during night paddlingPin

Why Go Kayaking At Night?

More Peaceful

Kayaking at night can be both an exciting and relaxing experience. It can be a time when you may feel like you have the whole body of water to yourself, which can be a lot more peaceful than during busy daytimes.

This could mean you’re able to get closer to some wildlife that may prefer the cover of darkness to hunt, such as bats or owls. Be careful of larger creatures that may also be hunting at night, as nocturnal animals are probably going to see you before you see them.

Experience Another World

Nighttime paddling can also expose you to experiences that you would not otherwise get to experience, such as witnessing bioluminescence in certain parts of the country. This can open your eyes to a whole other world that’s normally hidden by daylight.

Video: Bioluminescent Kayaking In Clear Kayaks

Kayaking at night can also give you a chance to stargaze. Being on the water generally means you’ll be away from most artificial lights, which could mean the night sky is more visible.

Kayak Fishing

Fishing at night can also be more lucrative than during the day, depending on the time of year and the type of fish you’re looking to catch.

Some fish, like bass, may find that it’s better to feed at night because the lake is quieter and the air temperature is cooler. This can make it a good time to target bigger bass that may be closer to the shallows compared to the middle of the day.

You may need to alter your approach to kayak fish at night, because you may be the noisiest thing around during the night so you might need a more delicate approach. You might also want to consider the moon, as some fish may hide from the moonlight, so it could be better to wait till there’s cloud cover or a new moon. 

Tips for better kayak fishing

Is It Safe To Kayak At Night?

While there will almost certainly be extra risks to consider while kayaking at night, it can be safe if you follow the rules. This means ensuring that you are well-equipped and well-prepared for the conditions.

The obvious difference between kayaking during the day and kayaking at night is that it’s dark at night, and this means visibility is seriously reduced. Not only is your eyesight reduced but you and your kayak will be less visible to others both on the water and on land. 

Video: Sea Kayaking At Night

This means that there are certain precautions that you need to take to minimize your risk, in addition to the precautions you would normally take for daytime paddling. This can apply whether you’re on a lake with minimal boat traffic or a bay where there may be larger vessels.

Remember, other vessels will be less likely to see you in the dark and may have less opportunity to avoid you if you’re not visible.

Similarly, you may be more likely to encounter wildlife at night, which may prove more dangerous. You might not see them but they may see you, or you might unknowingly disturb them which could cause them to react aggressively. The type of wildlife you encounter will obviously vary depending on your location, so you may or may not come across an opportunistic alligator or bear.

Lights can make a big difference to your visibility, for example, helping others to see you on the water as well as allowing you to see where you’re going. You may also want to plan ahead and let someone on land know where you’re going and when you plan to return.

Kayaking At Night: Laws And Regulations

US Coast GuardPin

When you’re kayaking at night, there are laws and regulations to follow which may be enforced by the US Coast Guard or the state, depending on where you plan to paddle.

There are some bodies of water that don’t allow kayaking at night, often due to safety concerns or the location. For example, some state parks or boat launches may close their gates before nightfall.

On the bodies of water where night paddling is allowed, you will need to adhere to the regulations. Lights are usually required at night no matter where you paddle.

The US Coast Guard regulations for kayaking at night include:

  • A white light must be carried on board all kayaks and canoes between sunset and sunrise. This can either be a permanently displayed lantern or a handheld waterproof flashlight, as long as it can be displayed in enough time to prevent a collision. You may also need to display a white light if your kayak is anchored in a channel or normal navigation area.
  • Visual Distress Signals (VDS) are required to be carried by all vessels on coastal waters between the hours of sunset and sunrise. For kayaks, this can include either three handheld red flares or one electric distress light.
  • whistle, or other suitable sound-producing device, is required for kayaking in most waters both during the day and at night.

How To Go Kayaking At Night…Safely

Be Visible

One of the most important things you can do to stay safe while paddling at night is to increase your visibility to others on the water. This can help you to avoid being in a collision with another boat.

Lights are usually a requirement for all vessels on the water at night and will generally apply to all waters regardless of whether the water is under state or federal jurisdiction. It’s safer to follow the rule for lights even if it doesn’t apply to your specific body of water.

An all-around white light that can be attached to your kayak can be safer than a handheld flashlight, as it can be on all the time while you’re paddling.

You could also choose to add reflective stickers or tape to your deck, paddle or PFD. Some PFDs will have reflective fabric for added visibility.

Wear Your PFD

In all states and coastal waters, you’re required to have a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on board your kayak. The life jacket should be in the correct size and in good condition.

While the law in most states is that you only need to carry the PFD with you, it’s recommended that you wear it at all times. It’s even more important to wear your life jacket when you’re kayaking at night, as you may not get rescued as quickly as you might during the day. A PFD can save your life if you’re wearing it.

Guide to life vests

Carry A Radio

It can be useful to carry a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, as this can let you contact someone in an emergency.

Some of them have built-in channels that can give you weather alerts, which can also be handy when you’re on the water, especially if you’re out for more than a couple of hours. 

Carry A Personal Light

Although you’ve got your white light on your kayak to keep you visible to other boaters, it can be a good idea to have a second light, such as a lantern or headlamp, so that you can see where you’re going.

As well as being able to see the route ahead, it should also be able to light up your deck if you need to reach for anything in your gear bags or hatches.

Remember to keep your essentials within easy reach of your seat, so that you don’t have to root around too much. Keep smaller and more valuable items inside a small dry bag so that they might be easier to locate.

Kayak navigation lights

Check Your VDS Devices

Remember that if you’re heading out on coastal waters, or the Great Lakes, you’ll need to have Visual Distress Signals with you. If you choose an electric distress light, make sure that it’s in good working order before you head out.

If you opt to take three red flares, make sure they are all safely within their expiration date.

Plan Your Route

Planning your route should be something you’re used to doing for daytime paddling. But it can be even more important for nighttime kayaking, as you’re probably less likely to encounter other paddlers or people in general while you’re on the water, so there may be less people to help in an emergency.

Make a float plan and leave it with someone you trust on land. Make sure you stick to your planned route when you head out or let the person know that you’re changing routes, in case a search party is launched when it’s not needed.

It can be a good idea to take maps and a GPS device so that you can follow your intended route and avoid getting lost.

Remember to check the weather in advance of your trip and keep connected to weather stations on your radio.

Keep An Eye On The Tides

If you plan to kayak on coastal or tidal waters, it can be beneficial to check the tides before you head out. When you’re kayaking at night, you may be less likely to visibly see the tides changing so it can be more crucial to check the times of high and low tides.

Tides will vary depending on your location but you can check the tides and currents around the USA here.

Don’t Kayak Alone

This is probably common sense but it’s a good idea not to kayak at night by yourself. With fewer people around at night to help you in an emergency, having a paddling partner can sometimes be life-saving.

If you or your paddling partner has an accident, the other one can call for help or help with a self-rescue if one of you capsizes.

Final Thoughts

Kayaking at night can be extremely fun but you’ll also find there are more dangers on the water in the dark. Remember to always wear your PFD and increase your visibility by displaying a white light on your kayak to meet regulations.

Have you ever been kayaking at night? Tell us about it. And don’t forget to share this to help other paddlers stay safe on the water.

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