kayaking at night

Light Requirements for Kayak at Night

For the several reasons, you will probably want to paddle at night. Sometimes you just end up paddle ate night by accident. That’s why I decide to write this post. There are so many questions had been asked about night kayaking. 

The most asking question is: Is it legal to kayak at night? The answer is yes. Generally speaking, there is no certain rule indicates that you can not kayak at night, but keep in mind that each state in America has slightly different regulations about the night kayaking.

The second question is: Is there any light requirement? A: According to the United States Coast Guard: the night kayaking light requirement by law is an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light.

Here is the actual rule, in case you’re interested. “A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.” And a kayak or canoe under 7 meters (23 feet) is classified as a “vessel under oars” and subject to the U. S. Coast Guard Rules. 

kayaking at night


In my personal experience, even you’re not planning to paddle at night, sometimes you will just end up to do it by an accident. You may not be on your schedule and you’re not able to reach your destination when night approached.

Trust me, it happens a lot. There is a lot of benefit to paddle at night, take a quick example, when summer has come, if you live in a country that temperature will reach the 120 degrees during the daylight hours; you will love to paddle at night. Plus, nighttime paddling adds the element of surrealism. Moonlight reflection on the water is fabulous.

Before you go, you probably want to have some tips about night kayaking and that’s what I going to share in the rest of this post.

Here is the overview of the article:

  • Plan ahead
  • Prepare the Right Gear
  • Check before Dark



No matter is daylight or night kayaking, the best way to start kayaking is by planning ahead and know the route before you go. Especially for the night kayaking. You may paddle in the same water for many times.

Trust me, you will find the water looks totally different at the night. Search the route first and note any significant landmarks, if possible, bring a GPS device will be perfect.

Take extra precaution around powerboats. Even if you have a light you will still be very hard to see. If you and some friends are paddling together, keep a close group to make a smaller “target”. Cross boat channels at 90 degrees and try to stay out of them completely. Kayaking at night will be quite like bicycling at night.

Prepare the Right Gear

Required Light

At the very first in this post, I mentioned the light requirement in night kayaking is “An electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.”

By the way, the definition of “sufficient time” means between sunset and sunrise, not simply when it is all dark.

To meet the minimum requirement, I’d recommend a hand-held, waterproof, 360° flashlight (below), it is easy to turn on and display in any direction. Having this light available to display as needed is the minimum required and should be sufficient on most waters restricted for use by other paddlers.

In general, a hand-held flashlight will do for most paddlers. But keep in mind, some states might require your light to remain visible at all times in all regulated waters. So you might consider having like a 360º all-around light mounted on the deck of the kayak.

Tips: All I saying is about inland paddling, I don’t recommend paddling at night or in conditions of limited visibility in any waters navigated by powerboats or sailboats unless you are experienced in the display and reading of night navigation lights and signals. Amateur paddlers should avoid waters shared with powerboats and sailors.

handy light


Additional Light/Deck Light

A Deck Light for a kayaker is the best form of a “white light”. A steady burning white light that can be seen from any direction is best but impractical for a kayaker. A pole for the light would just be too tall, fragile and inhibit the normal function of kayak and paddler. The modest deck light will do just fine.

Deck Light


Additional Light/Strobe Light

A Strobe Light is only to be used in an emergency. A Strobe is a flashing white light that will be seen as a distress signal to other boaters. A flashing red light is ok to use. A strobe light is best mounted onto a PFD in a high position like the shoulder or the chest. It could also be tucked into a PFD pocket on a lanyard, stowed for “just in case”. Turn it on only if you really need help.

Strobe Light


Noise Maker

You want to be heard when the emergency happens. So, bring a noise maker is critical even in the daytime. Carry an air horn. There are many models on the market which are inexpensive and easy enough to carry for that emergency when you want to be heard.


Check before Dark

Turn on your lights earlier. Always make sure your gears are charged before you go kayaking. It’s best to check even before you leave home. You definitely don’t want to do is scramble to find your night paddling gear when it’s already dark. So, turn on your lights early, then you can prevent many problems. Not only light, but you should also check all the gears that you will need at the night kayaking before it turns dark.

night kayak



These are my tips for you for a night kayaking trip. As you’d expect, the most important part of the nighttime kayaking is about how to see and be seen at night. Don’t forget to check the local regulations, they may vary by different states. Just follow the laws and rules, do not try to be an exception, all the light requirement are set up for a reason. Hope you have a nice ride on nighttime kayaking.

All of my information is based on my searching and experiences, if you find anything wrong or outdated, please kindly leave your comment below. I will update it as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading. Happy Kayaking.


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3 years ago

Great article. It is so important to make sure you have proper lighting when you plan to kayak at night! Kayaking is not typically a very dangerous activity, but being out in the dark without lighting can make it quite dangerous. Here are some reviews of kayak lights for navigation for anyone who is interested: http://www.bestoutdooradventure.com/category/home/2019/02/06/kayaklightsfornightpaddling/

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