The Rules Say:
"Vessels under oars may carry an electric torch (flashlight) or lighted lantern showing a white light to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision. If practicable, the lights prescribed for sailing vessels less than 20 meters should be displayed."
There are several ways to light your kayak. Some are passive, meaning that all you have to do is turn them on and they work, and some require you to actively do something (see"electric torch" above). Passive methods are preferred, as you don't always hear quiet boats in time to prevent collision by active means.
Passive methods, from least to most visible:
Don't do it - it can be VERY dangerous!
They're pretty bright at first, fade relatively quickly, don't provide directional information, and are not visible against the light-clutter that we are part of when on urban night trips.
INNER LIGHTS ON PLASTIC BOATS
Fairly bright, fade as the batteries lose power, don't provide directional information, and do not necessarily identify you as a boat.
SINGLE WHITE LIGHT
Bright single-point lights need to be visible through 360 degrees. LED lights maintain most of their brightness as the batteries lose power though standard bulbs will fade. Single lights do not provide directional information, and must be mounted above head height to be seen from all directions.
RED/GREEN+WHITE NAV LIGHTS
This is the standard baseline lighting setup for all craft on the water. The red and green sidelights should be visible through approx. 120 degrees on their respective sides, and the white light should be visible through 135 degrees centered directly aft, though more is acceptable. The same characteristics apply - LED lights will hold brightness longer than standard lights. This setup provides directional information to other craft on the water and definitely identifies you as a boat.
ADDITIONAL LIGHT-RELATED STUFF
Reflective patches, lines, tape, stripes (and highly reflective foreheads for us guys) are all recommended additional "conspicuity" gear, but remember, for a reflective object to be seen it has to have a light shone upon it, and very few folks on the water at night are shining lights out in front of them. Additionally, reflective tapes and similar devices only "light up" when the source of light is very near the eye of the observer. Reflective tapes are VERY useful rescue gear - putting "paddle flashers" on your paddle blades makes it easy to use your paddle as a nighttime rescue marker. Nighttime SAR is one instance where searchlights ARE used on the water.
DON'T DO IT!! On the back of your bicycle a flashing red light pretty clearly identifies you as a bicycle. On your boat it identifies you as a malfunctioning aid to navigation. Your strobe should never be used unless you need a boat or helicopter to get you out of the water. Use standard navigation lights - look like a boat!
A NOTE ON LED VS. CONVENTIONAL
LED lights are generally a bit more intensely colored than incandescent lights, and therefore stand out better in the urban environment we paddle in regularly. LED lighting also wastes less electricity than conventional bulbs, so your system can use smaller batteries effectively. I strongly recommend LED lights rather than conventional incandescent lights for these reasons.
I like Paddler's Supply gear. In particular, I use and recommend the Compact Navigation Light (currently out of production) or the eGear red/green clip lights and the LED Deck Light as shown below:
Please bring and show off your lighting gear on our night paddles - the best homemade stuff will get photos, credit, and HowTo instructions on this page! The good commercial stuff will get reviewed and have photos posted.
WHERE TO BUY
If you're a kayak outfitter/store please contact me with what lighting you carry so we can give everyone a place to buy!
PADDLER'S SUPPLY LIGHTING
245 SW 32 Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315
(delivers to most trips - call 954-682-2922)
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