Kayak lights and lights for SUPs and canoes are a great addition to your paddling gear kit. There is a special peaceful beauty at night, and the sights and sounds can be amazing. Some of our favorite Paddle KC activities are sunset paddles, sunrise paddles, and night explorations to see waters we paddle often during the day. Our fantastic annual 4th Of July Fireworks On The Water event includes a sunset paddle and viewing of fireworks from the water.
If you plan to paddle at night, in low visibility conditions, or on major waterways with motorboat or barge traffic (like the Missouri River), you need to use lights. Including at least a white light and a strong flashlight in your paddling emergency kit is a wise move even if you normally only paddle during the day, in case you ever end up on the water near sunset or you want to launch before sunrise. We of course recommend paddling with others for safety reasons, especially at night.
The over -riding goal of your kayak, SUP and canoe lights is for the safety of you and other boaters, so choose based on that rather than what’s least possible. The main light needs to be constantly visible from a distance in all directions.
Requirements and Recommendations for Kayak Lights, Paddleboard Lights, Canoe Lights
The standard legal requirement for boat lighting (kayak lights, SUP lights, canoe lights):
- 360-degree white light visible for a minimum of 2 miles, mounted high enough off the boat or board stern (back) so that it is visible from both front and back. If you do not have a 360-degree light, technically you are allowed to use a flashlight or lantern held as a signaling device but this is not near as safe.
- Specific wording from page 28 of Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats, “A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights for a sailboat. If it does not, it shall have ready at hand an electric torch (flashlight) or lighted lantern showing a white light that shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.”
- Diagram showing this lighting requirement. Note the flashlight is in hand for signaling and shining on the boat, rather than strapped down and pointing in one direction.
Additional lights for use on major waterways with barge or large boat traffic, and required on (only) Jackson County, Missouri lakes:
- Red and green lights mounted on front left side (red) and right side (green) on boat or board bow (front) so they are easily visible for other boats for 1 mile.
- Specific wording from 5040.5 Lighting section of Jackson Country Missouri Park Regulations. “No person shall operate any motorboat, sailboat, canoe, kayak or other watercraft between the hours of sunset and sunrise unless such watercraft shall exhibit running lights in the following manner: a) positioned on the bow, a red light to the port and a green light to the starboard visible for 180 degree for one mile and, b) positioned on the stern a white light visible for 360 degree for two miles.” Park rangers do check lights, and will ticket you for not following Jackson County regulations, which are in addition to state and national requirements.
- Flashlights, headlamps or other directional lights are not adequate because they only shine light in one direction and are less visible from other angles. Some may argue that flashlights are a good choice, but a flashlight will never be as safe while paddling as a 360-degree white light visible for a mile in any direction. If you’re serious about paddling, invest in a 360-degree white kayak light. Flashlights, headlands and other directional lights are still a great addition to required lights, and highly recommended to keep within reach for emergency signaling.
- No small lights mounted low on stern that are blocked from view from the front when you’re in the boat. You need boats coming toward you from the front to see you! It’s also helpful to be able to look behind you and see paddlers following you in a group, without their lights being blocked by their body.
- No solar yard lights or dim lights or glow sticks that may lose power or not be clearly visible from a mile away in low visibility conditions. These are great as an addition, but do not meet legal requirements for boat lighting because they are not as visible as needed for safety.
- No white stern lights mounted on the sides of the kayak, like light strips used for fishing, because those are not visible from all angles.
Additional tips – some learned the hard way by countless Paddle KC members over the years:
- Mount lights as far away from your head as possible to avoid being covered in bugs, eating bugs, and getting bugs in your eyes and nose. Not fun.
- Avoid C-clamp lights because the light ends up near you in the cockpit and you’ll be paddling in a cloud of bugs.
- For lights using suction cup mounts, ALWAYS attach a leash or tie to the boat in case the suction cup fails. It happens.
- Bring a backup white light in case your main light fails.
- If using a tall stern light, remember to stay aware of low bridges or branches that may break it off.
- Headlamps blind others when you look at them while paddling, and they attract bugs to your face. Keep one with you to use as needed, but not constantly.
- Lights on the bow of your boat will affect your night vision, so take a bit of black electrical tape and block off the side facing you to reduce eye strain while night paddling.
- Battery-operated light strings and glow sticks are a great option for boosting your visibility and making you stand out to motor boaters. You will definitely look like something unusual that motorized boats will (hopefully) avoid on the water. Place them on the back deck and be aware that they will annoy whoever paddles behind you (ha!).
- Inexpensive backups and additions to your regulation kayak lights can include a very small camp lantern, or a flashlight with a plastic cup over the top to diffuse it into a 360-degree light. These are not replacements for standard lights, but are options if you need to improvise.
- Some Kansas City area lakes are more strict than others. For example, Smithville Lake patrol may kick you off the lake if paddling with lights that are not above your shoulders and visible from front. Hillsdale Lake patrol is fine with flashlights or camp lanterns on deck. Jackson County will ticket you for not using their county requirement for red/green lights on the bow.
5 Recommended Kayak Lights, Paddleboard Lights, Canoe Lights
21″-28″ portable adjustable-height kayak or paddleboard white light requiring no mount
Small waterproof safety white light for backup, or to wear on life vest
RELATED PADDLING EVENTS
Many of our Paddle KC events include discussions of requirements and setups for kayak lights, SUP lights and canoe lights, or include use of lights while paddling. Plan ahead and get your lights set up early! Local supplies are often limited, so do a bit of shopping to make sure you can get what you need in time for night paddling fun! Visit our Events page for examples of Paddle KC activities in the Kansas City area and beyond.
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