Lights for Night-time paddling
Safe Night Running: See and Be Seen!
by Ralph Díaz
Paddling at night is something you’ll wind up doing at some point or another either by circumstance or by choice. The dilemma for a small craft at night: have enough light to be visible to night traffic but not so much that you’ll ruin your night vision, which is your best form of defense at night. Coast Guard regulations do not require paddled craft to have actual running lights as they do larger boats; all the rules insist is that you have a white light to turn on to show your position to any approaching vessel.
So, at a minimum, you need to have a working flashlight on board. But the legal requirement is not enough to keep you out of trouble. A larger vessel can be on top of you before you can get at your flashlight. And, you’d be juggling a flashlight when you should have your paddle in hand for evasive action (always assume you are not visible). There are several approaches to safe night paddling. Here are the pros and cons of each.
I know some people who add a form of running light by using one of those flashlights with a split red/green lens available from most any marine supply store. Such a light is somewhat harder to attach to a folding kayak (no deck to permanently fix such lights to). The solution is either a bolt/clamp base or suction-cupped base. They’re attached with shock cord somewhere in the vicinity of the front of the coaming of a Klepper or under the bungee cord available in such boats as the Feathercraft. There are troubles with such lights. They may not be all that useful for kayaks that may be well offshore. The split running light is meant more for a dinghy moving through a marina to or from a mooring. Further out, the split light can’t be seen that well and may be confusing to a larger craft.
A raised flashlight left on.
Another approach, also available from marine suppliers, is a flashlight on a two to three foot rod. It is meant to clamp to the back of a row boat or dinghy but can also be fitted to folding kayaks. On Kleppers, Nautiraids and Folbots, you can fit it on to the coaming behind you using the clamps provided with the flashlight rod. On a Feathercraft, you would have to devise a base to slip under the deck bungee behind you and then secure the base of the flashlight rod to it. The flashlight stands at about or above the height of your head, so it’s quite visible. While on the deck of a large boat, I’ve been able to see such flashlights mounted on dinghies and they were very visible, even from a mile away. The problem is battery life. The lights are bright for only an hour or two at most. And, depending on where the light is mounted, it may be difficult to change batteries.
Another approach may be Cyalume light sticks. These come in various colors such as red, green, yellow and white. The first three colors give a light that lasts some 12 hours and remain real bright for a good amount of the time. (The white is a high intensity light good for only about 30 minutes.) I think the yellow is the best. You can slip a light stick into the back band of your hat. You can mount one to the little pennant post at the back of Kleppers. When mounted on the deck behind you, the light is not only visible in itself—it reflects off your paddles (especially white or brightly colored ones). And, if you have reflector strips on your PFD, the light will show these up well.
To be doubly sure, you should also carry a flashlight; you can never have enough light to show to an approaching boat. A headlamp (which costs from $10 to $30) can be a good approach. Another is a diver type flashlight which comes with a lanyard. It can be slipped through the shoulder flap of your PFD and hung down your back. If you need to show light or see something, simply pull it forward.
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