Heading out for an early morning paddle through the soft mist might be one of the most peaceful and satisfying ways to spend some time on the water. The same can be said for an evening paddle, as the sun softly passes over the horizon and leaves you shrouded in the dim moonlight.
If you’re a kayak angler, then getting on the water before sunrise will let you get the jump on fish that feed in low-light – such as walleye and catfish.
Mounting one or more kayak lights on your watercraft will allow you to paddle safely in these conditions, and remain visible to your friends and other boats.
There are a variety of kayak lighting options to choose from – picking the right one for your needs can be a confusing task. I’ll break down the different types of kayak lights, their uses and how to pick the right one for your kayak, canoe or paddleboard.
Quick Answer: 6 Best Kayak Lights
- Best Overall: Kayalu Kayalite Kayak Light
- Light and Flag Combo: YakAttack VISICarbon Pro
- Best Navigation Light: Innovative Lighting Portable LED Bow Light
- Best Suction Cup Mounted Light: Kayalu WaterTorch 360° Kayak Light
- Best Lighting Kit: attwood 14192-7 Water-Resistant Deck Mount
- SOS / Emergency Light: UST See-Me 1.0 Waterproof LED Light
Why do you need lights for your kayak or canoe?
A good kayak light will make you much more visible on the water – which can help prevent collisions with other watercraft.
Not only will you be more visible to larger and faster motorboats, but you’ll also be easier to locate in case of an emergency.
When you’re kayaking in low-light conditions, even simple scenarios and plans can go a little pear-shaped. Darkness can make navigation confusing and disorienting – causing you to lose your bearings and get lost. A light mounted on the bow or stern of your kayak will make you easy to spot to any nearby kayaking buddies.
If you frequently go on overnight kayak outings then good lighting is absolutely crucial. You need to be able to signal your presence to other boats, as well as have some way of alerting them in case of an emergency.
Lastly, depending on where you live, local laws and regulations may require certain lighting. Make sure to consult your local state laws before heading out on the water.
Top 6 Kayak Lights
How to pick the right kayak lights for you?
Picking out the right kayak lighting setup for you will depend on a number of factors, including your kayak’s size, boat traffic in your area and how often you kayak at nighttime.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of kayak lighting options available:
A handheld flashlight or headlamp works well as a backup light and can be used to signal your position to nearby watercraft. This type of light meets the minimum requirements for a “vessel under oars” set by the U.S. Coast Guard rules regarding navigation lights.
Obviously, any flashlight or headlamp you take out on the water should be completely waterproof. It’s also a good idea to tether your flashlight or handheld lantern to your kayak’s deck or to your life preserver – that way you won’t lose it even if it falls in the water.
Many newer headlamps and flashlights also have a built-in strobe function. This can be useful when you need to signal your position in an emergency situation.
Deck Mounted Lights
Deck mounted lights will allow other boats and paddlers to see your position on the water. These types of lights aren’t designed to help you see your surroundings. They’re strictly for making you more visible to other watercraft.
The most common deck light used by kayakers is a stern mounted solid white light. These can be mounted directly to the deck in a variety of ways.
The most important thing to consider with these lights is 360-degree visibility. If possible, mount the light so it can be seen from any direction, and won’t be obstructed by your body or kayak seat. This is particularly important if you plan to set anchor for a while – which many kayak anglers tend to do.
Most states don’t require a 360° deck light, but several (including Texas), require one of these lights to remain visible at all times while you’re in regulated waters.
The other common deck mounted lights used by kayakers are red and green navigation lights. These are typically mounted to the bow of a kayak to enhance your chances of being seen on the water. They should be mounted in a manner that won’t interfere with your night vision.
Nav lights are generally not recommended if you’re kayaking in an area shared with motorized boats. Because there are rules governing the use of nav lights, other vessels will maneuver based on your usage of a red light, a green light, or both. If you’re not familiar with these rules, then it’s best to avoid using nav lights altogether.
SOS Emergency Lighting
Emergency lighting is used to signal your position to other boats and rescue crews in case of a serious emergency. These are typically small battery powered 360° LED lights that can be strapped to either the back or shoulder area of your PFD.
Some newer models are automatically triggered when submerged in water, so you won’t need to fumble around trying to activate your torch in an emergency situation. These are available in either a strobe or solid light style.
The U.S. Coast Guard rules for emergency lights require they must be visible for at least one nautical mile (1.6 Km) and from 360 degrees.
Even the best kayak lights won’t do you any good if they don’t stay securely in their place. Kayaking at night can get a little hairy sometimes – so you’ll want to make sure your lights can withstand capsizing, or getting smacked by a paddle or two without coming loose.
Suction cups are a quick and easy way to mount things to your kayak – but they’re not the most secure. Similarly to GoPro kayak mounts, they can be easily positioned anywhere on your boat, and even adjusted on the fly.
Consider tethering your suction mounted light to your kayak with a long lanyard. That way you won’t lose it if it’s knocked out of place. If you kayak with your dog, then tethering your light is an absolute must.
Several pole-style lights come with an option for mounting directly onto a kayak track. This is an excellent option – giving you a secure mount that won’t come loose no matter how rough the conditions.
These pole-style lights can also be mounted to an existing rod holder, or attached to a kayak crate with a piece of PVC pipe. Keep in mind that mounting it this way won’t be as secure as a tracked mount.
Mounting the light directly into the kayak’s deck with screws is a good mounting option if you don’t plan on adjusting its position later on.
This requires a little DIY, so it may not be ideal if you’re not comfortable drilling holes into your kayak. If that sounds like you, then go with the tracked mount option, as the holes needed are minimized.
Some kayak lights come with a built-in internal tension cable. This allows you to clip the light onto an existing eyelet, D-ring or pad eye on the deck.
This might be the best mounting option out there – as the light will bend over rather than breaking if you were to collide with a low hanging obstacle. As the internal clip hooks directly to the deck, there’s no chance of the light coming loose, like a suction mount sometimes will.
Whenever you’re kayaking in low-visibility conditions like rain, fog or darkness, you should have a well thought out plan. Make sure you know your route well – including any potential hazards and alternate routes. Mark your route down on a map or GPS so everyone in your group is aware of the plan.
Having a good idea of your average kayaking speed will help you determine how long your trip should take. Also, make sure to leave a float plan with someone trustworthy and include your estimated return time.
When you’re in an area that shared with powerboats you’ll need to be extra cautious. Stay close together in a group and always use the buddy system to make sure no one falls behind. Whenever you need to cross a boating channel make sure to stop and check that no boats are heading in your direction.
Of course, clearly displaying a deck light that’s visible from every direction will help you stay recognizable to passing boat traffic.
Maintaining your Kayak Lights
Maintaining your kayak light is pretty straightforward. In order to keep your light in top shape for as long as possible make sure to do the following:
- Before you get on the water make sure your light is functioning correctly and your batteries are fresh.
- If you’re going on a longer trip, make sure to bring backup batteries in a watertight pouch or container.
- When you’re done paddling, give your light a quick rinse and dry it thoroughly before you put it away. This is especially important if you kayak in a saltwater environment.
- If you won’t be using your light for a prolonged period of time (such as during wintertime) make sure to remove the batteries before storing.
Q: Do you need lights on a kayak at night?
A: Kayaks fall under the “vessels under oars” classification according to the U.S. Coast Guard. This means they are required to “have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision”.
These are just the minimum requirements. The more lighting options you have on your kayak the safer you’ll be. Also be sure to check your local state laws and regulations, as they vary from state to state.
Q: What should a kayaker display at night?
If you kayak in an area without motorized boats, then a handheld flashlight or headlamp generally would be sufficient.
If you’re in an area with motorized boats, in addition to a handheld light, mounting a white deck light that can be seen from 360° around it is recommended.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.